When John McCain or Barack Obama becomes president next January, he’ll have a message from me waiting on the Oval Office desk. I’ll be the first line of the first letter.
Orange County for Darfur, a grassroots group dedicated to raising awareness about the ongoing crisis in Sudan, staged a mass photo shoot Saturday morning on the beach in Corona del Mar, inviting 100 or more people to lie on the sand and spell out the words “End Genocide Now!” In the group’s news release, it announced plans to have a photographer shoot the demonstration, enlarge the image into a poster and mail it to the incoming U.S. president.
Naturally, this sounded like a story. But as someone who knows from experience how hard it can be to rally support for a little-known cause, I wasn’t content to hover on the sidelines and write a standard feature article. After I got the release, I called Barbara English, the woman in charge, and volunteered to be part of the demonstration.
A little background: Shortly after the turn of the century, black rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan took up arms against the Arab government, which they accused of oppressing them. The government responded with mass bombardments of Darfur and unleashed militias on the region, targeting rebels and civilians alike.
To date, by some estimates, as many as 400,000 people have died in Darfur, and a million or more have been displaced.
President George W. Bush and the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, both called the Darfur conflict a genocide. McCain and Obama have each pledged to work to stop the killing. But five or more years after the genocide began, there appears to be little end in sight.
So on a warm day in Corona del Mar, as waves crashed on the beach and children played in the surf, more than 100 people gathered wearing dark colors to send a message — another message — asking the government to take action. When each of us arrived, we were assigned to help create one letter of one word. I drew the “E” in “End,” and since I was taller than the other three people who pulled that letter, I served as the vertical line.
Before we all lay on the beach to spell out the message, I got to talking with a number of the people in attendance. I asked them how many years they had been involved in the Darfur mission, and how much of an impact they thought Saturday’s demonstration would have. To the first question, some replied that they had been raising awareness for years, going to one rally and sit-in after another. The second question got more wistful responses.
From Jennifer Rojas, a Huntington Beach High School student who brought several of her classmates along: “I think, basically, all the efforts we’ve done for the last few years add up.”
From English, who works as a psychotherapist: “I think it’s a very positive sign that both McCain and Obama have made a statement of unity on this issue. But even for a well-meaning politician, it’s the public outcry that has to be there to hold them accountable.”
Eventually, the organizers got everyone arranged on the beach, and then the photographer snapped a series of pictures from the cliff above. As it turned out, there were more than enough people to spell “End Genocide Now!”, but not all of them wore dark colors. When I viewed the pictures afterward, some portions of the letters almost blended into the sand.
In other words, to get the message in January, the next president may have to look long and hard at the word “genocide.” But then, that’s the idea anyway.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Do you want to send a message about the genocide in Sudan? Orange County for Darfur recommends the following measures:
Divest your money from American companies that do business with the Sudanese government.
Lobby your local congressmen or congresswomen to work toward an end to the genocide.
Host a public or private screening of a documentary about Darfur.
Attend Orange County for Darfur’s meetings every two weeks in Newport Beach.
Visit ocfordarfur.wordpress.com/ for more information or call (714) 979-2544.
MICHAEL MILLER may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.