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Kids Tweet the Darndest Things

July 19, 2009

Sam Bell’s a feisty lil’ sucker.  Yet somehow, whenever he tries to put up a fight, like he’s a grown man or something, I just wanna jingle my keys at him and rub my face in his plump little belly.  He’s kinda funny when he’s sassy, like Ricky Bobby when he talks trash before a race.

Very nice.  With only this one scene, John C. Reilly completely redeemed himself from his role as the whiny, cuckolded husband in that God-awful movie, Chicago. Seriously, taking a cool story about sex and murder and making it a musical is like building an awesome playground in Roman Polanski’s backyard: The horrors one needs to endure to experience it makes it tragically inaccessible to those who would enjoy it most.  Anyhoo, in response to Rob Crilly’s recent post over at The Promise of Engagement, in which he asserts that the save Darfur movement doesn’t need to change how it advocates but rather what it advocates for, Sam Bell said in a July 14th tweet:

@robcrilly is writing about the movement as it was 2-3 years ago. today answer is political solution and scope is all of sudan.

Artist’s Approximation: Sam Bell tweeting

I suspect that Lil’ Boy Bell is actually saying what he wishes to be true, rather than what is true.  Sure, commentary by people like Alex Meixner may support Bell’s assertion.  Such writing verbosely epitomizes the point Bell is trying to make, but Meixner doesn’t represent the whole movement.  If what others in the movement advocate for is any indication, things actually ain’t changed much in the past two to three years.  Take, for example, an email forwarded by Meixner’s colleague Mark Lotwis, SDC’s Senior Director of Campaign Advocacy, to SDC’s Darfur Activist Leaders email distribution list on July 13th, the day before Bell tweeted – Or is it twote? – that comment.  In it…well…just look (contact information excluded):

From: Mark Lotwis <>
Date: Mon, Jul 13, 2009 at 5:23 PM
Subject: [DarfurActivistLeaders] FW: Rally to support Darfur and the ICC…
To: Darfur Activist Leaders <>

Please help spread the word – thanks

Mark Lotwis
Senior Director of Campaign Advocacy
Save Darfur Coalition

From: Mohamed Yahya []
Sent: Friday, July 10, 2009 11:18 PM
To: Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy
Subject: Rally to support Darfur and the ICC…

Dear all,

Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy Invites you all to come to
participate in a rally to support Darfur and the ICC – “International Criminal
Court.” For Justice and Peace in Sudan.

Also to

-Urge the US government, United Nations, European Union, African
Union, Arab Leagues, to support the ICC and the arrest warrant against Omar al-bashir, and
the other suspects for war Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide.

– AN IMMEDIATE deployment of the 26.000 UNAMID Peace Forces to Darfur
with full Mandate, Helicopters,Logistics and necessary supplies

– PRESS Sudan Government to allow all the 16 Humanitarian
Organizations back to Darfur without any delays or conditions.

– STOP torturing prisoners of Darfur and free them Immediately

– STOP Immediately the resettlement of Arab Janjaweed Militia Families
in Darfur, and turn back all lands confiscated to their owners.

– STOP attacking the Refugees in their Camps in Chad and Darfur.

– APPLY strict trade sanctions “Embargo” against China Oil companies,
Russia ,Indian, and all Foreign

Companies Investing in Oil in Sudan, Importing Weapons and doing
Business with the genocidal Regime.

WHERE : Starts from the Lafayette square in front of the White House.
Time at 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.

Walk to the State Department From 2:35 pm, arrive at 2:50 pm. Ends at 4:00 pm.

DATE: Wednesday July 22, 2009.

Damanga will keep you updated with more details soon. Please feel free
to call our office number:

XXX-XXX-XXXX or XXX-XXX-XXXX if you need more Information. You are
welcome for co sponsorship.

and any support. Please circulate the e-mail to your list and friends..

Thank you.

Mohamed Yahya.
Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy.

26,000 troops?  Not a single mention of the North/South conflict or even the CPA?  It sounds like they’re suggesting anything but a “political solution” and focusing on anything but “all of Sudan.”  In fact, that email contained examples of everything that Crilly critiqued the movement for doing and no examples of the nuance that Bell claims they’ve adopted.   Let’s review:

Are they “criminalising Bashir?” Check.  The whole rally is dedicated to supporting the ICC.

Are they advocating for “the deployment of a blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping force?”  Check.  They ask for the “IMMEDIATE deployment of the 26.000 UNAMID Peace Forces.”  And you know someone’s serious when they use ALL CAPS.  People don’t play around with the CAPS LOCK key.

Do they offer a “black and white analysis of an Arab genocide directed at African tribes?”  Check.  And what’s with the whole “Arab Janjaweed Militia Families” thing?  As if a whole family can be a militia?  For this comment alone, I can’t believe that SDC forwarded this along.  An unbelievably dumb move, even for them.

