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Mark it zero!

July 28, 2009

Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?

-Walter Sobchak

SDC and the ENOUGH Project sure promoted the hell out of Damanga’s July 22nd rally. They both blogged about it, urging people to attend, and SDC even sent an email about it.  Also, they each sent their own employees to participate in the rally and, after it was over, they each published a blog post about it highlighting their own involvement.  In fact, they did everything possible to support the event…oh, except sign the sign-on letter to Obama.  Yeah, according to an email sent by activist leader Susan Morgan to the Darfur Activist Leaders network, SDC and ENOUGH did not sign the sign-on letter which accompanied the event:

Most Honorable President Obama:

In Ghana, you were clear in saying, “We must bear witness to the value
of every child in Darfur,” but a witness who does nothing to assist
the helpless is complicit in the crime. Bearing witness and
recognizing the value of every life lost and still at risk in Darfur
means standing up and taking action. We must be equally clear – Darfur
will not continue to burn, not again on our watch.

The transition period is always one of delayed action, but you have
appointed your key actors and your Special Envoy to Sudan will return
from a month in the region at the end of the week. We trust your
leadership and know the value of careful preparations, but the ground
work is laid. It is time to act.

All actors must remember that the disintegrating Comprehensive Peace
Agreement is an incomplete answer to the many tragedies in Sudan,
especially those in Darfur. Without international action now, on
behalf of those without a voice, the people of Darfur will continue to
be denied the peace that all Sudanese were promised. The
Administration needs to ensure that the ground work for justice and
peace in Sudan is meticulously laid out, but time is of the essence.

The Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, along with its
partners, calls on your Administration and your State Department to
urgently release a firm and clear “Statement of Administration Policy”
on the situation in Darfur and to begin implementing it without
further delay.

We seek an unequivocal statement of United States Government support
for the following:

1.       International cooperation with International Criminal Court
and its indictments of Omar al-Bashir and other suspects for War
Crimes and Crimes against Humanity;

2.       The immediate deployment of the 26,000 UNAMID Peace Forces to
Darfur with a full Chapter VII mandate, and all necessary support and
supplies;

3.       Pressure on the Government of Sudan to allow all expelled
humanitarian organizations back into Darfur without any delays or
conditions;

4.       The end of attacks on Refugee Camps in Chad and Darfur and
the return of all confiscated land to its rightful owners;

5.       Strict trade sanctions against Chinese oil companies, and all
other companies investing in Sudanese oil or exporting weapons to
Sudan and otherwise conducting business with the genocidal Regime.

The leadership of the United States, the active engagement of the CPA
mediators and the commitment of the international community are
pivotal to a sustainable peace process. Your Administration must take
advantage of unprecedented goodwill and a unique moment – a moment
when real progress can be made. We are standing up today to show that
the political will for substantive action exists. Support the innocent
people of Sudan and bring the leaders of the world along with you. You
know how many lives hang in the balance.

With the sincere support of the following representatives of the
Darfuri community,

Mohamed Yahya
Executive Director, The Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy
Washington, DC

Daowd Salih
Board of Directors President
The Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy
Washington, DC

Dr. Abdul-gabar Adam
President, Darfur Human Rights
Philadelphia, PA

Ms. Nusaiba
Darfuri Women of Georgia

Bushara Dosa
President, Darfuri Association of New York

Jimmy Mulla
President, Southern Sudan Community
Virginia

Nouredin Mannan
President, Nubia of North Sudan Community

Yahya Osman
Darfur Rehabilitation Project
New Jersey

Adeeb Yousif
International Coordinator For Sudan Social Development Organization
New Jersey

Suad Mansour
Darfur Alert Coalition
Philadelphia

Lam Jock
President of United Sudanese Youth
Virginia

Ibrahim Tahir Ahmed
Beja Congress Party
Washington DC

Sunday Taabu
Administrative Chair, South Sudan Institute for Women’s Education and Leadership
Greensboro, NC

