A handful of students began a 24-hour fast Wednesday afternoon in front of the State Department to urge the U.S. government to take action against the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
About 180,000 people have died in Darfur, and more than two million have been displaced from their homes since 2003, when the genocide started, according to an Associated Press report. The Arab government in Khartoum is accused of employing militias to destroy villages and kill civilians.
The students were pushing for increased action against violence in the region, a no-fly zone over Darfur to prevent bombing and U.S. pressure for an international arms and oil embargo. The GW chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur sponsored the fast and a vigil that took place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The fast, which is being observed by between five and 10 students, started at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and is scheduled to continue until 5:30 p.m. Thursday. As African-inspired music played on a stereo, demonstrators handed out information about the crisis in Darfur to people on the street. Protestors also handed literature to workers exiting the State Department and yelled at those who were unresponsive to their message. Protestors held up signs reading “Inaction is a crime” and “Starving for humanity.”
Students hoped that their fast would inspire other people across the country to take action. They wanted to show the State Department that Americans care about the genocide.
“Doing this type of thing can have an effect if you get people doing it all over the country,” freshman Nir Katz said.
The State Department did not return calls for this article. Earlier this month, Robert Zoellick, second in command at the State Department, pledged more than $1.7 billion for humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance in southern Sudan.
Protesters said they want specific action taken in response to the violence.
“For us to sustain support, particularly related to the government in Khartoum, we’re going to have to see action in Darfur,” Zoellick told CNN earlier this month.
About 10 students planned to maintain their protest through Thursday afternoon; others came for hours at a time. Students from several area colleges attended the event, including members of Howard University’s chapters of STAND and Amnesty International.
“It’s not just about Sudan, it’s about the entire world,” said Azza Farhan, a student at Northern Virginia Community College who moved here from Sudan with her parents when she was 4 years old. Farhan said that her family in Sudan is angrier with the Sudanese government than the Bush administration. Although her family is not from the Darfur region, they are still extremely upset about the events taking place.
“In Sudan, no matter where it hits, it’s home,” Farhan said.
The vigil featured many guest speakers, including prominent members of Africa Action, a national organization that is working for the Darfurian cause. Salih Booker, an organizer with Africa Action, congratulated the students on their efforts.
“You are a living example of what it means to act now,” Booker said.
Students who stayed the whole time were active through the night. They spent their time tracing cardboard cutouts of bodies in chalk on the sidewalk to represent the dead in Sudan and placed them in front of the State Department.
Protesters spent the rest of the night writing letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and watching documentaries about Africa on a laptop computer.
“It’s kind of exciting that it’s all happening because we planned it so quickly and changed it so much,” freshman Sarah Chasin said. “It’s really cool that it’s actually tonight.”