Is there a “narrow focus on Darfur?” Check.  Though the scope of this one rally may not accurately reflect the scope of the rest of Damanga’s (i.e. Yahya’s organization’s) work, shouldn’t the movement’s rallies increasingly involve a broader focus if widening the scope of activism to include all of Sudan is a true trend?

Hell, I can go on all day, babydoll!  Just look elsewhere for other examples:

Are they “dominated by Evangelical and Jewish groups?”  Check.  Take a look at which organizations are listed as partners on SDC’s latest faith outreach page. Although they claim to reach out to all faiths, they list no Islamic partners.

Does analysis match “prejudices” rather than “reality?”  Check.  Just look at Damanga’s webpage announcing the July 22nd event, which contains this gem that didn’t make it into the email Lotwis forwarded:  “STOP TAKING BLACK SLAVES.”  Is that a joke?  Who vetted this crap?

But I digress.  Now I’d dismiss this email as the inane ranting of someone on the fringe of the advocacy movement if it wasn’t authored by the Executive Director of Damanga, one of SDC’s most active coalition members.  Indeed, Yahya attends and speaks at many SDC events, including their most recent ones in April and May.  More importantly, a senior staffer at SDC, on whose board sits Sam Bell as vice-chairperson, forwarded this to activists asking them to “help spread the word.”  And spread the word they did, as evidenced in tweets by Susan Morgan and Katie Jay Scott, two VIPs in the Darfur advocacy community.  SDC may not have wrote the email, but they wouldn’t have sent it to their most prized activists if they didn’t support the message.  The ENOUGH Project even advertised the event on their blog, saying “If you’re located in or around D.C., head down and take part next Wednesday.”  I Act and Is This Hope? also flagged the event via Twitter.  Is This Hope? is the interesting one.  For those of you who don’t know, Is This Hope? is an “advocacy campaign” led by Humanity United, a major donor to both SDC and ENOUGH that recently gave $2.25 million to the latter.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain to readers that, by controlling money flow to non-profits, major donors can control how non-profits advocate and what they advocate for, so it’s always interesting to see what types of activism major donors support.  If Is This Hope? supports events like Yahya’s, what kinds of advocacy projects is Humanity United insisting their grant money go to?  Let’s see…am I forgetting anyone else who advertised the event?  Oh yeah!  The freakin’ Genocide Intervention Network lists it on their Events Search page! Yet Sam Bell, GI Net’s ED, somehow has the cojones to suggest that the movement is headed away from the kinds of things activists will be asking for at July 22nd’s rally.

Picture Unrelated (Flickr)

Picture unrelated...I swear.

Although the email discussed was authored by a major player in the movement and was heavily endorsed by other advocacy leaders, I still like to think that it represents an outlier’s opinion and that many activists don’t agree with Yahya’s proposed solutions.  Unfortunately, I also think that Sam Bell is an outlier at the opposite end, and what many in the movement want is something between the immediate deployment of 26,000 UNAMID troops and a strictly political solution.

These extremes may even exist within organizations.  For example, Meixner’s post at The Promise of Engagement saying that activists have to work within Obama’s framework of renewed diplomacy with unfriendly states was published only four days after Lotwis, who works with Meixner at SDC, encouraged people to attend Damanga’s event, which will call for military action, racialize the conflict and just commit more of the same ol’ Darfur advocacy sins.

It’s sad, but I think that, while some in the movement have progressed past calling for things like military intervention, the full spectrum of activists encompasses hard core militants on one end, but only level-headed, “political solution” seekers on the other.  That is, the spectrum doesn’t have two extremes, but only one extreme end and one moderate end.  Like with any distribution,  the overrepresentation of one extreme group skews the entire movement towards policy prescriptions like military intervention and away from rational solutions like diplomacy.

Guess which end of the spectrum this guy is on. (Picture is Unrelated)

Guess which end of the spectrum this guy is on.

It seems that the failure to realize their own status as outliers is a mistake that many people – particularly young people – in the “political solution” camp of the movement are making.  They’re willing to listen to critics and feel that they themselves have moved past calling for military intervention that only addresses Darfur.  The fallacy they commit is in assuming that everyone else in the movement is as forward-thinking as they are and has come to the same realization.  When you think about it, Bell and Meixner are getting a really crappy deal here.  They’re putting themselves out there, publicly asserting that the movement acknowledges the need for change and is shifting the focus of its advocacy, while guys like Lotwis and Yahya undermine them and make them look like fools by promoting old-fashioned, red meat-style Darfur advocacy.  Unfortunately, I fear that, while people like Bell and Meixner may genuinely seek a political solution that encompasses all of Sudan, many in the movement are still stuck in the dark ages.


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