About 15,000 people crowded the National Mall Sunday afternoon urging the U.S. government to take action against the genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Speakers at the rally included 2006 U.S. Olympic gold-medalist Joey Cheek, Oscar-winning actor George Clooney and Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel, along with many other political activists and lawmakers.
“The diversity of today’s lineup, from Darfur refugees to Holocaust survivors, from members of Congress to national religious leaders to George Clooney, it speaks volumes of this movement and tremendous appeal,” said junior Justin Zorn, policy director for GW’s chapter of Students Taking Action Now Darfur, an organization raising awareness about the issue and urging GW to divest from the country.
“We see this rally as a tipping point,” Zorn said. “Public support for intervention against genocide is now too strong for public officials to ignore.”
More than 180,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003, when war between rebels and the Sudanese government began because non-government citizens believed they were being discriminated against and oppressed, Zorn said. The Sudanese government has prevented humanitarian aid from reaching refugees; while the same forces that have devastated the people of Sudan’s Darfur region continue to murder, rape and threaten the citizens of the country.
Russell Simmons, chairman of Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and founder of Def Jam Records, encouraged the college students, children, parents and elderly alike who were at the rally to promote peace throughout the world.
“We can not forget the suffering that is going on the continent of Africa,” Simmons said. “We must promote love, compassion and dialog.”
Participants in the rally were diverse. Protestors came from across the country, and ranged in age from young children to senior citizens, many with signs stating their messages and the towns they traveled from, with many ethnicities and religions represented.
John Lado, 43, came with a group of 70 people from Dallas.
“I came with a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds in my group,” he said. “We came to support the movement.”
Many people said they feel a connection to the issue because of their own life experience.
Grace Salant, of New York City, was one of the oldest attendees at the rally, at 82 years old.
“Genocide is everyone’s business,” she said. “We didn’t learn much from the Holocaust.”
She traveled from New York City with her friend Nancy Ambruster, 73, who said, “We have been too quiet for too long.”