The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Cupcakes Bring In Informed First-Time Voters

By Chapter Leader Rachel Wald

Senioritis has definitely kicked in, but so has the realization that we are FINALLY voting members of society!

With political campaigns on our mind, we wanted to get our peers as excited as we are. At our public high school in Oregon, however, we knew this might be slightly challenging.

We decided there is one thing that speaks loudly to broke, stressed-out, high-schoolers: free food.

With Valentine’s Day looming, tasty sweets seemed the best option.

A few of us met over the weekend with frosting, cupcake mix, and sprinkles in hand, baking batches of sweets to lure new voters.

Throughout the week during lunch, we set up camp in our school’s main hallway, giving free treats to those who visited us, had a quick conversation with us regarding the candidates, and left with the campaign materials.

Hoping to kill two birds with one stone (…or feed two with one hand… much more peaceful), we also welcomed new member sign-ups, especially targeting the underclassmen. Our chapter has found itself in a pickle, realizing we don’t have someone to take over leadership of the group next year. The cupcakes and cookies were a great way to tell more people about STAND and convince some younger students to join.

Although most students came looking for a chocolate fix to ease the Valentine’s Day blues, they left as either more informed voters or as possible new members of our Lincoln High School STAND chapter!

The ‘Here and Now’ of Crisis: Famine in Sudan and the Hesitance of International Response

By Comms Blogger Tyler S. Bugg

In a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the Khartoum government’s restrictions of international aid workers and emergency assistance packages to Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions is placing the area “on the brink of” a humanitarian famine crisis.

When does an “on the brink of” crisis become a “present and current” crisis? I find it already has.

Since the conflict in the region erupted last year, the apparent detachment between the Sudanese government and the civilians on the ground has become wider. According to Ambassador Rice’s letter, the United Nations already estimates that at least 500,000 people have and are still being affected by the conflict in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. While some have been able to flee the conflict and seek greater safety in neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia, some have been displaced and rendered immobile within Sudan. The overbearing scope of conflict in the regions has intensely constrained the movement of civilians in carrying out the necessary steps of survival. Most notable among them: the impossibility of growing, harvesting, and keeping access to food.

The international community understand this lack of access as a consequence of the conflict, and it wants to lend its hand. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council expressed “deep and growing alarm” over famine threats and called on Sudan and rebels working to close off the country’s borders to cease doing so. The immediate and free flow of aid workers into the country are crucial to preventing drastically rising hunger levels.

The government of Sudan, however, has other plans. Ambassador Rice amounts those plans to famine: “It is clear the Government of Sudan has instituted a deliberate policy to prevent humanitarian agencies from reaching vulnerable civilians impacted by the conflict.” Food security analysts agree and say the consequences are dire; in the current conflict-ridden tensions and without aid flows into Sudan, food security will be jeopardized as early as March of this year.

With such immediate violence and famine on the ground in Sudan, where is the immediate international response? Ambassador Rice’s letter and statements from the UN Security Council are certainly an important start in making a public call for pressuring Sudan to allow aid workers and food relief into the country. The (what is presented to be strong) rhetoric of their words, however, are impeded by a tone of hesitancy. A blatant inconsistency exists when South Kordofan and Blue Nile are classified as under an internationally recognized “Phase 4/Emergency” status but described by conditions of “likely famine in the near future.”

The future is already here, and famine is already spreading in the regions, attacking vulnerable civilians today. Statements from the international community that portray the famine as anything short of a current and present humanitarian crisis are both weakening the pressure of their words and harming Sudanese civilians still within zones of conflict.

A ‘here and now’ response is necessary for alleviating a ‘here and now’ crisis. A proactive pressure against Sudanese government restrictions is absolutely crucial for addressing the criss today before it becomes one we could have helped tomorrow.


Romney Speaks Up. But Is It Enough?

