I just got back from the United States, where I spent a weekend at Swarthmore College, Philadelphia, at a conference of student activists working to stop the genocide in Darfur.
Despite the grim subject matter, it was a fascinating, and encouraging couple of days. These kids were all in their late teens and early twenties, black, white and Asian. (None were from Jewish organisations – so much for the claims that Darfur is all a trick by the Zionist lobby to distract attention from Israel/Palestine.) Their level of commitment and knowledge was remarkable. They spoke fluently of congressional instruments, UN resolutions, the shortcomings of the African Union peacekeepers, splits in the Security Council and the role of China. They were up to speed on different lobbying and public awareness techniques. And they were angry about the world’s feeble response to the slaughter.
They had all sorts of plans to increase the pressure on the Sudanese government, by focusing on their local legislators, the Bush administration, even the Beijing Olympics. Such conferences do have an effect, keeping Darfur in the public eye in the US and helping catalyse the Bush administration’s sporadic – sadly only sporadic – attempts to pressurise Khartoum.
But all through the weekend of the student activists’ debates and discussions and workshops one question kept nagging at me: where are their British equivalents?