Niemat Ahmadi
Darfuri Liaison Officer, Save Darfur Coalition
Washington, DC

Mohamed Suleiman
Member, Executive Committee, San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition
San Francisco, CA

And the following organizations standing in solidarity with Darfuris,

Nikki Serapio
Director, Americans Against the Darfur Genocide
San Francisco, CA

Eric Cohen
Chairperson, Investors Against Genocide
Boston, MA

Susan Morgan
Director of Communications, The Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
Boston, MA

Sharon Silber
Co-Founder, New York City Coalition for Darfur
New York, NY

Eileen Weiss
Steering Committee Co-Chair, DarfurMetro
New York, NY

Leah Nuckolls
Founder, Be Their Messenger
Gilbert, AZ

Julia A. Hays
Director, Keokuk for Darfur
Keokuk, IA

Nell Okie
The New Haven Alliance for Congo
Madison, CT

Michael Schwartz
Regional Coordinator, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Cambridge, MA

Eric Frenkil
Founder, Activists United
Beloit, WI

Ruth Messinger
President, American Jewish World Service
New York, NY

Bryan Ardouny
Executive Director, Armenian Assembly of America
Washington, DC

Angie McPhaul
Coordinator, Stanford STAND
Palo Alto, CA

Sara Caine Kornfeld
Project Founder, “Change the world. It just takes cents”
Denver, CO

Rabbi Charles M. Feinberg
Adas Israel Congregation
Washington, DC

Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director, Church Alliance for a New Sudan
Washington, DC

Benjamin Swartout
Mid-Atlantic Regional Outreach, STAND
Upton, MA

Carmen Paolercio
Shine A Ray of Hope for Darfur
New Rochelle, NY

Cory Williams
Darfur and Beyond
Phoenix, AZ

Gerri Miller
Founder and Coordinator, Dear Sudan, Love Marin
Tiburon, CA

As you can see, Niemat Ahmadi of SDC signed on as one of the “representatives of the Darfuri community,” but neither SDC nor ENOUGH signed on as one of the “organizations standing in solidarity with Darfuris.”  Why didn’t they sign this letter?  Is it because they’re not standing in solidarity with Darfuris or because there’s some part of the letter these organizations disagree with?  And if they disagreed with any part of what Damanga was calling for, why were they so heavily involved in the rally?

I highlight this seemingly small thing because I think it exemplifies how some major Darfur advocacy organizations operate.  When given the opportunity, they selectively involve themselves with activists so that they can get whatever credit, money or publicity they can while simultaneously distancing themselves from activists so that, if someone starts questioning the viability/wisdom/moral righteousness of activists’ activities, the organization can say that they didn’t technically author/approve/sign on to/support whatever the subject of criticism is.  They’re involved enough to take credit for the positive points but keep their distance enough so that, if there’s ever any fallout, they’re as safe as possible from any bad publicity.

The problem I see is that, if they’re purposefully walking a fine line between support and distance, then they must predict that some of what Damanga is saying may be controversial.  Even controversial enough so that SDC et al may want to claim that they had nothing to do with it.  If they can foresee a problem with a coalition member’s message, wouldn’t the responsible thing to do be to rein in activists before the message ever gets incorporated into a major event like – say – a rally?  And note that SDC, specifically, doesn’t just provide speakers and publicity for these peoples’ events, they also give them grant money and other support, so it’s not like they don’t have leverage over their coalition members. If they predict that there will be a problem or disagree with some of the language, shouldn’t they say, for example, “We think that using terms like ‘STOP TAKING BLACK SLAVES’ is inappropriate and we refuse to promote or participate in your event until you agree to use more appropriate talking points?”