By Comms Blogger Zoya Waliany   

Though seemingly robotic and unreachable, Mitt Romney is the first of the Republican candidates to address the issue of conflicts in Sudan. After Act For Sudan, a bipartisan, interfaith alliance of American and Sudanese advocacy organizations, asked the 2012 presidential candidates for a statement about Sudan, only Romney responded, condemning the regime of Omar al-Bashir and its history of genocide. He also highlighted the violence against the non-Arab regions in Sudan, like South Kordofan. Notably, he assured that he is “committed to protecting innocents from war crimes and other atrocities, ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need, holding accountable those leaders who perpetrate atrocities, and achieving a sustainable peace for all who live in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.”
    Romney’s statement came only after a request from Act For Sudan, and he is alone among the Republican candidates to respond. These candidates are letting foreign policy take a backseat to domestic policy, assuming that the American public only cares about domestic issues, which is simply untrue. Our student-led organization, an increasingly influential force on the American voting populace, has the ability to prove to the Republican candidates the importance of foreign policy and humanitarian efforts, outside of asserting our dominance over China. The new STAND initiative focuses on asking the presidential candidates to take notice of countries with human rights violations and address these issues. If they plan on reducing foreign aid, will areas like South Kordofan,  still be eligible? According to Mitt Romney, this region of Sudan will receive aid under a Romney regime, but what assurance do we have, and what about other countries like Burma? What are the candidates’ stances on genocide prevention, responsibility to protect, and the foreign aid budget? From what we’ve seen so far in the numerous debates, these areas are of little concern to the candidates.
    If enough STAND members attend town hall meetings with the candidates and rally behind these issues, we can raise awareness and importance of genocide prevention, Sudan and the like. While the candidates may consider questions about genocide prevention and foreign aid “gotcha questions,” they will have no excuse to evade these points any longer.

The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and not of STAND.

Know Your Candidate! We asked Romney…

By Regional Organizer Kaelee Krege

Politics! Republicans! Democrats! 4 more years! One-term President!

We all get caught up in it, at least to a point, especially being the informed activists that we are. I heard (through facebook! Yay generation-y) that Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was speaking at a rally about 20 mins from my school. What’s the first thing I do? Call up my chapter and say “Yo, who can go to this?” Naturally! Mass texts are really great for this, too. My buddy Ashley, who is always ready for some spontaneous activism, jumps on board, to my delight! Now, why do I want to go see Mitt Romney? Because we want the candidates to speak to our issues! Domestic policy is important to all of us, which is why it’s at the center of the campaigns and their promises. What about foreign policy? Does anyone even know Romney’s position on foreign aid, genocide prevention legislation, or R2P? Well, I guess it is up to us to ask! We showed up (with our signs tucked away under my jacket, in my bag) and listened intently to Romney’s speech. We brought our signs, which said “Renew U.S. Leadership? Start with foreign aid!” and “Will you support genocide prevention @ GOP convention?”. We didn’t shout at him or heckle. We just wanted him to know that we had more questions. If he doesn’t answer them now, we will simply keep asking him. Will you keep asking him, too?

We also brought the issue to the people around us, who kept asking what our sign was about. A great opportunity for raising awareness!

We want them to answer to us. Even if this doesn’t change how everyone decides to vote, they will all be more informed about what the candidates believe when it comes to genocide protection – a less glamorous, but core issue of our movement.  Let’s make the candidates explain why they don’t agree with foreign aid, or why genocide protection is essential to US foreign policy. These things do matter, as we have all seen in Libya, Syria, etc. This isn’t theoretical anymore, and that’s why students like us should be asking them. We are their constituency, and a pretty large one at that, who will vote with these issues in mind, so make them answer our questions!

We have seen our movement transcend political partisanship time and time again. When we advocate for protecting civilians, politicians listen, but we first have to speak up. Today.

