The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

STAND Opposes Trump Administration’s Syria Policy Change

U.S. policy ought to be shaped by us, not dictators abroad.

On October 7th, 2019, the Trump Administration announced a change in United States foreign policy in Syria following a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan. This change would remove U.S. troops from a Kurdish-controlled border region, where they have been preventing conflict between the Turks and Kurds so as to maintain the delicate balance in the war against ISIS and Bashar al-Assad. This change opens up the floodgates for Turkey to attack the Kurds, a persecuted ethnic group and embattled ally of the United States. 

In 2011, Syrian civilians challenged the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad in nonviolent protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war. Assad launched a vicious counterinsurgency and has managed to hold on to power with help from allies Russia and Iran, who have prevented international action against the Assad regime. Since the beginning of the war, a number of often brutal armed groups have entered the conflict, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. According to Mercy Corps, over 11 million refugees have fled their homes, and less than half of the necessary humanitarian aid has been provisioned.

While the U.S. government lacks leverage over most actors in the conflict, and have not been perfect actors during the conflict, there are measures it can take to help. These include engaging in diplomatic negotiations, ensuring any foreign intervention prioritizes civilian protection and anticipates potential political solutions, and giving substantial financial support to the millions of refugees displaced by the conflict as well as humanitarian aid during the crisis. Implementation of the landmark 2017 Geneva peace talks on Syria policies or restarting diplomatic talks again to end the crisis is unlikely without U.S. presence to mitigate conflict between the Turks and Kurds. 

Furthermore, as this U.S. policy change was a result of Turkey’s President Erdogan, STAND strongly asserts that foreign policy ought to be shaped by U.S. citizens and diplomats, and especially not foreign leaders with an interest or history in perpetuating genocide. President Erdogan has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide or reconcile with its lasting impacts, despite campaign promises and international pressure to do so. Along with a history of authoritarianism, human rights abuses, and corruption, Erdogan’s administration has also been accused of having close ties with the Islamic State, proving that he should not influence U.S. foreign policy.

We thank our members of Congress, especially in the Senate, who have criticized the President’s move, leading to a partial reversal of policy Monday afternoon—but this is not enough. The United States ought to work with the United Nations on implementing the Geneva peace talks provisions or reopening diplomacy talks to secure a humanitarian-focused solution to the crisis, pass the GRACE Act to allow more Syrian refugees to safely find a new home, and increase humanitarian aid funding.

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About STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities

Born out of the fight to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, STAND’s purpose has four pillars: to prevent, respond to, and rebuild after mass atrocities by empowering youth to act. STAND is led by a Student Director, chosen annually, and a Managing Committee comprised of college and high school students across the United States and is the only student-led organization focused on genocide and atrocity prevention. STAND is affiliated with the Aegis Trust, a UK-based nonprofit. For more information or to get involved, visit the website, standnow.org or contact info@standnow.org.

STAND Statement on Trump Administration Cuts to Refugee Acceptance

STAND denounces the decision to cut refugee acceptance; passing the GRACE Act is even more urgent.

On September 26th, 2019, the Trump Administration slashed the refugee acceptance ceiling for 2020 to a historic low of 18,000 people from the historic average of 90,000, ending the United States’ legacy of being a safe haven for those seeking refuge from persecution and disaster across the world. With over 70 million people forcibly displaced from their homes globally, we are facing the worst refugee crisis in recorded human history.

STAND reiterates that this change is not only unprecedented and inhumane, but also that refugees are the most vetted individuals entering the United States. They undergo complex security checks through the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of State, and a number of U.S. intelligence agencies. Refugees are vital cultural and civic members of our communities and significant contributors to the United States economy. Many refugees become naturalized U.S. citizens, and many of those affected by this policy will be unable to reunite with their families already in the United States..

This is why it is urgent that Congress pass the GRACE Act, H.R.2146 and S.1088. The GRACE Act will uphold America’s long bipartisan tradition of welcoming refugees by establishing an annual refugee admissions level of no less than 95,000, restoring refugee admissions to their historic norms. This legislation also requires quarterly reporting to Congress on refugee admissions numbers. As of September 2019, 22 Senators and 57 Representatives have co-sponsored this legislation.

