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Lipstick on a Pig

April 21, 2009

According to their most recent blog posts, the Save Darfur Coalition just held a successful event on April 19th in Lafayette Park.  They’ll tell you all about the moving memorial service and great speeches that were made.  However, actually attending the event was a different experience.

What they won’t tell you is that, since SDC didn’t check to see if you could eat in Lafayette Square, the event’s participants – including some Darfuris – had to eat the food that SDC had catered for them in the street.

Hey look! I think I found where SDC dropped their event organizing skills!

"Hey look! I think I found where SDC dropped their event organizing skills!"

Also, they won’t mention that, of the 200 – 250 people there, 100 were activists who were bussed in from Pittsburgh.  Many people I spoke to in the crowd were also from STAND.  In terms of attracting and raising awareness among the public and bringing non-activists into the fold, this was a pretty poorly attended event.  They were just preaching to the choir.

They won’t mention that most of the speeches were lackluster.  Most disappointing for me was John Prendergast’s.  He reminded me of a comedian who goes on a third-rate talk show like Jimmy Kimmel Live: Sure, he’ll take the free publicity, but he’s saving his best material for Letterman.

This would all be forgivable if this was Save Darfur’s first big event, but they’ve been at this for a while now and they know better.  Take their April 2006 rally in DC (they do a major event every year during April because it’s Genocide Prevention Month).  This rally was publicly promoted by George Clooney and Barrack Obama.  Unlike Sunday’s rally, it can only be described as insanely successful (SDAP compared pictures of the two events in an earlier post).  The most obvious difference is the number of people, but other differences are equally important.  For example, the speakers for the 2006 rally included Barack Obama, George Clooney, Nancy Pelosi, Jendayi Frazer, Elie Wiesel, Paul Rusesabagina, Russell Simmons, Joey Cheek and Brian Steidle.

These are all big names who draw large crowds.  Comparatively, the 2009 speakers were Carl Wilkens, Jon Western, John Prendergast, Jerry Fowler, Mohammed Yahya, Fatima Haroun, Rabbi Steve Gutow and Rev. Dr. Gloria White-Hammond.  The most recognizable names of the bunch were Save Darfur board members.  While it’s great that the board actively supports SDC, it’s sad that SDC had to rely on their board members as headliners.  That’s like having your parents do your homework for you.

Another amateur move involved Mr. Fowler, in the middle of the rally, inexplicably asking people to make sure they returned the signs they were holding.  He went on to explain that there were so many signs from Pittsburgh that some of them may have been given to people who weren’t from Pittsburgh.  So, he announced that everyone who was not from Pittsburgh but had a sign from there should return it.  First off, that’s not a wise interjection if the goal is to keep the momentum of the rally going.  Secondly, SDC couldn’t even provide enough signs for people?  With such a small crowd, they should have had no problem providing each attendee with a sign to hold.

For being professional activists, SDC also seemed to have a remarkably tough time rallying the crowd.  For example, the best orator of the day was Rev. White-Hammond, who rallied the crowd with a rousing “yes we can” speech, a clever flip of Obama’s campaign slogan, which left the previously subdued crowd much more energized.  No less than 5 seconds after she finished, Mr. Fowler got ahold of the microphone.  He tried to ride her momentum coattails and rally the crowd further.  He asked “Can Obama do something?” and the crowd was, apparently, supposed to say “Yes he can!” but that wasn’t clear to everyone, so there was no uproarious response.  He tried again and got the same perfunctory response from the crowd.  Way to kill the buzz there, Mr. Fowler.

Least professional of all was the “memorial structure,” which attendees were asked to adorn with postcards and personal mementos.  And what was this structure – with such somber, respectful connotations – made of?  Why, chicken wire and a few 2X4s, of course!   Yes, this memorial structure, which should have been the centerpiece of a reverent, serious memorial event, looked like it could have been made in a high school shop class.  It hurt to watch as those sincerely wishing to honor the victims of genocide – many of whom were also descendants of victims of genocide – placed their tokens of remembrance on a monstrosity that would look more at home in a petting zoo than at a funereal memorial event.

The Memorial 3000: Great for anti-genocide rallies or to keep varmints out of your turnip patch!

The Memorial 3000: Great for anti-genocide rallies or to keep varmints out of your turnip patch!

Notice that I didn’t really focus on the difference in crowd size from 2006 to 2009.  This is because I think it’s unfair to place all the blame of waning public interest on a single organization.  The contrasts between the two rallies that I want to emphasize revolve around effort and competence rather than factors beyond the movement’s control.  The 2006 rally was obviously a well orchestrated, well publicized event.  However, the 2009 rally clearly did not have a strong, focused message nor an impassioned base of supporters.  Most disturbingly, it seemed that many of the speakers’ and organizers’ (identifiable by their yellow t-shirts) hearts weren’t in it either.  They weren’t trying their best, they were just going through the motions.  It’s as if they expected the event to be a catastrophe so they just sat back and let it fail.  This, in my opinion, is the greatest disservice that people who call themselves “advocates” can do for the people of Darfur.

There are a lot of things you can cover up, but making Sunday’s Barnyard Bonanza look like even a mediocre success?  Baby, there ain’t enough lipstick the world!

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