141 days and counting

Since George W. Bush publicly mentioned the word “Darfur,” or made any other reference to it. In the meantime, the American public is apparently more interested in the Michael Jackson trial and the story of the “runaway bride” — that is, if you judge the American public’s interest by what you see on network news.

There’s an overwhelming frustration in reading op/eds like this one, because it comes down to the most basic collective action problem: I look at the situation in Darfur and I think, if there was something I could accomplish on an individual level, I’d do it. But it would take hundreds of thousands of people to ever be loud enough for the American government to listen and intervene. And hundreds of thousands of individuals simply do not have any incentive to raise up that kind of yell — in part because each of those individuals knows that, alone, their voice is meaningless. So I read op/eds like these, and for 45 minutes or so I feel overwhelmed and deeply frustrated and incredibly angry, and I write about it and I pray about it and I can’t help but ask myself, “Where is God in this one?” and I curse our despicable “pro-life” administration for not giving a damn about African lives, and I know it’s wrong but I can’t help wishing for a little Karmic justice. And then I shut off my new computer and I go to sleep in a warm bed and I wake up and I think about my upcoming summer trip, how I miss my friends from New York, my impending entrance into law school, and all these things that, compared to what the people over there are living through, are shallow and stupid and frivolous. I’ll think about that until I make myself cry out of frustration — I’ll admit it, I’m a sensitive person and yes, things like this upset me — and then I beat myself up for having the audacity to cry out of guilt when, really, I have nothing to cry over, and it’s even worse that I would be self-centered enough to allow myself the privilege of crying — to even think that I have the right to cry, as if this is in any way about me — over someone else’s situation that I can never possibly comprehend. I think, “Quit crying, you fucking moron. Go do something.” But then there seems like there’s nothing that can be done. So I get stuck in this back and forth in my own head, and it just feels like running into a brick wall.

And if that isn’t the definition of liberal middle-class white girl guilt, then I don’t know what is.

But I have to wonder — do you think George Bush goes to bed thinking about the people in Sudan? Do you think those millions of lives sit on his chest at night?

For what it’s worth, here aere are some ways to take action. If anyone else has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

4 comments for “141 days and counting

  1. May 31, 2005 at 5:07 am

    Hi Jill,

    According to the latest news posted at the website you have cited, there are two hopeful things happening as of May 27. Note that the US has pledged some money to help fund peacekeeping forces. I hope these efforts will bear fruit. But I have to say that it is quite normal for African conflicts to pass below American radar and Darfur is by no means the only such conflict that has gone largely unnoticed by those who could help prevent tragedy.

    May 27, 2005 – Donors pledge nearly $300 million for Darfur force
    Donors have pledged nearly $300 million to fund a bigger African Union (AU) force to help end fighting in Sudan’s western Darfur region, AU officials said on Friday. They said Canada gave the biggest contribution of $133 million, followed by the United States with $50 million and Britain with $12 million. Smaller donations will come from other countries. The AU had requested $466 million to more than triple its force to about 7,900 troops.

    – Zoellick to visit Sudan
    Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will visit Sudan to work to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, advance effective implementation of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and promote a political reconciliation in Darfur. He will meet with one of the forward-deployed African Union units in Darfur and talk with tribal leaders at a camp of internally displaced persons. His visit will follow up on the U.S. pledge made at the May 26 donors’ conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to support expansion of the African Union force in Darfur, particularly through NATO.

  2. May 31, 2005 at 11:12 am

    There’s also an ongoing divestment campaign. Legislation has been introduced in a number of states to get public employee retirement funds away from companies doing business with the Sudanese government, and there’s an active divestment campaign at Harvard as well.

  3. May 31, 2005 at 11:54 am

    A couple of days ago, I heard an interview with a guy from an NGO that’s working in Darfur. The interviewer asked him why the American people were ignoring the issue, and he said that was the wrong way to look at it. He said that what was remarkable was that a grass-roots, largely campus-based movement had actually made a difference. Because of grass-roots pressure, the American government has been forced to acknowledge it. It’s the only reason Colin Powell called it a genocide. It’s the reason that the U.S. has funded relief programs. I think it’s easy to look at the failure of the movement to solve the problem and assume that the movement isn’t working. But it is working, and we shouldn’t get discouraged.

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