As I thought about the upcoming South Sudan referendum, I knew we at the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition would have to do our best here in Pittsburgh, along with other groups nationwide, to raise awareness about the historic process and the potential violence it could spur.
Our coalition had already developed close ties with the Sudanese diaspora community in Pittsburgh. Our members included some recently arrived Darfuri refugees who had come to the U.S. by way of Iraq and Jordan, and a South Sudanese community that was more settled here and more structured. We had already worked together successfully on a national South Sudanese–Darfuri Diaspora Summit last spring at Carnegie Mellon University. The U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Scott Gration, Head of the South Sudan Mission to the United States Ezekiel Gatkuoth, and then President of Save Darfur Jerry Fowler addressed this summit, drawing a large and engaged audience. Our coalition was keenly aware of CPA issues and the South Sudan referendum.
The crucial nature of the January 9 vote and the fears that conflict could develop before, during, and after it, meant that we could not afford to lose focus this fall, whether on Darfur or South Sudan. We were lucky to learn that Ambassador Jendayi Frazer, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the second Bush administration was at Carnegie Mellon University and that she was willing to do a talk on the ‘Choice for War or Peace in Sudan.’ Her presentation at CMU on November 16 was brilliant and illuminating, but we knew that we would need to do more to catch the attention of the general public, media, and government officials. We would have to up the ante from an advocacy viewpoint. The week after New Year’s seemed an obvious target in terms of timing. But what would it be?
Only one type of event seems to have that kind of panache: a march through downtown. We had done marches before but mostly in spring or autumn.
Could we get enough people out on the street in the windy corridors of downtown Pittsburgh on a January day, when students and others might still be straggling back from winter holiday?
But, we decided to roll the dice. We had a banner made, which a local Presbyterian church, situated on one of the most crowded neighborhood corners of the city, agreed to put up on its fence. We started canvassing cosponsors and speakers.
The event is coming together encouragingly, even inspiringly: Student groups willing to take an excused absence to march with us, denominational leaders willing to pray, march, and speak with us, Sudanese community members ready to schedule vacation time from work to participate, civic and governmental leaders offering to lend support through proclamations and attendance. Global Solutions Pittsburgh, our staunchest ally, has promised to bring hot chocolate to the rally.
On January 5, four days before the referendum, we will be out in force in the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, again carrying signs in black and white of villages destroyed in Darfur from 2003-2009 and also green and white signs of South Sudanese villages destroyed in the North-South civil war. Motorcycle police will escort and temporarily close off busy downtown thoroughfares as we march at lunch hour. A member of the SPLM Secretariat is slated to speak at Market Square at the end of the march, and we will hear from political, religious, student, and community leaders. We expect an inspiring event that will propel our advocacy forward toward spring. We hope if you’re in or around Pittsburgh, you’ll join us.