Two survivors of The Shoah. Survivors and descendants of victims and survivors of genocides and mass atrocities in Burma, Cambodia, Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Individuals usually referred to as "ordinary" citizens of diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, faith and age groups in northern California. The oldest was 90 years and the youngest was seven months of age. Some walked from their local neighborhoods; others drove hundreds of miles. All came together earlier this month for the first annual Bay Area Walk Against Genocide.
Gathering at Lake Merritt in Oakland, participants signed petitions offered by activist groups, including Investors Against Genocide and the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, and the peace builders, American Friends Service Committee.
We learned about the work of national and local organizations working to end genocide and mass atrocities and aid their victims, including American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International, The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley, One Million Bones, MedShare International, and Refugee Transitions. Children made “Pinwheels for Peace.”
Outstanding speakers offered inspiring messages: Mike Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, urged action prompted by memories. Rebecca Hamilton, author of Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, presented. Omer Ismail, policy analyst at Enough, spoke on behalf of his brothers and sisters in humanity, in Darfur and all areas in the world where the oppressed and persecuted are voiceless.
Together with honored guest Mark Hanis, president of Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, we walked the three-mile path around the urban lake in solidarity with the survivors and descendants of victims of genocides and mass atrocities who have made new homes in our community.
Many volunteered their time and skills and talents – including musicians – to make it all happen.
In 2010, the California legislature proclaimed April Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. So as residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, we put the will of Californians into action with our first annual Walk Against Genocide. Many have written countless letters, made innumerable phone calls, and attended a variety of events in recent years calling on the U.S. government and international community to take effective action to help end current genocides and mass atrocities. These crimes will not stop without action.
In addition, the 500 people who came out on April 10 want all of humanity to live in a world where genocides and mass atrocities can be prevented before they begin. Although we (other than perhaps the youngest) may not realize this vision during our lifetimes, we make up the "permanent anti-genocide constituency“ of the San Francisco Bay Area. We will continue to raise our voice from now until the second annual walk in April 2012. And beyond.
The best news: We are not alone. Fellow activists live in communities across the U.S. Please join us.
Martina Knee is the executive director of the SF Bay Area Darfur Coalition and a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow.
Photos courtesy of Morton Stein