Center Associate Director Speaks on 2nd Anniversary of U.S. Declaration of Genocide in Darfur

September 7, 2006

Below is the text of a speech delivered by Marci McPhee, associate director of the Center, at a candlelight vigil sponsored by STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) to commemorate the second anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

So, here we stand.

I, like you, shudder at the news I hear still coming from Darfur. 400,000 deaths, 200,000 refugees in Chad, and 2.5 million internally displaced persons. 10,000 civilians – civilians – continue to die each month.

I stand with you, not as an expert on the genocide in Darfur, but as a concerned world citizen. There are no simple answers to the conundrum that is Darfur. But I think solutions will come as policymakers and diplomats, military officials and religious leaders work together – if they see the issue as being of sufficient priority. And that's where you Brandeis students come in.

I'd like to take these five minutes I have with you at this vigil to talk about the power of gatherings like this. I realize that, as the overused saying goes, I'm "preaching to the choir." But even choir members get tired of singing. Or standing.

So how does our standing together in the Bernstein Marcus plaza on the Brandeis campus really help bring an end to the suffering in Darfur?

To answer that question, I turn to members of the Ethics Center board, who have spoken to various groups on campus about this very notion of how college students can make an impact on thorny world problems.

This past March, members of the Ethics Center board held public events throughout campus at an event series entitled "The Long View: Distinguished Leaders Focus on World Problems We Ignore at Our Peril," produced in collaboration with the Justice, Service & Change Thematic Learning Community. During that "The Long View" series, STAND organized an event involving board members Diego Arria and Hans Corell. Diego Arria, whose home country is Venezuela, is Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations; Hans Corell, a native of Sweden, is former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations. The event was entitled, "World Responses to Past Genocides: Lessons for Darfur."

Naturally, when the session was opened to questions, the first question students asked was "What can young people and ordinary citizens do to make a difference in the Darfur situation?" Hans Corell answered, "When youth start reacting, it has an impact. People notice it. Where are the people who have the energy to engineer a force to impact on the politicians? It's the young people."

In a later session of the "Long View" event series, Ethics Center board chair Theodore C. Sorensen, former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, expressed dismay over other pressing world issues, such as the ever-growing gap between rich and poor in America, and the fact that the United States has never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, intended to stave off environmental degradation.

"Some of that will never be reversed," said Sorensen. "You in the student generation will have to climb uphill to try to make up for what has been done. But I don't know anyone better equipped to do it than you, and that's why I'm here today."

"But," you ask, "what power can young people have? How can I make a difference at my age?"

Well, let's see.

In 1893, a young Hindu lawyer, born in India and trained in London, went to South Africa for a one-year contract, and started a nonviolent revolution against racist laws. His name? Mahatma Gandhi. His age? Twenty-four. That one-year contract turned into 21 years in South Africa, much of which was spent in a South African jail. During one confinement, he handmade a pair of sandals for Prime Minister Smuts, the man who ordered his imprisonment.

In 1955, a young minister, who had been the preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for a year, led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. His name? Martin Luther King. His age? Twenty-six.

You are not the leaders of tomorrow. You are the leaders of today. I repeat: You are not the leaders of tomorrow. You are the leaders of today.

"But," you say, "I don't have time. What difference can one person make in the few moments between classes and college activities?"

In May of 2005, at the Brandeis commencement, Ethics Center board member Margaret Marshall spoke after receiving an honorary degree. A native of South Africa, Marshall is Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. After her graduation from Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg in 1966, she continued her involvement in the anti-apartheid cause, and was elected President of the National Union of South African Students. Marshall knows what it means to stand.

In her remarks as Brandeis's commencement speaker, she reminded us of Justice Louis D. Brandeis's legacy, whose 150th birthday we celebrate as a University community this year. Marshall reminded us of Justice Brandeis's belief in the responsibility of ordinary citizens. "This is not a call to heroics, or a call for you to change your life plans," he said. "Small acts - discussions with a neighbor, a letter to the editor, every form of everyday civic participation - can accomplish great things."

Or, in the famous words of Robert F. Kennedy, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Remember at the beginning, when I mentioned the statistic that 10,000 civilians continue to die each month? That means that in the five minutes since I started speaking to you, one more person died in Darfur.

Brandeis, keep standing.

And stand until it's safe in Darfur.