How U.S. Students are Creating History on the Hill and Making "Never Again" a Reality

Regions: Global, United States

Tags: genocide, genocide prevention, GPTF, mass atrocities, STAND, video advocacy, WITNESS

UPDATE 11.10.09:  Watch this video report-back from lobby day, which features how STAND activists ushered-in a new era of video advocacy! 

As I write today, despite international media coverage and political pressure, the Sudanese government continues to destroy the lives and livelihoods of innocent Darfuris, the military junta in Burma continues to ravage Karen villages in the countryside and multiple armed actors continue to batter the vulnerable civilians of Democratic Republic of Congo. These are just three of the many conflicts around the world today - all are extremely complex, and the longer they last the more difficult it becomes for the international community to put an end to them.

To help prevent the recurrence and continuation of such deplorable situations, the anti-genocide movement is mobilizing to urge Congress to develop a comprehensive genocide and mass atrocities prevention strategy. 

WITNESS, where I work, is partnering with STAND, the student-led division of Genocide Intervention Network, on a video advocacy campaign.  We're two pioneering organizations with strong track records of effectively harnessing new technology for social change - and this time our common aim is to remind members of Congress of their moral and political imperative to ensure that genocide will not occur on their watch or in the future, and to create comprehensive legislation that will make “never again” a reality once and for all.  [To find out how to take action in support of the campaign, please scroll to the bottom of the post - to learn more about the campaign strategy, keep reading!]

Pledge On Camera is one part of our campaign strategy, and I think it's a great example of the 'YouTube generation' in action, mixing and using a variety of increasingly accessible tech tools - from webcams to mobile phones - to amplify voices from each state and from around the world calling for comprehensive genocide prevention. 

Ushering-in a New and Creative Way for Citizens to Lobby Congress: Personalized Videos 

I'm about to head down to Washington D.C., where this weekend nearly 1,000 student anti-genocide leaders from around the country will convene as part of Pledge2Protect, a conference designed to educate, empower and highlight the work of activists who are driving the movement to prevent and stop genocide and mass atrocities.

STAND students from its 850+ high school and college chapters across the country are harnessing the power of video to call on Congress to protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities by supporting comprehensive genocide prevention legislation. They are using video, from filming to editing, to bring people from their states and from around the world into the Senators' offices on lobby day. 

The part that I think is most innovative comes on the last day of the conference, Monday, November 9th, when activists will screen and hand-deliver 100 personalized videos on the Hill – one for each U.S. Senator - as part of the largest genocide prevention lobby day in history.  In this first phase of the campaign and in support of the lobby day, students have already created 500 video messages to their Senators.  

To help spur Senators to create and enact legislation based upon the Genocide Prevention Task Force's report, activists are using survivor testimony from Voices of Rwanda, human rights media from WITNESS' Media Archive, as well as student-conducted interviews with their friends, family and community and faith leaders. 

This video playlist features a few examples of student messages to their Senators


And this is the core video that they’re remixing…



The Genocide Prevention Task Force's Report: A Blueprint to Preventing Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Fortunately for Congress, the Genocide Prevention Task Force has already done much of the legwork. The Task Force, a bi-partisan group of issue experts, respected statesmen and government officials, was jointly convened by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Institute of Peace.

Headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the Task Force released its report, “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers”, last December on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The report makes the case for why genocide and mass atrocities threaten core American values and national interests, and how the U.S. government can enhance its capacity to recognize and respond to emerging threats of genocide and mass atrocities. Coming from government insiders, it contains a series of practical recommendations that Congress can implement, such as developing better mechanisms for reporting on conflict situations and authorizing flexible funding for genocide and mass atrocities prevention.

The Task Force created a great blueprint for Congress, but there's been no comprehensive legislative action since its release.  It's up to all of us to hold Congress accountable for their actions AND their inaction - and together we can ensure they play their part in making 'never again' a reality.

If you want to help make “never again” a reality, join the national anti-genocide chorus and call 1800GENOCIDE to reach your senators’ office TODAY and ask them to take the lead on making genocide prevention a national priority.

Take Action and Join the Movement to Prevent and End Genocide

To learn more about the video aspect of this campaign, check out this post with more details on Pledge on Camera.  In addition to an online video advocacy guide that WITNESS created to support STAND chapter members to participate in the campaign, we're also going to create a report to share lessons learned so other groups and networks can build on and enhance this new model of advocacy.