June 13, 2009 – Ian’s Journal
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write in this journal, but after spending a few days with Katie-Jay Scott, Gabriel Stauring, and Eric Angel, I’m feeling a lot more inspired to share my voice in this arena, and I’m truly moved by their passion and expertise. I’ll start by saying there isn’t one clear reason why I wanted to come to Chad with SGN, and the only intelligible thought that comes to mind is that I wanted to see what the tragedy really looked like. It’s that simple. I didn’t want to see it through the eyes of a lens, or the words of any publication or news anchor, or celebrity…just with my own eyes. I don’t have a belief that I can stop this genocide, or really even think I can make one life better by my mere presence. Nor do I believe that I will come out of this journey with some sort of different perspective that will inspire a dramatic change in my own life. I do, however, want to be here, and I believe in what SGN is doing.
I think it can be agreed on by most that there are a certain amount of people in certain parts of the world that suffer simply because of where they were born. I was one of the lucky ones, born a healthy white male in America, and in effect, won the birth lottery. My struggles in comparison to a large part of the population, have been few. This doesn’t make me any better, or any worse for that matter, than anyone else, I think it just maybe makes us all different. However, there seems to be a hierarchy of bigoted justice in the world that just doesn’t make sense to me. The numbers of people suffering in this particular conflict and displacement are staggering. Yet, for the most part, most of us seem indifferent about Darfur, while at the same time, obsessing at the injustices of seemingly less significant crimes, whether it a celeb divorce or a sensationalized murder case of one person. Anyone dying is a tragedy, but when more people care about one deceased person of a certain creed or class versus 300,000 Sudanese, it seems out of balance.
There was, however, a time when I had high hopes in the world movement to stop this genocide. I marched at rallies in 2005, wrote my congressman, wore the Save Darfur t-shirts, and applauded all the celebs who had visited the refugee camps. I educated myself on a situation as much as I could, and impressed people in the New York social scene with my basic knowledge of the situation. But when my buffet activism didn’t work, the problem became old and boring, and I moved on to other causes that were a little more easy to resolve, or seemed it at the time, and that were sexier…like Save the Guy Down The Street. But here we are, five years later and the problem not only continues, it’s getting worse. Whose fault is it? Mine just as much as anyone else’s.
The impossible question in this economic time is how can anyone be worried about a bunch of refugees they’ve never met, when so many families not only in America, but in the whole world, struggle to make ends meet? Not to mention the endless number of conflicts and causes that riddle the news media everyday. Everyone in a sense, and by their own standards, are struggling to survive. My answer to that is that we can’t afford NOT to reach out, mathematically and philosophically. The numbers of the dead alone is an overwhelming reason to put forth action, and when you weigh that against the television coverage it receives a single murder case in the US, the disproportion seems almost impossible. I’m sure at some point, just like past genocides, we will find that this situation could have been stopped a lot earlier and many lives could have been saved. But looking deeper, I believe this self-indulgent life style of the modern age, has been partially to blame for all this economic uncertainty. Maybe it’s time to try something different. Against our instinct, instead of huddling in a self-protective stance that only resembles the same thing we’ve been doing for years, but with different headline, we should look outward, and step forward in the fearless manner that all the great leaders and philosophers of the past have asked of their peers and followers. Imagine, the reinvention and strength of your village, town, city, state nation built on it’s capacity to self empower through reaching out. Imagine what that would look like.
Now I don’t think it takes everyone dropping what they’re doing to get on planes to Chad or Sudan to solve this. If you walk by someone who has just slipped and fallen on the sidewalk, you will most likely be compelled to reach out your hand and help them up. Your action may be at some personal cost, like missing the light or the subway, but it is usually trumped by compassion by a fallen fellow human. Now, imagine that you heard someone had slipped and fallen down a few blocks away, the reaction might be a little different. We might think, someone else will get there faster, or just the fact you didn’t see it happen doesn’t seem to resonate the urgency to act. But what if you heard, day after day, that the person is still laying on the sidewalk, and they need help. What would you do? Keep thinking, they’ll get help? What if you knew the person? What if that message rang in your ears day after day, month after month, would our guilt that we didn’t act earlier lead to paralysis? I don’t have the answer, but I know that at a certain point, I might be curious to see what I could do. Maybe I would call someone I know to check it out, or start in the direction of the fallen and tell everyone I could to follow, just in case I needed help. Maybe you’ll get there in time. Maybe you’ll be the missing link to the dire situation.
The average person is pessimistic about this situation for good reason. The amount of celebrities that have traveled to the refugee camps would make any average movie fan jealous. The refugees themselves must be wondering what the purpose of all these video cameras in their face is serving. What’s more, if the governments all know about this genocide, how come they don’t do anything about it? If history has proven anything, especially in the recent US presidential election, it’s the people in numbers that hold the power. I still applaud every celebrity that has chosen to take part in this cause, and every politician who still fights to keep awareness alive in Congress, even though their constituents may not be asking for it. But Celebs and politicians didn’t get Al Gore or John Kerry elected, it was the people who chose George Bush and Barrack Obama in America. And this isn’t just America’s responsibility. This is global.
So in this age, the age of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, I believe we have the power to stop this genocide by just finding it our hearts to get a little more curious about a very large population that is not only suffering, but dying. Start with the people you know and work out. You might be surprised how far you get, I certainly am. A friend of mine quoted Emerson when he heard about my trip with SGN to Chad. He said “extraordinary people are ordinary people caught on fire with a burning desire and purpose. “ I believe that quality exists in everyone. So I start this “i-act” trip with the basic tenant of the mission title itself. I act. I have no idea what will happen beyond that, none of us do. But it could be something good.