Two stories concerning today's San Francisco rally:
Several thousand people formed a garland across the Golden Gate Bridge today [Sunday], hands joined and raised skyward, in silence.
Wearing T-shirts with words such as "End the Darfur genocide," they cast a jagged silhouette across the blue sky over the bridge walkway, surprising motorists, many of whom honked in apparent solidarity.
The moment of silence began at 10:45 a.m. and lasted several minutes and the vigil continued until noon. Gradually, the arms came down, as they got heavy, but many hands stayed joined; others rested, folded as if in prayer.
They protested a civil war in which the Sudanese government and its proxies have killed about 200,000 people in Darfur, in that nation's south, and driven an estimated 2.5 million people from their homes, according to the United States government. A pro-government Arab militia, the janjaweed, have systematically raped women and killed or maimed children and destroyed villages, displacing millions.
President Bush has labeled the deadly campaign a genocide.
Sunday's protest, which included people from a wide spectrum of the political map, called on Bush to take action as part of an international effort to stop the genocide. Another massive rally was held in Washington, D.C., where Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, actors, athletes, politicians and other celebrities urged the Bush administration to act.
"He (Bush) made a commitment to stop this genocide," said Jerry Fowler of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, interviewed on the Marin County side of the bridge shortly before the vigil. "We need to reinforce that with our voices.["]
Later today, Fowler spoke at a rally at Crissy Field that also was scheduled to feature Rep. George Miller, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, San Francisco's Roman Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer and others.
"What we can learn from the Holocaust is the consequences of remaining silent," Fowler said.
Eltayeb Ibrahim, 35, of Oakland, a native of Darfur, said he hoped the rally would "bring help to my people.
"For me, all the lives lost in Darfur, each one of them belongs to me," said Ibrahim, who came to the U.S. seven years ago.
Actions urged by protesters today included sending United Nations peacekeeping troops; sending NATO troops; and providing logistical and technical support to African Union peacekeeping troops.
The protest was the culmination of a grass-roots organizing effort that began last year with a symbolic letter-writing campaign in Petaluma, dubbed "Dear Sudan, Love, Petaluma," begun by Tim Nonn, one of the organizers of today's rally, said fellow rally organizer Gerri Miller, who began a similar campaign, ["]Dear Sudan, Love Marin" modeled on Nonn's.
"We were basically saying we are mothers, fathers, neighbors and friends, just like them, and even though we will never see their faces, we refuse to turn our backs on them," Gerri Miller said.
"It spread in the Bay Area and then all over the country," Gerri Miller said.
Marilyn Hirsch of Walnut Creek, a tutor of dyslexic children, had recently seen the movie "Hotel Rwanda," which plays against the background of a genocidal civil war in that nation. When she read an article about Darfur in February 2005 by New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof "that really broke it open to the world."
She talked to people at her synagogue, Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, and wrote to senators and members of Congress. One day she came across a "Dear Sudan, Love Marin" letter and founded "Dear Sudan, Love Contra Costa."
The movement evolved into a nationwide coalition of human rights, religious and other groups that were at odds over many issues but agreed on a common goal to stop the genocide in Darfur.
"This is a big tent," Fowler said. "Left, right. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists."
The "Million Voices for Darfur" campaign collected more than 500,000 postcards that were supposed to be delivered to the White House today, Hirsch said.
Consciousness has been raised across the generations, as evidenced by the many children who rallied on the bridge alongside seniors.
Ayana Knowles and Kiara Sloan, both 10-year-olds from Castro Valley, learned about Darfur on TV's "Oprah"[.]
"In Darfur, there were rebels," said Ayana.
"The rebels were killing a lot of the kids and raping a lot of the women," said Kiara "They're making kids kill their parents.
"The children were called 'night walkers.' They would walk for six or seven miles at night to escape the rebels." [This actually refers to northern Uganda, which--along with DR Congo--was also featured in last week's "Oprah" show about Darfur. - EJM]
Both girls are talking about Darfur at school. Ayana goes to Strowbridge Elementary School, Kiara to Castro Valley Elementary School.
"We're both going to raise money for Darfur in our schools," said Ayana.
San Francisco was the focus of West Coast events Sunday to protest what organizers called “ethnic cleansing” in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Darfur is the only African Muslim region in the otherwise Arab Muslim Sudan. [That description leaves out southern Sudan, which is largely African Christian/animist. - EJM]
Events for “Day of Conscience for Darfur” included a large rally at San Francisco’s Crissy Field and a silent vigil on the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Rally speakers were to include: Congressman George Miller, Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church and Jerry Fowler, director of the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among others.
At the silent vigil for Darfur, some 2,000 participants spanned the 1.7-mile long Golden Gate Bridge.
The vigil and rally were organized by members of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) and sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, Church World Service, and other national and local organizations.
Groups from other West Coast locations, including Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, were scheduled to participate, along with a group of 30 Rwandans now living in Sacramento.
The Bay Area Darfur Coalition “applauds President Bush for his leadership in demanding U.N. action. However, U.N. troops aren't expected to arrive until 2007,” said Nikki Serapio, event organizer and a leader of STAND.
"Tomorrow's victims cannot wait another year...We urge President Bush to take the next step: to help deploy a strong NATO bridging force for Darfur until the U.N. can take over," Serapio said in a statement to the press.