Solutions for Darfur activist burnout

Activism n. : a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

Darfur activism has been getting a tremendous amount of press over the last few weeks, and not all of it has been positive. For some, the Olympics and Mia Farrow’s alternative games have been the impetus for reflection on how the “movement” is doing.[1]

The real problem is no different than with other activist movements. If the people who are involved on the grassroots level — the most important level for such groups — don’t get a regular sense of accomplishment, their involvement begins to slide off, and the group will eventually become stagnant.

Volunteerism thrives on engaging activities that bring some kind of reward. Regardless of how enthusiastically you care about a cause, burnout is inevitable if the final result is always failure. As Just correctly pointed out in his The New Republic article:

Genocide really is different from other foreign policy crises, in that it will not wait. Either you stop genocide immediately or you fail to stop it.

This creates a “perfect storm” for activist burnout. Fortunately, there are a few things that may help keep your group active, encouraged, and invigorated.

Keep it as social as possible
Even though we’re fighting for a cause, it’s always a thrill to get together with like-minded people. This is why Dining For Darfur is such a great idea, as it combines the social aspect of bringing people together, with an engaging activity.[2]

Work on multiple genocide issues
While you’re working on stopping the genocide in Darfur by organizing letter writing campaigns and public forums, talk to your local coffee shops about carrying free-trade coffee from one of the cooperatives that are helping Rwandan genocide survivors regain their independence, or volunteer to work with a refugee service, helping Sudanese (or Cambodian, Bosnian, etc.) immigrants.

Attempt to partner with other groups
Find other groups that have a similar mission who may need occasional volunteers for events in return for helping organize or host one of your events. This is particularly easy with Holocaust organizations who often do modern genocide programs (including Darfur).[3]

Use Web 2.0 applications
Your group is hopefully already doing this, but if you’re not, then you should start. The reason this is a good idea is because you can push advocacy and education while giving millions of people the chance to respond to what you’re doing. In a world of YouTube, Facebook, and blogs, not having an online presence is damaging even to the smallest of groups.

The key is to keep the group evolving. Despite what might be happening with your issue, if you can push a variety of events and campaigns that appeal to different personalities, you’re far more likely to maintain a certain level of commitment.

While these suggestions are mainly focusing on Darfur activists, you could easily apply them to other groups — environmental, political, social, etc — as any type of organization that promotes change through volunteerism is likely to face the same lags in participation. If you’re working with another cause or would like to find others who might be involved in your issue, you should check out Britt’s, Have Fun Do Good or the Changebloggers Facebook page.


[1] The Truth Will Not Set You Free by Richard Just

[2] If I could find enough people, I’d love to pull together a team of Darfur activists for our co-ed flag football league.

[3] See the Association of Holocaust Organizations membership page for a full list of Holocaust institutions.

Human Rights First G8 petition

HRF-G8-btn-125x125In two weeks, world leaders from G8 countries — U.S., Canada, Japan, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Russia — meet for their annual Summit in Japan to debate action on issues of global concern.

If the violence in Darfur — that has left more than 300,000 people dead and caused more than 2 million to flee their homes — is not a matter of global concern, then what is?

The G8 Summit comes at a perilous time for both Darfur and the whole of Sudan. Intensified violence in Darfur has resulted in more death and displacement, and recent fighting in the Abyei region of Sudan suggests the unraveling of the fragile North/South peace agreement.

The government of Sudan and the world will be watching the G-8 Summit closely. Last week, over 40 non-governmental organizations, representing all G8 states and Sudan, sent an Open Letter to all G8 Leaders and Foreign Ministers, calling on them to demand:

    An immediate stop to violence in Darfur

    A halt to arms transfers, directly or indirectly, to Darfur in violation of the U.N. arms embargo

    Rapid deployment of the peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID

    A reinvigorated peace process

    Justice and accountability for atrocities committed

Click here to join activists around the world in pressuring G-8 leaders to take a strong stand — include a promise to act — against violence in Darfur and Sudan.

China’s small movements

As pressure continues to build over China’s involvement with Sudan, and activists continue to paint the upcoming Olympics as a genocide event, Beijing seems to be showing the first signs of potential movement.

China, in response, has denounced these efforts to link the games with its foreign policy, saying such a campaign runs counter to the Olympic spirit.

“There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters, stressing that the Games are a time to celebrate friendly ties between nations. “This is against the spirit of the Games. It also runs counter to the aspirations of all the people in the world.”

But protestations aside, it seems someone in Beijing is listening. Shortly after Farrow’s op-ed appeared, China appointed a special envoy to Darfur and reportedly stepped up efforts to persuade Khartoum to accept international peacekeepers in Darfur.

Pressure over the Olympics could help cause a shift from China’s noninterference policy, says Reeves. “To date, what we’ve seen are largely cosmetic efforts, trying to ‘respond to Darfur’ on the cheap … but as shame and dismay intensify, as the pain grows, we’ll see a good deal more than cosmetics.”

It’s unlikely that China will pull its investments from Sudan, especially considering the amount of money they have tied to the oil industry, but perhaps they can push Khartoum in the direction the United Nations needs in order to quell the violence.

Save Darfur restructuring

Save Darfur, the organization that has been hugely successfully in rallying support for the crisis in Darfur, has recently fired their executive director and is in the process of reorganizing their board of directors. Even though the Sudan Tribune goes through a laundry list of complaints about a few of the practices of the organization, John Prendergast who serves on the board, said:

…the changes that the board decided to make were part of an effort to reorganize and re-energize the movement along the lines of its earliest conception: to be a broad, permanent alliance of many different types of organizations working together to prevent atrocities and genocide.

