The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

STAND Camp Day 1: Conflict Briefings, International Development, and S’Mores

By Northeast Regional Organizer Emma Goldberg

This is the first in a series of five posts recapping STAND Camp 2012, our third annual summer training institute for students from around the country.

Capturing the spirit of STAND Camp is difficult. But one core chapter leader put her finger on it with a comment shared on Friday, the day the program kicked off. “STAND students are so unique,” she laughed. “They can bond over wonky presentations one minute and goofy ice breakers the next.” This sentiment is a pretty accurate description of STAND Camp, Day One.

Hailing from as far as the West Coast and as near as downtown DC, students converged on each other in a mass of energy at the Baltimore airport, eager to begin their long anticipated weekend. STAND Camp participants bonded over warm introductions, excited to meet their national network of fellow organizers.

Remember when we told you Michael Jackson was back? Well, he joined us at STAND Camp to kick off the weekend– in the form of Mickey Jackson, STAND’s new Student Director. Mickey welcomed chapter leaders and introduced this year’s Managing Committee. Overall, it was a true thriller of a presentation (apologies for the corny joke).

One of the merits of STAND Camp is that it offers students the opportunity to connect with current global affairs in a meaningful way, going beyond newspaper headlines to understanding the nuances of conflicts in Sudan, Syria, and elsewhere. Myra Dahgaypaw, Director of the US Campaign for Burma, delivered a presentation on the current conflict in Burma. Myra is a member of the Burmese diaspora and wove her personal narrative together with historical and geopolitical context. She was joined by Allyson Neville-Morgan, United to End Genocide’s Director of Media Relations and a long-time friend of STAND, who has contributed much policy expertise to the movement.

As Friday evening rolled around, the retreat center room was abuzz with conversation, laughter– and, of course, the sound of fingers typing away furiously, taking notes and taking over the Twittersphere. “@ANevilleMorgan and @uscb are briefing our @standnow core chapter leaders about the conflict in #Burma. #StandCamp.” Chapter leaders chimed in to respond to Myra and Allyson’s presentation with questions, commentary, and Tweets.

Continuing their study of contemporary atrocities, STAND Camp participants then received a briefing on Syria from Allyson Neville-Morgan and Dave Kienzler, an analyst for the Conflict Risk Network. Students’ prior knowledge of the conflict was evident given the insightful questions they shared. One student asked what type of government could be expected in a post-Assad Syria, and another questioned the Syrian government’s control over chemical weapons. As STAND’s Community Manager Shomya Tripathy so eloquently tweeted, “Never ceased to be amazed by the incredibly insightful and intelligent questions asked by @standnow kids. #standcamp.”

After several hours of educational briefings, students were ready to sit back and chow down in the Pearlstone Retreat Center’s dining room. STAND Camp participants challenged themselves to speak with unfamiliar faces and make new acquaintances over dinner, giggling over ice breakers like, "What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?" ("Call Me Maybe" was, naturally, a popular response.)

And what better way to end a first day of camp than with s’mores around a bonfire? Students enjoyed a discussion with Janessa Goldbeck, a STAND alum who recently completed a cross-country bike tour that promoted awareness about international development. At the closing of her presentation, Janessa shared a powerful story. While visiting a Congressional representative’s office to lobby for international development and foreign aid, she struck up a conversation with a Congressional staffer. The two began to discuss involvement with human rights organizations and Janessa quickly discovered that the staffer had been a member of a university STAND chapter! It’s a small world after all, at least in STAND Land. Janessa’s story was a reminder that the STAND students of today will be the policymakers of tomorrow– and that’s a thought as heartwarming as a good s’more.  

STAND Chapters Educate Their Peers on Sudan

By Northeast Regional Organizer Emma Goldberg

“Khartoum rise up, rise up, we won’t be ruled by a thief.”

Who are the powerful voices behind this chant, the leaders of the ever-growing #SudanRevolts? The protests were initiated by students, dormitory residents at the University of Khartoum responding to President Omar al Bashir’s austerity measures. Essentially, the Sudanese regime is encountering its first serious domestic challenge in years from leaders no older than much of STAND’s constituency.

The Sudan Revolts push us to question our role as students worlds away, eager to act in firm solidarity without encroaching or offering uninformed perspectives. In order to voice support for the protesters, nuanced understanding of the current conflict is critical. Solidarity begins with education– informing both ourselves and our campuses about Sudan. Several chapters have powerful examples to offer.

How better to understand the current regime than by hearing the stories of diaspora groups? This year Colgate STAND hosted Gabriel Bol Deng, a refugee from Sudan who shared his story and experiences with violence in his native country. Bol Deng’s village was attacked by North Sudan Arab militiamen when he was ten-years-old, leaving him orphaned and forced to live for years in a Kenyan refugee camp. He has since come to the United States and established a foundation to support education in the Sudanese village of Ariang. “His story was extremely inspiring,” chapter president Samantha Frank said. The event succeeded in raising money for Bol Deng’s organization, the Hope for Ariang Foundation.

Some chapters educate through stories, while others employ creative and artistic techniques. Haddonfield Memorial High School STAND constructed refugee tents on their campus promoting awareness about the millions of Sudanese refugees, individuals like Bol Deng, who have suffered because of the current regime. The chapter also hosted a benefit concert to raise money for STAND’s parent organization, United to End Genocide.

