Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending some time at the End Genocide Action Summit, which brought people from all over the world to Washington, D.C., to learn about and fight against genocide, particularly the ongoing genocide being waged by Omar al-Bashir against the people of Darfur, Sudan.
The conference kicked off with a bang -- you could feel the righteous anger in the opening words from Tom Andrews -- and this passion seemed to flow out of the main room and into every seminar room I visited. Alongside Joe Eldridge and Bob Edgar, Andrews outlined some thoughts as to why we were at the conference and what this conference and movement are all about.
Andrews' most impassioned plea came when he addressed the president and secretary of state directly, saying, "There is nothing normal about this regime [that of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan], and there should be nothing normal about the relations between the United States and Sudan."
Having two men who professed their faith with such strength and assurance speak at the very start of this conference was a real inspiration to me. Eldridge and Edgar both have held important positions in government and policy-making, and knowing that they, too, are followers of Christ reminded me of the responsibility we have as people of faith to stand up for the voiceless, the 'last, least and lost' of this world.
Their comments were impassioned, but also maintained the measuredness of people who understand advocacy and how it works.
"Rage and anger can't sustain you," Eldridge told the room filled to the brim with activists. "The more we love, the bigger we are." Edgar encouraged us to be patient and strategic in our activism, for "If you want to walk fast, [you] walk alone. If you want to walk far [you] walk together."
These are great lessons for anyone who sees injustice and wants to right it -- whether you are an 18-year-old STAND volunteer, or a veteran of hundreds of campaigns.
While patience and maturity were the watchwords of their speeches, I was also encouraged by Edgar when he said: "Find me a prophet who ever took a poll or a vote to decide which direction to go."
We know the work we have to do -- it isn't hard to find injustice and suffering in our world -- and we should be driving this narrative so that others around us recognize that the work is urgent. It was with these thoughts in mind that I spent the rest of the day in seminars tackling topics such as "Genocide Prevention as National Interest" and the challenges facing North and South Sudan after the latter won its independence in July 2011.
I spent my lunch hour watching a powerful documentary about genocide survivors called "The Last Survivor," which chronicled the lives of four genocide survivors: one from the Holocaust, one from Rwanda, another from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the fourth from Darfur. As I watched, with tears building in my eyes, memories of my own time in Rwanda three years ago rushed to mind. I was reminded that I was not just attending a conference, but an "Action Summit." I was there not simply on a fact-finding mission, but to be inspired to actually do something about it.
The conference as a whole definitely got the balance right between emotion and information. Too often we swing one way or the other -- our emotions take such a battering from the images and stories of gross injustice that we have no idea how to respond and are paralyzed by our emotional response. On the flip-side, we can know everything there is to know about a situation, and yet not be moved to action. Thankfully, by the time I left the summit, I felt encouraged, equipped, and challenged to do what I can to help end genocide -- even if that means simply raising the consciousness of others by sharing what I experienced and learned.
Genocide is not yet history, and until it is we need to inspire even more people to hold leaders accountable, speak up against these awful crimes, and most importantly be united to end genocide.
Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners.