Andrew Slack is Executive Director of the the Harry Potter Alliance, which takes a creative approach to activism by mobilizing thousands of kids to spread love and fight for justice in the spirit of the Harry Potter novels. The HP Alliance has been featured in over 200 US publications including Time Magazine, the LA Times, and the front covers of both the Chicago Tribune Business Section and Politico Newspaper.
In the 1977 classic Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi shudders just moments after Darth Vader destroys the planet of Alderaan. When Luke asks his mentor what's wrong, Obi Wan replies, "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."
A real world disturbance happened in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that claimed the lives of over 800,000 innocent people. In the last week we have reached the fifteenth anniversary of this horror when Bill Clinton and his administration did hear those "millions of voices crying out in terror" and allowed them to be silenced.
These calculated decisions by our leaders in Washington coupled by a media obsessed with OJ Simpson led to the perverse reality that a good friend of mine from Rwanda lived through. At the time, her one source of news for what was happening in her country was phone calls from family members saying goodbye and asking why the international community had abandoned them. Some of them were murdered while they were on the phone with her.
While 1994 was the summer after Schindler's List won best movie, the Clinton administration and our allies showed great disregard to the memory of those killed in the Holocaust by failing to protect the millions at dire risk and the more than 800,000 that were killed in Rwanda.
On this fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, will the Obama administration show similar disregard to those killed in Rwanda by failing to protect the millions at imminent risk in Darfur? In short, does the Obama administration plan to commemorate the Rwandan genocide by letting another innocent 1,000,000 Africans die?
When I read the testimony of Rwandan survivorsat this site, such as the story of a young Rwandan woman who was infected with HIV after being gang raped at the age of five, of young men who as children laid next to their parents' corpses pretending to be dead, I am reminded that none of these people are mere statistics. Their tales of horror and their ongoing courage to rebuild their nation is a humbling reminder to prevent these stories of brutality from continuing in Darfur while honoring these brave survivors of genocide in Rwanda.
In order to show Rwandans the world over that the international community of young people will not forget what happened while sharing their hope for their nations future,
the Harry Potter Alliance partnered with a pretty interesting group called the Nerdfighters, and in one week our members made over 300 videos in which they lit a "candle of hope" for Rwanda. Through Candles For Rwanda, these videos will be shown alongside a video of celebrities, world leaders, and leading activists (their video can be seen here) lighting candles of hope as well. Rwandans the world over will see these videos and the best of them will be shown on July 16, during the closing ceremony of the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in Rwanda's capital of Kigali.
Through these videos and thousands of book donations meant for a youth village in Rwanda I have seen first hand young people across our world taking the small steps within their power to commemorate the genocide in Rwanda and support the survivors. President Obama can do much more. Putting forward a comprehensive plan to work with our allies to apprehend the killers from the genocide who are hiding in the US, UK, France, and who continue their killing spree in Congo with plans to return to Rwanda to 'finish what they started' is an essential step. But another essential step is that the President authenticate his April 7 statement on the fifteen year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide where he says "the memory of these events also deepens our commitment to act when faced with genocide and to work with partners around the world to prevent future atrocities." As of now, John Prendergast and Jim Wallis have noted that the US policy towards Darfur leaves a great deal to be desired:
What has been missing is America's leadership in forging a coalition that can both negotiate with and pressure Sudan to seek peace in Darfur as well as implement the existing peace agreement for the South. Building this coalition for peace should be Mr. Obama's objective.
In the last month, the genocide in Darfur has shifted to a new phase of horror for the Darfuri people. Over 13 aid groups have been evacuated and over 1,000,0000 lives hang in the balance. Further, as Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir continues his current attempt at mass murder, he is once more rallying the support of radical terrorists, meaning that Sudan could easily become a hotbed of terrorist recruitment as it housed Osama bin Laden in the nineties. So to those isolationists who can stomach watching innocent children die under the pretense that we need to care about our own country first, acting now on Darfur is not only a moral imperative, it is a strategic one as well.
But as we look to the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, there is also a historical imperative. To his credit, President Obama has acknowledged activists for their work on Darfur, finally appointed a special envoy to Sudan, and now Senator John Kerry has arrived in Darfur. But with the exception of Kerry, these were all steps that George Bush took for years. An occasional statement here and there about how "Darfur is in a crisis" is not going to get them out of this new stage of genocide with 1,000,000 lives in imminent danger. The people of Darfur need the US to not forget them as they had Rwandans. In the face of this fifteenth anniversary, the US needs to show what we have learned by leading a coalition of allies to do whatever it takes to get the aid workers back into Darfur and find a point of leverage for peace in all of Sudan. As Prendergast and Wallis note, while this is a moment of potential horror, it is also a moment of great opportunity should the President decide to show that he cares enough, not just to talk, but to act.
The Harry Potter Alliance is working to wake up the President to ending the genocide in Darfur the way Dumbledore's Army woke the world up to Voldemort's return in the Harry Potter novels. Thankfully we are part of a growing worldwide movement. You can join this movement by signing up with us, with the Genocide Intervention Network, and the Save Darfur Coalition. Hopefully the actions of these groups will influence action from advocacy organizations like MoveOn.org as well as attention from the blogosphere -- it's time that some of this country's most politically engaged public health activists and intellectuals start prodding our President to take leadership on a public health crisis of over one 1,000,000 innocent people.
Here are some more simple steps that you can take toward showing our president that he has the political capital to take necessary leadership on this matter of great urgency:
1- Call 1-800-GENOCIDE
2- Text 90822 to send a message about Darfur to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton! Create your own message or text "Take immediate action to restore aid to Darfur!" Send a text every day.
Further, each of us today can help Rwandan survivors with their homes and medical expenses by donating at candlesforrwanda.org where you can also upload a video of yourself lighting a candle of hope.
In order to honor these heroic individuals who survived the Rwandan genocide and that part of humanity itself that was lost as we watched yet another genocide and did nothing to counter it, it is time for us to find appropriate ways to commemorate the fifteen year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide by allowing "the millions of voices [that had] suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced" to finally be heard.
I imagine that if we continued to listen to the whispers of those voices that were silenced in 1994, we may be reminded that people's spirit and love cannot be done away with by machete or starvation -- and that we will allow their spirits to guide us in love toward working towards a world where each of us is revered, not forgotten and left to die needlessly.
As Prendergast and Wallis say:
"When the dust clears and the bodies are buried, burned or left to rot in forsaken camps, the world will mourn for what it did not do. What Darfur needs is not a future apology, but steps today that offer hope."
Hope, a New Hope, is what Obama promised our country and our world. He has until July 16 to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide by showing the world that there will no longer be millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror and then suddenly silenced. The "force" of our world must be restored by listening deeply and acting for the millions of voices crying out in Darfuri refugee camps.
While "Change We Can Believe" includes Obama's wish to change humanity's twentieth century style relationship with the environment and nuclear weapons, it must include changing the twentieth century's pattern of inaction toward the mass murder of civilians and toward a reverence of life and love that speaks to all of our most deeply held values.
Time is of the essence Mr. President. Despite all the problems at home and abroad that you and the leaders of both parties are grappling with, now is the time to look to the people of Rwanda and the people of Darfur and say, Yes We Can. Yes We Can Honor the memory and rebuilding of Rwanda. Yes We Can End Genocide in Darfur.