A Hold-Out and a Hunger Strike on Aid for Uganda

By Lisa Dougan 3-09-2010

My alarm went off at 5 a.m. today. As I sat up and unzipped my sleeping bag, a gust of Oklahoma wind bitterly ushered me into a new day. Drops of rain splashed my face, extinguishing the last few embers of my sleepiness. In the early-morning stillness at the corner of Main and Broadway, the only signs of movement were swaying tree branches and rustling leaves, bullied by the strong morning wind. Just a few feet away, 70 slumbering bodies wrapped tightly in colorful sleeping bags line the outer edge of Oklahoma City's tallest skyscraper, home to Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) local office. Many have been here with me for the entire 11 days.

We will soon proceed to stand along the roadside, holding signs that read "Dr. Coburn: Please Say Yes." And inevitably, we will be asked by a few rush-hour commuters on their way to work "So, what is this all about?"

We are a gathering of strangers, unified by a shared resolve to see peace in central Africa. We come from different states and stages of life but all of us, at one point or another, learned about a war that has been devastating communities across central Africa for 24 years. For many of us, that is longer than we have been alive.

This war has been perpetrated primarily by Joseph Kony, a sociopathic warlord who started his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion in the mid 1980s with ambitions of toppling Uganda's government. However, Kony's tactics betray no broad political strategy, and his rebel army carries no legitimacy with Ugandans. Instead, Kony's forces abduct, torture, and conscript children to sustain themselves and maintain power through terror. Young children abducted from their homes are often forced to kill their own parents and other children with machetes, torture and mutilate innocent civilians, and even rape other children.

These horrors are a continuing reality for the people of central Africa, but there is a bill in Congress that aims to see them ended. If passed, the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act will mandate the U.S. government to work with LRA-affected countries to address the unspeakable violence perpetuated by Joseph Kony and to protect civilians in threatened areas. The bill also authorizes $40 million for emergency relief aid to recently attacked areas. With 64 bipartisan Senate cosponsors and 162 in the House, it is the most widely supported Africa-focused legislation in more than three decades.

But because of the authorizations for funding, Senator Coburn doesn't support the bill and is single-handedly blocking its passage. That's why I'm here in Oklahoma. In an effort to convey the urgency of this crisis, we have committed to "holding out" at Senator Coburn's Oklahoma City office until he finds a workable compromise. Practically speaking, that has meant sleeping on the concrete in 30-degree weather the past 10 nights, standing along streets for hours each day, foregoing showers and heat and shelter, missing classes, and even -- for some -- losing jobs. Being here has meant tears and sickness and discomfort.

We are not here to vilify Senator Coburn or make assumptions about his motives. We have converged here in Oklahoma City to plead with the Senator to personally engage in finding a viable compromise that allows this bill to pass. Failure is not an option for us because the price would be too high.

For those of us privileged enough to be here, this campaign has given us the chance to come alive and unite behind a purpose we believe in. It has grown into something far bigger than one bill, one senator, or any one of us. And people here can see it.

The responses from Oklahomans and supporters across the country have been overwhelmingly positive. Locals who see us on the news bring us food and supplies. A group of committed faith leaders has even launched a total hunger strike until a compromise is reached, and dozens have signed up to join them.

And soon, we are confident that this effort will serve as proof that justice can prevail when we are resolved to make sacrifices for peace and pursue it together, with boldness and humility. Stepping back and observing it all, I see the promises of God unfolding in the strangest of settings, which is how God tends to do things, it seems.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:9-10

For more information and live video coverage of the Dr. Coburn Please Say Yes campaign, visit www.coburnsayyes.com. For more information on the proposed legislation, visit www.resolveuganda.org/legislation

Lisa Dougan is the Director of Communications for Resolve Uganda.

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