The grassroots movement to end the genocide in Darfur did not begin in Congress or the White House. It grew from the concerns of unelected American citizens, many of them high school or college age, who could no longer hear about the atrocities in Sudan and not act.
This week, I offered a resolution to recognize the outstanding work of schools, communities and faith-based advocacy groups who, through their tireless efforts and countless hours of volunteer service, have helped bring the genocide in Darfur to the front burner of American political discourse. It passed unanimously, a reflection of the congressional support for public calls to end the genocide.
Recently, I met with several outstanding students from the New School of Virginia, located in Fairfax County. These conscientious young individuals put on a 3-day conference to educate their peers about the atrocities in Darfur.
I was so moved by their sincere and energetic commitment to this cause that I invited them to Congress to brief other representatives on Darfur. At a meeting I hosted, these high-schoolers laid out their efforts to call attention to the issue and their reasons for doing so. Their words were well received and message clear: please save the people of Darfur.
It should come as no surprise that our youngest and most talented students are committed to this issue. They learned that villages have been razed, women systemically raped and branded, men murdered, and food and water supplies destroyed. We often hear slogans like, “not on our watch,” but our society is now witness to a crisis as devastating as Rwanda. As idealistic young people, they cannot understand why, knowing what we know, these atrocities are allowed to continue today.
Over the last few years, major changes in US foreign policy with respect to the ongoing crisis in Darfur have occurred, thanks in large part to these citizen activists. On July 22, 2004, Congress declared that the atrocities unfolding in Darfur constituted genocide. On September 9, 2004, former Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that “genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.” On April 18, 2007, President George W. Bush asserted that the United States has a moral obligation to help end the genocide in Darfur.
But rather than quell support for more action, these declarations have caused the efforts of student advocates to increase, as word of what is happening in Darfur grows and spreads.
The U.S. House of Representatives made clear this week that we recognize the outstanding work of these conscientious citizens and the advocacy groups they work. By taking matters into their own hands, instead of waiting for direction from their government, they have played a crucial role in bringing needed attention to the genocide in Darfur. Their efforts reflect the true spirit of Americans, and bring hope to all those facing such unimaginable atrocities.