We urge the remaining members of Congress to pass this legislation immediately, to send a clear message about the United States values and counteract the damage done by the change in this policy.

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About STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
Born out of the fight to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, STAND’s purpose has four pillars: to prevent, respond to, and rebuild after mass atrocities by empowering youth to act. STAND is led by a Student Director, chosen annually, and a Managing Committee comprised of college and high school students across the United States and is the only student-led organization focused on genocide and atrocity prevention. STAND is affiliated with the Aegis Trust, a UK-based nonprofit. For more information or to get involved, visit standnow.org or contact info@standnow.org.

Lobby Day: Easier Than You Think

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This month was STAND’s biannual Lobby Day, where activists from all over the United States and world convened in Washington, D.C. to lobby for our policy priorities. Our asks included supporting the Global Fragility Act and the GRACE Act, and passing certain amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, as well as a resolution on protecting education in conflict.

It was only my second time lobbying at the nation’s capital—I live in Washington state, so traveling to D.C. is exciting in itself. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to lobby for global women’s health funding that made it through the appropriations process. The first time around, I remember being excited but very nervous—running around in too-tight heels, sweaty and scared that I would be late to back-to-back meetings. 

This time, however, I was a lot more confident since I was familiar with the buildings. I knew from experience that no one was going to be rude or mean; almost everyone you meet while lobbying will be polite, appreciative, and accommodating, if a little half-hearted. Also, we were lobbying during August recess, which has its pros and cons: although you’re unlikely to meet the Representative/Senator themselves, there are generally fewer people and meetings, which means that you could have a longer and less frazzled chat with the staff.

My first (and favorite) meeting was with a staff member for Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers’ (R-WA) who covers Armed Services, Veteran’s Affairs, and Foreign Policy issues. He was thoughtful and inquisitive, yet noncommittal. We talked mostly about the district and my university, and how refugee resettlement has been an important boon to the economy, culture, and local community. I told him personal stories about refugees that I’ve gone to school with, gave him restaurant recommendations for the next time he’s in the area, and joked around about football. This meeting lasted nearly half an hour, during which he took notes, asked questions, and then sincerely thanked us for talking with him. He promised to look closer at the legislation and pass it on to the Representative for voting.

The other two meetings I had were with the staff of my Senators, Sen. Murray (D-WA), and Sen. Cantwell (D-WA). In these meetings, the staffers were even more positive about joining the legislation I advocated for. Some staffers talked about their job and their personal background; others were interested simply in the policy at hand. Some were excited to talk about Washington State, others had never even been! It’s important to feel out the room to determine what kind of small talk, if any, can help you forge ongoing relationships with the staffer and the office. 

At the end of the day, I grabbed a quick mocha at Dunkin Donuts in the Longworth House building cafeteria. Being from the West Coast, Dunkin is a treat! I made sure I had all of the contact cards for the staffers I met with and reviewed my notes from each meeting, double-checking that any questions they had were written down for when I wrote my follow-up emails. I opted for flat shoes this time around; my feet thanked me. 

The truth of lobbying is that it is as simple as meeting with your legislator or their staff, telling a story, asking them to support a bill, and then following up afterward. Some meetings are shorter than 10 minutes–but they still make a difference! For so long, I thought it was some scary, difficult, shady business that people with law degrees and family connections did. Not so—anyone can lobby for any cause, and causes like mass atrocity prevention, refugee protection, and ending wars are great places to start! Remember, you don’t need to be an expert to lobby. You just have to be passionate and show up! Contact us if you want to set up a lobby day where you live, and view our resources on lobbying and advocacy below:

Jordan Stevenson is a senior at Eastern Washington University, where she is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Global Public Policy, and minoring in Economics and Spanish. As an MC member, she co-leads STAND’s State Advocacy Lead program, communications operations, and policy process. Prior to joining STAND, Jordan served as a Global Youth Advocacy Fellow for Planned Parenthood, lobbied for women’s rights and U.S. foreign policy with Population Connection, and researched Indonesian political rights with the U.N. Development Programme. She currently works on campus at the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis, is an LGBT+ Policy intern with GLIFAA, and does economic development work in Kenya with Partnering for Progress.