“The growth was so fast in the coalition, as was interest in the issue of Darfur and in the budget, that it was hard to kind of manage the difference between an organization and a coalition,” Mr. Prendergast said. “People felt that the time had some to go back to the roots of the coalition of groups that is so rich and so diverse.”

Having worked for non-profits for years, I can say that it’s often healthy for these organizations to restructure themselves. I might also add that non-profits have a tendency to create themselves with a certain agenda in mind and then wind up having to change directions because whatever issue they’re attempting to address winds up evolving.

Activists claim national victory

MSNBC is reporting that activists may have secured their first major victory as Fidelity Investments recently sold the majority of its US holdings in PetroChina.

Fidelity, the world’s largest mutual funds company, announced in a filing in the US that it had sold 91 per cent of its American Depositary Receipts in PetroChina in the first quarter of this year.

PetroChina is one of the Chinese based petroleum companies who are currently operating in Sudan.

6 million flickr project

6 Million People

Please help us remember the Holocaust dutifully and respectfully by adding your self-portrait, or a photo of a person you love, to our pool. Add as many photos as you want, but please submit no more than 1 picture of any person, so that in the end we will have close to 6 million pictures of people, with a different person the subject of each picture. It’s going to take a long time to add up to 6 million pictures—that’s 200,000 Flickr pages with 30 images each—but our goal is 6 years or less. When we complete the project, it will be a memorial to those who died, and will provide us a with a way to visualize all those people. Thank you for helping and supporting us in our goal.

Run for Darfur

If you live in the Richmond (VA) area, you may be interested in participating in the Run for Darfur (to benefit Save Darfur).

Richmond’s Run for Darfur is a 5k race on Memorial Day, May 28th, 2007. There will also be a 1k children’s race at 9am. The Jewish Community Center will open its facilities to the public and there will be a movie screening and other indoor activities. This event is being planned by Michael Wilson and Peyton Thompson, both juniors in college who have a great interest in bringing an end to the genocide in Darfur. They are working alongside the Richmond Roadrunner Association. All the proceeds from this run will go directly to Save Darfur. Please register online at We look forward to seeing you on race day!

You can find more information and sign up to participate at Save Darfur.

The Genocide Olympics

Eric Reeves, one of the more informed and prolific writers on the ongoing crisis in Darfur recently launched a campaign to put pressure on China for its lack of interest in pressuring Sudan to halt the bloodshed. He writes:

The full-scale launch of a large, organized campaign to highlight China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide appears likely to begin soon. But it’s past time to start thinking about how to tap the creative power of students and other Darfur advocates in this critical initiative. Enough of selling green bracelets and writing letters to those who are content with posturing or avoiding the central challenge of the moment: changing the international diplomatic dynamic in ways that will result in deployment of an international peace-support operation to Darfur, one that can provide adequate protection to civilians and humanitarians. Without such security, humanitarian organizations will continue to withdraw and hundreds of thousands of additional Darfuri lives will be lost.

It’s time, now, to begin shaming China—demanding that if the Beijing government is going to host the premier international event, the Summer Olympic Games of 2008, they must be responsible international partners. China’s slogan for these Olympic Games—“One world, one dream”—is a ghastly irony, given Beijing’s complicity in the Darfur genocide (see the website for China’s hosting of the Olympic Games at The Chinese leadership must understand that if they refuse to use their unrivaled political, economic, and diplomatic leverage with Khartoum to secure access for the force authorized under UN Security Council Resolution 1706, then they will face an extremely vigorous, unrelenting, and omnipresent campaign to shame them over this refusal.

To succeed, such a campaign must be fully international in character. The first order of business, I believe, is to fashion creative means for translating key talking points and broader analyses into a variety of languages and exporting them to as many countries as possible. If people come to understand the connection between China as host of the Olympic Games and China as silent partner in the Darfur genocide, they may well be moved to object to this intensely dismaying double role. But they must understand the connection clearly.

How to proceed? With knowledge comes both power and responsibility; the key task is to transfer knowledge to those presently ignorant of China’s role in Sudan generally and Darfur specifically. Some possible bullet points are offered below. Further below is an analysis of Chinese President Hu’s recent business trip to Khartoum, as well as two opinion pieces on the “Genocide Olympics.”

It is important to remember that this should not, in my strongly held view, be a campaign to boycott the Olympics: a boycott would defeat the whole purpose of the campaign, and be deeply divisive. Moreover, if a boycott were successful (extremely unlikely) the political platform from which to challenge China would disappear. Further, a boycott in and of itself achieves nothing: the challenge is to shame China, to hold Beijing’s leaders accountable, to make them understand that without exerting all necessary pressure on Khartoum, the current campaign will only grow in strength and visibility right up to the Opening Ceremonies.

Nor are athletes the targets. Certainly they can be encouraged to wear a green stripe, of whatever prominence and size they dare, on their athletic attire as a symbol of their support for the people of Darfur. Certainly they should be encouraged to speak out publicly on Darfur. But the Olympic athletes are not the target: the Beijing regime is. The regime alone has the power to change the current diplomatic dynamic in ways that will force Khartoum to allow in the forces that can provide security to the victims of ongoing genocide. China, not the Olympic Games or its participants, is the target.

Reeves sees this as an opportunity for grassroots activism and he puts out the call for everyone who’s interested in contributing their talents — whether it be graphic designing, event planning, letter writing, etc. — to get involved.