Your Voice At the Table

By Regional Organizer Kaelee Krege

As the MC gathered together one last time, I couldn’t help but notice how much we had grown over the last 6 months. We had traveled to DC with purpose, and we weren’t going to leave until we had a clear strategy for this semester (except for the flights home that we probably shouldn’t miss… and luckily no one did!). We met with our new partners at United to End Genocide (UEG) over lunch and made sure the student voice (your voice!) was at the table. Our Student Director, Daniel Solomon, would have made you all proud as he articulated the voice of our constituency to the new folks at UEG. Later, we really dug deep into what the chapters are saying, wanting, and doing. Regional Organizers from every region were represented, which means so were the students from every region, allowing us to continually put ourselves in your shoes as we planned for the semester. We talked about how our chapters can be the locus for organizing and for discussing new ideas about R2P, DRC, and any other acronyms that need exploring. We are also constantly blown away by what our chapters are doing, so we also realized we need to amplify everything you do from panels to protests, from bake sales to lobbying.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never known a group of people more capable and more in love with STAND than this year’s MC. And that is why I know that this new semester is going to be a big one for STAND and for our movement! Comment if you agree or disagree! We love to hear feedback.

There’s more to come about our take aways from the retreat as we continue our conversations with all of you to inform the assumptions and national strategies that came out of this weekend.

New Perspectives

By Media Coordinator Alix Neenan

I’m a very opinionated person. So perhaps this was why my African studies teacher assigned me to be the Sudanese government in a Darfur simulation. Or maybe she just hates me and enjoys seeing eighteen other students yell at me asking why I was allowing the Janjaweed to murder the citizens of Darfur.

When I first received the assignment, I was very indignant. As a person highly invested in the anti-genocide movement and a high school student who tends to see things in a very black-and-white manner, there simply was no other side. Al-Bashir was like one of those villains in a Disney movie: scary and evil.

But then I realized, the debate wasn’t about trying to de-vilify Al-Bashir and the Khartoum government, but rather, transfer some of the culpability to other parties. The simulation wasn’t just a debate between the people of Darfur and Al-Bashir, or the Khartoum government versus the UN. My teacher had set up various groups in the simulation to be represented: the JEM and SLM, the European Union, China, the United States, Chad, and the Central African Republic were among those groups people in my class simulate.

Trying to represent the government of Sudan was a challenge. Essentially, it was eighteen other students yelling at me asking why I was allowing the Janjaweed to murder the citizens of Darfur.

I was suddenly Public Enemy No. 1 in my Africa class as my partner and I were interrogated. And I thought this was supposed to be a “friendly simulation.”

Of course, while I am complaining about the entire ordeal, I did actually get a lot out of it. I was able to understand that there was another side, maybe even if I couldn’t rationalize with it. I also learned that my peers — high school students in Connecticut — see things in black and white, but at least they’re seeing it.

Sanctions, Syria, and Pizza

By Swarthmore upSTANDer Danny Hirschel-Burns

    Our STAND chapter at Swarthmore, like our college, is small.  You can count our members on one hand.  Therefore, we have to focus on small scale actions.  Our recent experiences holding a call-in on Syrian sanctions, however, demonstrated that even our undersized chapter can hold events that engage other students and have a national impact.

    Last month, we scheduled a call-in to senators urging them to support the Syrian Sanctions Act.  We reserved a busy lounge on campus right around lunch on a Thursday and Friday.  Since it is across from all the student mailboxes, almost every student passes through on their way to lunch.  We ordered three pizzas, and promised a free slice of (the admittedly mediocre) pizza to anyone who called their Senator.  There were generally two or three of us at the table at a time, and our basic strategy was to yell at our friends (or people we might have talked to at a party once) to come over to our table.  We had a STAND fact sheet on the Syrian conflict and the bill itself.  These two pieces of paper convinced a lot of people who didn’t know much about the conflict that supporting sanctions was the right thing to do.   We had a list of phone numbers for every Senator (prepared by Swarthmore’s very own STAND National Advocacy Coordinator Maria Thomson), and a short script for students to read while on the phone, if they chose. 

    I was amazed at how successful we were.  On the first day, we ran out of pizza way ahead of time, but students continued to call after the pizza ran out.  Students were very up front with questions about the conflict, and so while we educated them on the conflict, their questions also made us think critically about our position on the sanctions.  These were mutually beneficial discussions.  I was most encouraged by the interest displayed by some students.  We had a few motivated students stick around the table, calling multiple Senators, and even helping other students make calls.  The event was a huge success.  There were about 100 calls made over those two days, and that’s out of a student body of 1,400!

