On Samantha Power

As an anti-genocide activist and an insider in the greater structure of Holocaust organizations in the United States and abroad, I’m not surprised by the number of hits my site has been getting over the last week concerning Samantha Power. I’ll state up front that I don’t know her, nor have I ever met her, yet I’m familiar with her work, and have admired the stance and positions she’s taken over the years as a human rights activist.

Undoubtedly, the bulk of visitors who are stopping by are looking for the latest scoop on her resignation from Barack Obama’s campaign; or looking for some insight as to why she referred to Hillary Clinton as “a monster.” I’m not going to really address either of those points, as not only do I not have any perspective for fresh insight, but honestly couldn’t care less.

The truth of the matter is the number of people in this country who are actively and aggressively working to end genocide can practically be counted on one hand. If you were inclined to make such a list, Samantha Power would certainly be on it, if not at the top. While I’ve had the pleasure of meeting/listening to/working with others who do what Samantha does — Jerry Fowler, Jen Marlowe, Paul Rusesabagina, Awer Bul, and the host of survivors I see on a daily basis — I can’t think of anyone who’s done a better job of illustrating our country’s lack of motivation in responding to genocide.

Marc Cooper’s recent article on The Huffington Post said it best:

Therein resides the richest and saddest irony of all. Samantha Power has actually lived the sort of life that Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff has, for public consumption, invented for its candidate. Though not quite 40 years old, Power has spent no time on any Wal-Mart boards but has rather dedicated her entire adult life rather tirelessly to championing humanitarian causes. She has spoken up when others were silent. She took great personal risks during the Balkan wars to witness and record and denounce the carnage (She reported that Bill Clinton intervened against the Serbs only when he felt he was losing personal credibility as a result of his inaction. “I’m getting creamed,” Power quoted the then-President saying as he fretted over global consternation over his own hesitation to act).

We gave Power the Pulitzer for exposing the, well, monstrous indifference of the Clinton administration as it stared unblinkingly and immobile into the face of massive horror. But we give her a kick in the backside and throw her out the door when she has the temerity to publicly restate all that in one impolite word. Monstrous, indeed.

For those of us who work in this thinly populated profession, having champions like Samantha Power is an enormous benefit. In a single article or news conference, she can not only raise the kind of awareness that it often takes non-profits months to generate, but can even turn the public’s attention to a subject that so often gets ignored or overlooked.

To build on Marc Cooper’s last words, it’s monstrous to think of how long this kind of story stays in the news cycle, particularly when compared against the amount of time we see devoted to Darfur.