777 Letters!

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These two posts are written by Jasmin Kaur and Brian Browne, from George Washington University STAND. Jasmin and Brian were two of the students who helped hand deliver 777 letters to Bob Schieffer’s office, pressing him to ask the presidential candidates how they will prioritize mass atrocity prevention during tonight’s foreign policy debate.

It was another Sunday night STAND E-board meeting at GW. As much as I love all the meetings, this particular one really sparked my interest. The chapter’s STAND President, Ryan Brenner, introduced the National Day of Action initiative. She made it a competition amongst us E-board members to see who could get the most letters, tweets, retweets, etc. to Bob Schieffer. We would be asking the moderator of the Foreign Policy Debate to ask the candidates, “How will you strengthen the United States’ atrocity prevention efforts as president?” Besides the competition, what really got me excited about this campaign was what I, as an individual, could immediately start doing in order to strengthen the country’s response to genocide and other mass atrocities.

I recently read part of Samantha Power’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. It discussed America’s responses to previous mass atrocities. As an American, I have always had a positive bias towards America as being the human rights champion of the world. However, this book made it obvious just how pathetic America’s response has been to mass atrocities in the past. It was heartbreaking to read that America’s response to genocide has been consistently absent of action. This is especially disheartening in the case of the Rwandan and Darfur genocides. Even with the labeling by the Bush administration of the situation in Darfur as being a genocide, the action stopped there.

However, it was also while reading this book that I became optimistic. President Obama has recently created an Atrocities Prevention Board. This was the best action taken so far by a U.S. President on atrocity prevention. I knew that it was in the hands of the public to make this Atrocities Prevention Board a staple of the White House and U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government ‘s strength lies in its reliance on the will of the people. However, it is this will that many in the government cite as being a reason for the U.S. to not actively engage in atrocity prevention.

STAND’s National Day of Action Campaign allowed me to start taking an active role in getting atrocity prevention on the national agenda. Tweeting and letter writing are such easy things to do, but they can also be some of the most effective tools. Everyone knows just how much of an impact twitter and other forms of social media can have on spreading a movement. Whatever the outcome of today’s debate and of the election, there will have to be a constant push on the U.S. government by its people to strengthen atrocity prevention initiatives, and moreover, to take an active role once a mass atrocity does start. As a global leader, the U.S. holds a lot of power. It’s time for the U.S. to start using that power as leverage to help stop some of the greatest tragedies in human history.

By Jasmin Kaur, Conflict-Free Campus Initiative Co-Coordinator, GW STAND

On Friday I walked to the United to End Genocide office in downtown DC from the George Washington University campus to meet with several other STAND members who are also from the DC area. I had just finished writing a letter to Bob Schieffer that I would be personally delivering to his office, located just a few blocks away. Along with hundreds of other students who submitted letters like mine, I was asking him to raise the issue of genocide prevention at the upcoming presidential debate.

This wasn’t the first time I’d taken part in activism for STAND. I joined STAND as a junior in high school and remember making calls to the State Department, writing letters to my congressmen, and raising funds for aid in Darfur. I remember once feeling victorious after watching Senator Menendez mention the meaningful role of New Jersey students in spreading awareness when he met with the Special Envoy for Darfur. As a senior I became the president of the chapter, and learned much more about STAND and other global conflicts. I realized the significance of creating a permanent anti-genocide community, and prioritized teaching my school and my community about the crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma along with Darfur. We held walks, sold custom tee-shirts, collected pledges, and circulated petitions for these causes, always hoping that we could somehow make a difference.

I continued to be apart of the anti-genocide community when I joined STAND in college at GW and took part in several rallies, walks, and other over the past few years. I attended panel discussions with experts on Sudan, Burma, and the DRC, and have done academic research on these conflicts for school. I even had one of my papers posted on a popular South Sudanese blog a friend of mine runs. With my education rising, so was my level of activism, but it was still important to me to stick with the basics. So this Friday, I knew I had a powerful role to play in the effort to bring the topic of genocide prevention to the debate moderator’s desk by delivering the letters.

As the moderator of the foreign policy debate, Bob Schieffer can ask the candidates how they would, as president, strengthen the U.S. government’s capacity to prevent mass atrocities around the world. This is important, first because it highlights the unique position that the United States government has in standing up for peace wherever conflict arises. We, as a global leader, can help people in the Sudans, Burma, the DRC, Syria, and elsewhere who are struggling for basic needs and security. The global community watches our actions, and looks to us for guidance. We can prevent antagonizers from committing atrocities, and we can encourage others to help protect against those that do. Second, the debate is a great opportunity to show millions of viewers where atrocities are currently happening, and what we should expect our government to do about it. Third, by allowing the general public to hear how each candidate plans to prepare for and react to foreign conflicts, we can make a better judgment about who we should vote for. This also shows the candidates that we, as citizens, care about this issue and will hold them accountable to their words.

So as I walked to Bob Schieffer’s office, it was my hope that by delivering the pile of letters, my message would be magnified when presented to him. I thought that our collective voice would stand out and be heard among the countless other letters, calls, and emails his office receives. When we arrived at his office, we handed the pile of letters to the person at the front desk. With an anticlimactic end to a short trip, I still knew that we played a powerful role in the effort to put genocide prevention on the center stage at the next debate. We got our message to stand out, and even if the candidates aren’t asked about genocide prevention, our continued work as student activists in creating a permanent anti-genocide community is strengthened nonetheless. But if we are lucky, millions of voters along with the global community will see how the candidates prioritize genocide prevention and the candidates will know how dedicated its supporters remain.

By Brian Browne, Press Officer, GW STAND, and former President of the Vineland High School STAND Chapter

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