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Why Save Darfur?

My friend Marv Steinberg wrote this very personal and important response to my question of why he became an activist, drawing attention to the dreadful situation of genocide in Darfur and calling for change in our government’s foreign policy:

“In March of 2006 I watched the reports of Anne Curry from Darfur.  They were vivid and made a real impression.  There was much in my own background to cause me to reflect on this situation.  As a youth I had been raised Jewish and during the early 1940’s, while preparing for my bar mitzfah and attending synagogue regularly, I listened to the rabbi speak of what was going on in Europe.  I have always lamented the fact that no one did anything about the Holocaust and regretted that my mother would never talk about her brothers who had been left behind in Romania and were never heard from again.”

“As an educator I was not afraid to take risks and led in the development of innovative ideas and programs.  I believed that the key to learning was strong faculty, parent involvement, and students who wanted to be in school.  Whether it was enrichment activities and extended sports programs, exchanges with other schools, welcoming parents into the classroom as aides, setting up an on-site recycling center or leading a county-wide anti drugs program, my commitment to improving educational opportunities for children was a focus during my 40 years as a teacher and school administrator.  A special interest was in working with students who had difficulty in adjusting to the classroom.”

“My daughter had been diagnosed with MS in 1984, when she was 17, and while living independently for many of the following years, took a turn for the worse in 2004 and had to move home, after being hospitalized for three months.   Managing and assisting with her moves from Seattle to Redding and then to San Bruno became a full time job.  When she passed away in June of 2005, there was a deep void, not only because of the loss, but because there was a loss of purpose to my life.”

“In late March of 2006, I had a medical crisis and was taken to the hospital with many of the same symptoms I had had with prior heart problems.  After two days of tests, they decided to do a heart cath—the last two heart caths had resulted in surgery.   The night before the heart cath, I had a rather long conversation with God.  I told God that if I made it through the heart cath I would do something about Darfur.  One of the last persons I saw before going through the procedure was Pastor Kay Young of the First United Methodist Church, and I shared my resolve to do something about Darfur with her.  The heart cath showed that my symptoms had been due to acid reflux and that my by-pass and stent were in great shape.  With my recovery and with the encouragement of my wife, Shirley, I remembered my promise to God and decided to do something about Darfur.”

“Why is Darfur, which is in the western part of the Sudan and about the size of France so special? There has always been conflict among the tribes of the Sudan.  It goes back centuries.  What is different about this?  The rebellion in Darfur—there had been a 17 year long rebellion in Southern Sudan which had ended in 2001 with a settlement in which the U.S. government played a strong role—broke out in 2003 when the people of Darfur, who had long felt they had been treated unfairly by the government rose up.  It took an ugly turn when government planes bombed and destroyed villages, targeting civilians and government backed militia, called the Janjaweed, began scorching villages, killing the men and boys, and assaulting and raping the women and girls.  The government of Sudan is dominated by lighter-skinned Arab Muslims who have looked down on the darker skinned Muslim members of the tribes of Darfur.  Because of the indiscriminate killing of innocent villagers—estimates range from 200-400,000 dead and up to 2.5 million displaced, it has been called a genocide, first by former Secretary of State Powell, but also by President Bush, Congress, and many human rights organizations worldwide.”

“With the backing of Pastor Marty Murdock of  the First United Methodist Church, I shared my experience with our congregation at all three services on Sunday, April 2 and asked them to pray for the people of Darfur and pray for peace in Sudan and Chad.  I invited them to come to a presentation “About Darfur” later in the month and to participate in the “Day of Conscience for Darfur” on Sunday, April 30 in San Francisco.  “About Darfur,” which was advertised in local media attracted over 50 people.  Several carloads from Redding joined thousands of others in the prayer vigil on the Golden Gate Bridge and in a rally at Crissy Field.”

“Since that time, hundreds if not thousands, have participated in events sponsored by Genocide No More—Save Darfur, which was organized in early May.  While most of those who have been consistently involved in planning and staging events over the years have been from the First United Methodist Church of Redding, strong support has also come from Temple Beth Israel and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.   Student groups have been formed at Shasta and Enterprise High Schools, although neither is active at the present time, and at the First United Methodist Church.”

“Today the situation in Darfur continues to be dire.  Recent reports indicate the government of Sudan continues its attacks on villages in Darfur.  Thousands more have been displaced in Southern Darfur and fighting has broken out near the border with Libya.  The Khartoum regime continues to block humanitarian access to camps in Darfur and reports to Radio Dabanga indicate that refugees in the camps are struggling with poor health, looting and attacks.  The situation in the camps in Chad is not much better.”

“The government of the United States continues to express concern about the situation in Darfur and Sudan.  It is a complicated one.  With the recent independence of South Sudan, the Khartoum government has aggressively attacked volatile border regions including oil-rich Abyei, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan.  While criticizing the Sudanese for these actions, the U.S. also talks about the normalization of relations if the independence of South Sudan is not interfered with by Khartoum.”

“Members of  the Darfur diaspora recently held a rally in New York at which they joined other activists in urging the Obama government to take stronger action against Sudan.  They called for regime change in Khartoum and actions such as the targeting and destruction of aerial assets, establishment of a no-fly zone over Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, provision of safe corridors to provide civilians in these areas with humanitarian assistance.. They also called for strong financial sanctions against officials (and their businesses) responsible for attacks against civilians.  In what many hope may the beginning of an “Arab Spring” in Sudan, it was reported that hundreds peacefully protested against the regime in Khartoum last week.”

Marv calls us to add our voices and petition the White House to change the United States policy and confront the Sudanese government to stop ongoing mass atrocities and act to protect the innocent. The petition was Started on September 22, 2011 and needs 5,000 signatures in one month to be brought forward to the White House for further action.

I am honored to have such a noble friend as Marv and to give voice to those positive, progressive voices in Redding, CA who are passionate about social justice and Outreach Together. Call me if you are interested in contributing to ReddingVoice too.


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