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Of Michael Jackson & Genocide

April 14, 2009

While perusing Facebook this week, I came across the announcement for the Save Darfur Coalition’s Testimony & Advocacy Event (“Act Now for Darfur”), which will take place on April 19, 2009, at Lafayette Square across from the White House. Here’s how the coalition describes the event:

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 19, 2009 the Save Darfur Coalition will bring survivors from past genocides and mass atrocities including Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and Armenia together with faith leaders, leading anti-genocide advocates, and local activists to reflect on these atrocities and call on President Obama to act now on Darfur.

The event will begin with a memorial ceremony by survivors to honor the lives that have been lost. This memorial will be a powerful symbolic call to President Obama. Following the ceremony will be a speaking program featuring individuals who have been “upstanders” in the face of genocide. The program will highlight the importance and power of “standing up”, the role of the Darfur movement as part of the broader anti-genocide movement, and the potential to effect change by acting in this political moment.

Regardless of how one judges the value of this seemingly convoluted advocacy tactic, the event is nothing if not solemn — reflecting on genocide, memorial ceremony, ongoing genocide. That’s very serious subject matter. Thus, I would expect serious or possibly inspirational/motivational commentary from event organizers and participants…or perhaps NOTHING AT ALL. But, alas, that was not the case. The most striking comment came from Bill Wasserman, President of M+R Strategic Services, which “since August 2005…has served as the lead strategic advisor to the Save Darfur Coalition, providing communications, online advocacy, fundraising and advertising, and event planning services.” Here’s Wasserman’s comment:
Bill Wasserman wrote
at 6:18am on April 4th, 2009
in the words of Michael Jackson….”i’ll be there” i’ll be there”

Michael Jackson?! Seriously? Where to begin?

First, “I’ll Be There” was written by (the incomparable) Berry Gordy, Jr., Bob West, Hal Davis, and Willie Hutch, not a very young Michael Jackson.

Second, the song was a U.S. number one hit in 1970 for the Jackson 5 — that’s Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie, and Michael.

(There was also an insidiously evil Mariah Carey cover of the song in the 199os, but quite frankly that’s too terrible to contemplate right now.)

Third, is this the most appropriate/professional comment a former interim Director of the Save Darfur Coalition and current coalition consultant could creatively coax out of himself? Was the subject matter not serious enough to deserve something more than a cutesy, flip “quote” attributed to the King of Pop? If that’s the best effort issue advocates can expect from well-compensated consultants like Wasserman, it’s time to rethink the role of such consultants in effective issue advocacy campaigns.

As for Wasserman’s attendance at the conceptually-challenged (looking backward at past policy failures to inspire current/future activist successes) event, OF COURSE he will be attending. M+R was hired by the Save Darfur Coalition’s Executive Director, Jerry Fowler, to lead the coalition’s approximately $500k “Darfur from Day One” campaign, which sought to make ending the ongoing crisis in Darfur a major priority of the Obama administration through his first 100 days in office and will culminate in this Sunday’s event. Let’s hope the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on postcards, banners, and symbolic events will positively impact the lives of those most in need — the people of Darfur — and not just “strategic communications experts” that are prone to quoting once-popular, bejeweled pop stars.

More on many of these issues very soon.

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