Down south in North Carolina, Durham Academy STAND took a wonkier approach. After conducting research regarding the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act, the chapter lobbied their local congressional representative, David Price, in support of the legislation.

STAND was also able to leverage social media in urging the U.S. government to support civilian protection in Sudan. When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing, Advocacy Coordinator Maria Thomson recorded a video addressing Secretary Clinton and the State Department, declaring that thousands of United States students support peaceful, decisive mechanisms for accountability in Sudan.

It’s tough to sift through all of the wonky information and educational blog posts flooding the interwebs regarding Sudan. And it’s even tougher to assess how we as American students can translate this information into education and advocacy. But let’s look to the examples set by STAND chapters who have leveraged their power as activists and organizers to inform others about Sudan.

Kony 2012 Round-Up

Perhaps you’ve watched the Kony 2012 video, or at least seen it posted tens of times on your Facebook newsfeed, blasted across the Twitterverse. The energy surrounding Invisible Children’s campaign is unprecedented.  The Kony 2012 documentary film has ricocheted around the globe, accumulating over 77 million views on Youtube and more than 13 million on Vimeo since its launch. Millions have shared the video on Facebook and the Twitter hashtag #stopkony has been trending worldwide.

But the question of the hour is: what do we do with that energy? As an organization of informed advocates, how do we draw on the strength of the Kony 2012 campaign to create a platform for critical discussions on advocacy, atrocities in Central Africa, and anti-LRA movement?

Some see Kony 2012 as a crucial entryway, an opportunity to draw a new base of passionate constituents into the movement of students opposing mass atrocities. Mission San Jose High STAND chapter leader Charlotte Miller blogged on “The Tipping Point,” articulating her hope that Kony 2012 can act as a catalyst, inspiring students to engage in movements against other mass atrocities in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Syria. As Charlotte writes, “This may be the enough moment, the tipping point… The excitement and determination of my generation is simply astounding, and, for the first time, I see a real way of bringing an end to the slaughter of innocent people.” As Keshov Sharma of Duke STAND pointed out in a core chapter leader email thread, Invisible Children accomplished precisely what it set out to do—it built a broad base inspired by its work and taken by its narrative. STAND student Brad Calloway also praised the video for the buzz it sparked, voicing his excitement about seeing peers so engaged in anti-genocide issues, eager to discuss STAND’s work as a fellow advocacy organization. “I’ve perceived the video’s purpose to be more or less planting a seed in the hundreds of thousands of students’ minds that will hopefully grow and make them more interested in the intricacies involved in Central Africa,” he wrote on STAND’s Facebook page. Another STAND chapter leader, Angie Walker, advised other STAND organizers to “take the energy and run with it! We should use the Kony2012 campaign to expand STAND’s public reach.”

Though perhaps a valuable entryway for new activists, the campaign has also generated a firestorm of criticisms. Firstly, Foreign Policy blogger Joshua Keatingpoints out that the video contains many egregious factual errors. Joseph Kony has not been in Uganda for the past six years—the LRA has left Northern Uganda and its operations are now centered in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and DRC, which is mentioned only in passing at 15:01 in the movie. Furthermore, the LRA is comprised of at most several hundred soldiers—not the 30,000 child soldiers cited by Invisible Children. As Keating points out, while the LRA “is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.” Given the size and scope of the LRA—as well as the limits on policy intervention against it– it is an important human rights issue but not necessarily the most pressing atrocity that the United States is capable of addressing. As STAND’s Conflict Free Campus Coordinator Carly Oboth wrote to fellow core chapter leaders, activists may as well be mobilizing around “BASHIR 2012! ASSAD 2012!”

The factual misrepresentation is disturbing. But a much more complex topic for discussion is the questionable advocacy strategies Invisible Children has employed in its campaign, and the potential they have to perpetuate cultural stereotypes and biases. As STAND Student Director Daniel Solomon points out his blog post, “Let’s Talk About Kony” the simplified narrative spun by the Kony 2012 documentary largely fails to balance advocacy efforts with an understanding of civil society mobilization in areas of conflict. As Daniel writes, “We’re not doing enough to define the terms of empowerment, to balance our advocacy perspectives with an understanding of civil society mobilization in conflict-affected areas, and to establish meaningful, sustained cross-cultural linkages that prioritize empathy, rather than sympathy.”

Finally,in critiquing the Kony 2012 campaign many activists have wondered what meaningful actions the video can inspire. Invisible Children has engaged an audience that is tremendously large– but uniformed. So after someone shares the video, what is their next step? How can they further their activism against mass atrocities, or step forward from online to offline action?

The debate over Kony 2012 is raging through emails, Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. This is a unique moment in our movement’s history in that a broad range of individuals are engaging in discussion, from inspired students lacking any advocacy background to the wonkiest policy experts on the web. We encourage you to contribute to this ongoing dialogue with comments, questions, concerns, or excitement.

What are your thoughts and commentary on Kony 2012? How do you think we can harness the energy from Kony 2012 in order to create an accurate narrative that will inspire informed activism? Leave a comment and let us know!

UPDATE: Feeling like a refresher on your history of Kony and the LRA? Check out this one-pager we put together!