Hope is seldom heard in the endless dialogue on genocide and other atrocities.
Civilians in Sudan’s western Darfur have been desperate over five years. More than 300,000 people are dead and 2.7 million are refugees.
Meaningful help has yet to arrive. Only about half of a U.N. peacekeeping force, authorized over a year ago, had arrived by New Years and even then the force was short supplies and equipment. Meanwhile, attacks against civilians continue.
Yet, we do enter 2009 with some optimism for Darfur and with signs of a renewed commitment in Washington and also here in Northern California to end genocides forever.
Barack Obama has nominated cabinet officers we hope will act against genocide more aggressively than recent administrations. Susan E. Rice, Obama’s ambassador-designate to the U.N., served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff and experienced her own personal “never again” moment when she witnessed the bloody carnage in Rwanda 14 years ago. Rice is critical of the Bush administration’s approach to Darfur. She supports “dramatic action” including a U.S.-led air and naval campaigns to end the violence.
And awaiting Obama at the White House is a viable and realistic plan outlining how the U.S. and the world could create an early-warning system for preventing genocide before the killing begins.
Co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, a Democrat, and former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, a Republican, the Genocide Prevention Task Force of a bipartisan group of political and military officials concluded that preventing genocide is an achievable goal. Their report urges Obama to make that goal a national priority, and it urges all Americans to build a permanent constituency for ending genocide.
That’s what we are trying to do on the campus of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park with the support of SSU’s Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust of Sonoma County, and victims and survivors of genocides of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.
On March 29 we will dedicate Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12BhX_oMQhw ), a permanent sculpture to bear witness to past and present genocides, and to declare our commitment to making the notion of “never again” a reality.
The sculpture, by SSU art Prof. Jann Nunn, consists of two 40-ft. long railroad tracks which cross a foot path and narrow to within a few inches at the edge of a lake and the base of an internally illuminated tower fabricated from 5,000 pieces of glass.
Funded from the private sector, in-kind donations, and the sale of bricks that provide the railroad-tie support for the rails, the sculpture, its tracks converging at the column of light, expresses hope the world will learn from the past to prevent future genocides. Bricks are laser-inscribed with personal memorials to victims of genocide.
One project supporter is Psychology Prof. Brenda Flyswithhawks of Santa Rosa Junior College, a member of the Bird Clan of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation.
“The SSU Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove gives us the opportunity to publicly honor all of our ancestors who gave their life so courageously, as well as to publicly declare that these horrific events did happen in history and that we will not have them be denied,” she said.
“Genocide is not something that any of us would like as the focus of what brings us together. However, it is our stories of survival that bring us together. Whether we are Native American, Jewish, Cambodian, Armenian, Rwandan, or the people of Darfur, our stories are braided into one.
“It is of the utmost importance that we do come together from our different cultures, spiritual beliefs, and experiences to remember times in history and to remain committed to doing whatever it takes to insure that it never happens again, to anyone or to any group of people.”
We hope President Obama will bring a new and revitalized commitment to preventing genocide. For our part we offer our Memorial Grove tower of light built on a granite foundation and inscribed with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Prof. Elaine Leeder is dean of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University and a former visiting scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Her father was the last member of his family to escape Lithuania before the Nazis began murdering Jews there during World War II.