And their unwillingness to do anything close to that gets to the root of the problem, I think: SDC and ENOUGH exhibit no leadership.  Sure, they’ve situated themselves at the head of this coalition of organizations that care about Darfur, but they seem to be leaders in name only.  Does it show leadership to swoop in, take all the credit you can for making your coalition partner’s event successful and then leave them hanging when people inevitably ask “Is that language racist?  Is that the best policy?”  That’s not even close to leadership, that’s cowardice.

SDC is already capitalizing on it, in fact.  By not signing the sign-on letter, SDC distanced themselves from the message of the rally and part of that message was a strong focus on Darfur, as opposed to all of Sudan, as evidenced in their pre-rally promotional language which I criticized earlier.  Already, SDC has an unrelated blog post up that highlights the language in a Refugees International petition urging President Obama to “develop a broader regional strategy that resolves the root causes of conflict throughout ALL of Sudan and neighboring Chad.”  Now, how much do you want to bet that, if someone asked SDC “The Damanga rally organizers are concerned that the ‘Obama Administration is supporting [the] CPA more than Darfur,’ but the RI letter clearly has a broader scope.  So why do you guys support both?  Which do you support more?”  SDC would respond by pointing out that they support peace in the entire region, but that doesn’t make them hypocrites because they didn’t actually sign the sign-on letter that accompanied the rally, and that the opinions expressed on their blog don’t necessarily represent SDC’s opinions, etc.  That is, I’ll bet they’d immediately use their previously laid plans to distance themselves from any nastiness and absolve themselves of responsibility.

Or look at the recent brouhaha over those stupid thongs, which SDC doesn’t manufacture but the proceeds of which are donated to SDC.  As of late, these Stop Genocide thongs have been discussed all over the blogosphere.  (We here at SDAP have officially named it “Thonggate.”  Trademark pending, bitches!)  And what did SDC do when people first started blogging about these things?  Nothing.  They waited and kept silent and let the story get all the way to Foreign Policy and NPR, and now it’s a bit of a PR nightmare for them.  The responsible thing to do would have been to say, as soon as someone brought these things up, “Thank you for drawing these to our attention.  Though we have nothing to do with the manufacture of these items, we agree that they are inappropriate and will not accept donations from their sale from now on.”  They could’ve even spun it positively and said “This is evidence of how robust and diverse our movement is, which of course has positive and negative points.  While it means that the movement is strong and far-reaching, it also means that occasionally some attempts at activism are misguided…” and so on.  That would have both nipped this story in the bud early on and allowed them to sing their own praises.  (Fun Fact: Homer Simpson calls that a “crisitunity“)  But no.  They responded with silence, possibly just waiting for the whole thing to blow over and hoping that they’ll never have to suffer the indignity of authoring a press release with the word “thong” in it.  Perhaps they’re authoring a damage-control piece right now (that will appear in Foreign Policy?) and have yet to make it public, but to date they haven’t so much as blogged about these thongs and they certainly didn’t make any public statements in this story’s infancy or when it was picking up steam, back when they should have.  (They’re welcome to use my suggested response, though.  As long as they give me credit.)  So why didn’t they say anything back when it mattered?  Do they think these thongs are an appropriate way to raise awareness about the genocide?  If not, what’s their excuse for accepting the money from their sale?  How much do you wanna bet that any upcoming comment from SDC will highlight the fact that they aren’t technically the ones selling them?  If that ends up being the case, think about how cowardly that is: They want to distance themselves from these things when they draw bad press, but up until now they’ve been more than happy to accept money from their sale.  And now to overextend a metaphor that didn’t even work that well in the first place:

We didnt sign that letter, we dont make those thongs and we dont roll on shabbas!

"We didn't sign that letter, we don't make those thongs and we don't roll on shabbas! Got it?!"

Indeed, not accepting responsibility would be cowardly, which is typically not what you’d expect the leading bodies of any major movement to be.  I can’t say I’d be shocked though, given the major Darfur advocacy organizations’ history of refusing to take their lumps, accept responsibility and generally play by the rules of common decency.

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