    The success of our first call-in has persuaded Swarthmore STAND to hold call-ins in the future.  I would also encourage other STAND chapters to organize a call-in.   They don’t require all that much planning, they are not expensive, they effectively engage a large number of students, and connect students with national policy decisions.  While ours went very well, there are a few areas in which we could have improved.  To expand the breadth of people that called their senators beyond our friends, a big sign just outside the lounge detailing our mission would have been helpful.  And since we had so many students excited about calling their Senators, it would have been a great place to recruit desperately needed members.  Having every student that calls write down their name and e-mail would be a great way to keep track of students interested in STAND.  While we didn’t think of everything, our event was still hugely successful.  It only takes a bit of organization and planning to hold a successful call-in, and I encourage other STAND chapters to build on our achievement!               

Daniel Solomon Meets with Special Envoy to Sudan

On December 5th STAND Student Director, Daniel Solomon, had the opportunity to meet with Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman. The conversation also included representatives from United to End Genocide, the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Sudanese diaspora communities from across the United States. This is truly a testament to the power of the student voice. Check out what Daniel had to say after the meeting! 


Sign the Petition: Reverse the suspension of SMS text-messaging services in DRC

The Congolese government has issued a post-election ban on SMS services, with which telecom companies have readily complied. The SMS ban limits an essential source of information on instances of post-election violence and human rights abuses. STAND has posted a petition to on this SMS text-messaging ban. We’re calling on the DRC’s four major telecoms to reverse their suspension of SMS services, in order to ensure that crowd-sourcing can function as an effective mode of conflict prevention.

We need your voice. Have you signed the petition already? This holiday break, send and share this petition with all your friends and family. Make it a goal to get at least ten new people to sign it before the end of your break. Spread the STAND holiday cheer and advocate for conflict prevention in the DRC!

Conflict-Free Cheer: Remember Congo this Holiday Season

By Comms Blogger Roberta Barnett

          With the exception of the STAND National Conference, there are few times a year I enjoy more than the holiday season.  Sometimes, it’s easy to get preoccupied with finals, gift exchanges, and parties—forgetting genocide entirely.  After all, global genocide may not be the most festive of subjects to discuss over eggnog.  But there is at least one way to keep up the dialogue on conflict-prevention: via electronics!

          It’s been a growing trend in the past few years to give and receive electronics during the holiday season.  Unfortunately, much of the money we spend on electronics goes to fuel the deadliest conflict since World War II in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  If you haven’t heard of the term “conflict minerals,” referring to tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, they are metals in most modern electronics mined in the DRC that have been used directly by armed groups to finance violence on local populations (this issue is certainly more nuanced than I just explained, and I encourage you to log on to STAND, United to End Genocide, or the Enough Project Web pages on the topic if you are unfamiliar with this issue).
          The accounts of gender-based violence in eastern Congo alone are enough to make me want to toss all of my gadgets and live a monastic existence until companies progress to being entirely conflict free.  Unfortunately, not only would that be a rather poor strategy in terms of communication, but throwing away electronics simply because they may contain minerals from the DRC will not help anyone.  Instead, we can use our electronics to raise awareness with consumers and companies, urging them to make going conflict-free a priority.  It’s very easy to visit a company’s Web Site or Facebook page and let them know how you feel about its commitment to producing conflict-free products (you can even contact companies through the Enough Project’s Web Site!).

          This weekend, I had to get a new cell phone but was unsure of which device to choose.  I turned to the Enough Project’s site ranking the 21 largest electronics companies based on efforts toward conflict-free supply chains.  I am glad to say that I found a phone with a “green” rating, and will be writing an E-mail message to the company to thank it for the commitment towards creating conflict-free products.
          This December, as a responsible consumer and upSTANDer, conscientious purchasing, conflict education, and effective communication with electronics companies have the potential to make seasons to come a whole lot brighter.  If enough consumers are able to create a demand for conflict free products, electronics companies will eventually make a greater commitment to producing them.  In the frenzy of holiday shopping, parties, and cheer, don’t forget to keep in mind a gift we can’t wrap in paper: a conflict-free tomorrow.