After I expressed a precarious situation one day to a good friend, he said “I don’t have any answers, but I have many beautiful questions.” That assessment could be applied to my understanding of the situation in Darfur. Recently, I had the opportunity to go on The Ron Reagan Show on Air America radio, and it seems to have inspired even more questions within myself and among my peers as well. The ultimate question was asked by Ron after an emotional monologue about the tragic scenario at the end of the broadcast. ”What will it really take to get people to act?”
For the sake of this conversation, let’s call the idea of awareness without action, “buffet activism,” a term I used to describe my own state of inaction in 2005. The barrier between buffet activism and real action is a very large…grey void. Four years ago, Nicholas Kristof, George Clooney and others shouted the William Wallace-esque battle cry and tried to rally the troops across that large grey void into battle. But when they forged ahead thinking they had an army behind them, we just stood there. Frozen. The void is a scary place for one reason; nobody knows where to go or what to do. There is no map or promise of results. The probability of an idea or action getting lost in the void is high.
For example, if I call a senator’s office, it’s might be considered an action, but the senator may just go along with politics as usual and ignore the call. Therefore my action is null and void. If you go to a Darfur rally or protest, usually the only people that will notice are those driving by in their cars. They acknowledge it with a honk and then drive off probably not thinking about your action again. Or, as Ron Reagan alluded to on his show, there is a personal comparison to those who have acted and yourself. If it is perceived that your own potential action doesn’t have the same effect, then you won’t do it. For example, Ian went to Chad, there’s no way I could do something like that, so what’s the point? Therefore, the response is all or nothing, and it usually ends up being nothing. Another possible reason we fail to act is that there is no guarantee we are going to get anything out of the cause personally. Our priority falls upon our own lives and anything we do should directly benefit our own welfare. The grey area is the middleman mentality.
Well…I believe there is a possible solution to this personal and national paralysis. F*** the middleman.
I’ll make a huge generalized statement about the USA. We have become all about the middleman. Re-sellers, agents, lawyers, etc. dominate a landscape that used to pride itself on producing a product and then responsibly dealing with the public for the sale and purchase of goods. Now marketing rules and tells people where to go. That big grey area that exists between buffet activism and real action is a representation of a society that is waiting to be told what to do and where to go by some marketing concept. In this case, the middleman is the government, the activists, the celebrities, Ron Reagan, me…even the internal thoughts that limit your own potential. Screw all of us. If you’re reading this, then you know about Darfur. But what you know even more is yourself and the thoughts that circulate in your mind. That is amazingly unique.
Here we all are, standing on the edge of the big grey void waiting to see what happens. Maybe some of us walk across, maybe some of us run. Perhaps someone hosts a party in the void to coax others in. It’s possible that some of us cheer. (We do know how make noise in this country) Maybe someone calls out that the void isn’t really there, it’s just a figment of our imagination. Whatever the case, this is an opportunity to practice our own individual creativity and will towards a dire international situation, and build a coalition of like-minded action. Look at what other people are doing and evolve the scenario for your own personal challenges. Be a leader. What do you get out of it? Just venture to take a guess if you become part of the creative solution that world leaders, celebs and activists have not been able to solve. You are Save Darfur 2.0. But even more, you will get the experience of taking initiative, and getting out of your comfort zone.
The good thing is, the Darfur movement doesn’t need any more serious, knowledgeable people. It has enough of those. The movement needs more. The refugees need more. They need you. I knew nothing about Darfur or Chad, and whatever information I needed about the situation was immediately answered by an eager group of people who have been working on this scenario for years. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not an expert, I don’t want to be. I do know that the president of Sudan got away with murder just like OJ Simpson did, and he’s thumbing his nose at us. If Facebook or other social networking avenues are part of the answer to make sure he’s incarcerated, so be it. If it takes Las Vegas strippers to whisper sweet “Darfur nothings” in the ears of their clients, then so be it. Just like OJ, Omar al-Bashir will commit another crime. And if we make it about justice, we will get him and send the refugees back home. Whatever it takes, let’s take “I know” to “I Act.” That is justice.
If that’s not enough, I’ll give another you concept. When I blogged in Chad, the term “Refugee Cool” came to mind after meeting the inhabitants of all the camps. What is Refugee Cool? Well, I don’t know if it’s possible to give you the answer without you first meeting a refugee, but I do have some beautiful questions. If you knew there was a Darfur refugee living somewhat close to your neighborhood, would you seek them out? Would you perhaps drive a few hours for a cup of coffee to hear their story, or maybe raise a little money to cover their cost of travel to your community? Or if you knew a Darfur refugee actually had a Facebook page, would you seek to “friend” them. Ultimately, when you meet a Darfur refugee, you are saying screw the middleman. I would now hope and suspect there might be more beautiful questions coming my way.
Thank you to Ron Reagan and his staff, and to all of you who listened to the show.