By Mickey Jackson
My first foray into anti-genocide activism took place when I was a 14 year-old high school freshman. At some point early in the school year, I remember seeing Hotel Rwanda and perceiving a connection between the all-too-recent history portrayed in the film and the Nick Kristof columns I was reading about a new genocide in Darfur. After doing a little more research, I stumbled across this quote by the late Senator Paul Simon, one of the few U.S. leaders who had consistently called for a more robust international effort to protect Rwandan civilians in 1994: “If every member of the House of Representatives and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different.”
My immediate reaction upon reading that was essentially to say, “Well, then, let’s get a hundred letters sent to every member of Congress about Darfur!” My chosen tactic: a chain email. I wrote a message to everyone in my (and my parents’) contact list, asking them to write their representatives and senators about Darfur and then forward the email to friends in ten other states. I figured that the resulting email chain would quickly reach every state, and before long the House and Senate office buildings would be drowning in letters calling for civilian protection in Darfur. Needless to say, that effort didn’t quite pan out, although I did get some local media coverage and a nice letter from Senator Simon’s son.
Thankfully, I soon discovered a more productive outlet for my activist impulses. Through a friend, I learned that a senior at my high school had recently formed a chapter of STAND, which at the time still stood for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur.” I worked with this small but dedicated group to plan Tucson’s first Darfur awareness rally in April 2006, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, as I prepare to graduate college, it’s hard to believe that my time in STAND is nearly over. Over the past eight years, I’ve watched STAND transition from a solely Darfur-focused organization to a robust multi-conflict movement that advocates against mass atrocities whenever and wherever they occur. I’ve watched successive generations of student leaders, at both the national and the local levels, make their mark in different ways. And I’ve interacted with countless anti-genocide activists who continue to impress me with their dedication and creativity.
While I’ll be sad to leave at the end of this year, I’m incredibly excited to watch the next generation of student leaders take the helm. Our movement’s been around since 2004, but we’re still just getting started, and next year’s leadership team will have a unique opportunity to shape the future of student anti-genocide advocacy. If you’re the kind of person who likes to dream big–for instance, who thinks, “Well, why can’t we get a hundred letters sent to every member of Congress?”–and is willing to put in the work to make it happen, STAND needs you. Specifically, we need you to apply for the 2013-2014 leadership team. If the thought sounds intimidating, remember that STAND was founded not by experts, not by professionals with years of experience, but by students like you.
Building a sustainable anti-genocide constituency is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is a challenge, but it is an eminently worthy one. Regardless of your skill set or your experience level, you have a role to play in making that happen. So: how will you lead?