Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Person's Vision

Dear Friends,

In June 2007, I began a 40-day train trip around the country to speak about Darfur and ask activists, students and people of faith about an idea for a new one-year campaign called Tents of Hope. The response was overwhelming. People wanted to order tents even before the campaign was launched. When I returned to California in August, a small group of us from the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) created a plan for Tents of Hope. We launched the campaign in September 2007.

Would the campaign take off? I wasn’t sure. The idea for Tents of Hope germinated in the spring after I had many discussions with Darfur activists about low morale in the Darfur Movement. We had been working to end the genocide for over three years and the situation in Darfur was getting more hopeless by the day. I spoke about my concerns with Elly Simmons, a brilliant Marin artist with a long history of social activism. We thought the idea of painting tents would work because it could bring communities together in a creative and fun way. But the task of organizing Tents of Hope was daunting. We had no office, no staff and no money. We only had an idea.

After the campaign was launched, we began reaching out to Darfur advocacy organizations, religious denominations and interfaith organizations, Sudanese groups and human rights organizations. We asked them to help us spread the word about Tents of Hope. The UCC and Disciples provided seed money that allowed us to hire a few staff workers. In the fall and winter of 2007, the campaign grew very slowly. After four months, less than 50 cities had joined the campaign. People who were involved agreed that it was a good idea, but not enough people were learning about the campaign. We were running out of money quickly. One day my phone and Internet service were turned off because I couldn’t pay the bill. I was very discouraged and wondered if we should give up.

Then something remarkable happened. In January 2008, we began to receive calls from dozens of small towns across the country. Youth directors at churches and synagogues and teachers at K-12 schools wanted to use the tents as a way to teach young people about the world and social responsibility. Artists saw it as a way to join creativity and compassion together. Painting a tent is fun. But it also connects us to the people of Darfur as we reflect on their suffering and hopes while painting the tents. Over the next few months, the number of cities participating in Tents of Hope doubled and tripled. By May 2008, over 300 cities had joined the campaign. (The final number is close to 400 cities in 48 states and 8 countries.) In most cities, an assortment of schools, congregations and civic groups participated in painting the tents while learning about and advocating for Darfur and raising funds for humanitarian relief.

Intense planning for the “Gathering of the Tents” began in May. New people, some volunteers and some paid, came aboard to perform critical jobs. Our budget expanded thanks to help from campaign partners and generous donors. We all worked very hard. Our core team slowly took shape, and as we learned to work together, lifelong friendships began to form. Many of us were raising children at the same time that we were working on the campaign. On numerous conference calls, babies could be heard crying in the background and children could be heard asking for help with their homework (including my 9-year-old son, Jonathan). I guess that’s the difference between a campaign and an organization. In a campaign, every day is take-your-children-to-work day!

The “Gathering of the Tents” at the National Mall in Washington DC and the “Interfaith Weekend of Prayer and Action for Sudan” on November 7-9 were incredibly successful. You can see from the photos on the website that local communities are an endless source of creativity, compassion and hope. Almost 400 tents were on the National Mall! The tents are beautiful works of art and a powerful message of our solidarity with the people of Darfur.

It’s very sad for me to see the Tents of Hope campaign come to an end. For the last 16 months, I have been blessed to be part of the most inspiring work of my life. The stories and photographs that poured into our email boxes kept us continually amazed and encouraged to work even harder. But the end of the campaign allows us time to reflect on our experiences and accomplishments. We did it! In the coming weeks, we will post your stories, photos and media coverage on the website. I encourage everyone to continue this creative dialogue of hope and compassion as we work together for an end to the genocide in Darfur.

The campaign still faces some challenging financial hurdles. We will be sending hundreds of tents to Darfur through the Darfur Peace and Development Organization. We need your financial help to ship the tents to Darfur. We also have many expenses that still need to be paid. Please consider making a donation online at Small donations are welcomed just as much as large ones because Tents of Hope has always been about people everywhere pitching in to help.

We met our goal for Tents of Hope, and all of us can feel a sense of accomplishment. As a writer, I appreciate a story that has a beginning, middle and end. When I finish a book I try to understand the way that I have been changed by reading the book. How have I been changed by Tents of Hope? How have you?

My understanding of the Darfur Movement has been radically transformed. I used to think that hope would arise from a change of policy toward Sudan by the international community. In other words, I thought that hope for ending the genocide in Darfur rested in the hands of governments. It doesn’t. You are the hope. It may take many years for peace and justice to come to Sudan. At times, we may get discouraged and want to give up. The only thing that will keep us going in this movement to end genocide in Darfur is the strength that we get from one another. We are a community of compassion. Compassion is a powerful force for change. It allows us to see that we all belong to one human family and that we have a responsibility to one another. When you look at the images and messages on the tents, you will see this consciousness of global solidarity in every color and every language.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your decision to act on your compassion and desire for peace and justice in Sudan by participating in the Tents of Hope campaign. This campaign was only one expression of the Darfur Movement. But if the creativity and beauty that we see on the surfaces of the tents is any indication of the creativity and beauty in all of your hearts, I am more than confident that our struggle against genocide in Darfur will succeed. Remember, you are the hope.

With gratitude and joy,

Tim Nonn
National Coordinator
Tents of Hope

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Candidates Will Be a Voice

The following blog by Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, was posted Tuesday on The Huffington Post.

Throughout this election, both John McCain and Barack Obama promised action in Darfur. On January 20, Barack Obama must be prepared to deliver on that promise.

Over the last few months -- in debates, stump speeches and interviews -- the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have spoken about America's responsibility to help end the genocide in Darfur. Their words were forceful. Sen. Obama said that genocide "diminishes us," and Sen. Biden said he does not "have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur." Sen. McCain said "we have to say never again to a Holocaust and never again to Rwanda" and Gov. Palin said that "America is in a position to help."

It's no accident that the plight of 2.5 million displaced people in a place no one had heard of six years ago is now a top issue on the American campaign trail. Americans have done the unexpected: They started a mass movement to end the suffering of civilians half way around the world. When the people of Darfur were targeted in 2003 by the Sudanese government for elimination, the people of America spoke out.

Obama and McCain responded to this outcry back in May when they signed a rare joint presidential candidate statement. It promised "unstinting resolve" from the next president to end the genocide, no matter who is elected.

When thousands of citizens of conscience spoke with one voice, our leaders listened. Today, with the campaign over and President- elect Obama set to take over in less than three months, Americans who believe we can not stand idly by during genocide have a reminder for the future president: it's not enough to say that genocide is terrible. You have promised action in Darfur. Be ready to deliver.

In 2006, the Save Darfur Coalition launched the "Million Voices for Darfur" postcard campaign. In the dawn of our movement, a full one million people quickly signed and sent postcards to the White House demanding peace in Darfur. Since then, we've seen activists organize mass rallies, states adopt divestment policies at the behest of concerned citizens, and Olympic athletes call on China to use their leverage with the Sudanese government to end the violence in Darfur.

People in Darfur are alive today who otherwise would not be, because this growing constituency of conscience cried out. But still the suffering remains. Six-year-old children in Darfur have known nothing but conflict their whole lives.

The inauguration of Obama presents a new opportunity to push for a lasting peace. He should invest heavily in diplomacy and work with allies to apply leverage on the parties, including further targeted sanctions for uncooperative key players. The U.S. must engage closely with the new U.N.-A.U. joint chief mediator Djibril Bassolé and other key nations, such as China, from the start of this fragile, vital process.

Civilian protection will help create an atmosphere that fosters a push for peace, but the hybrid U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force is floundering. Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon broke the bad news that by December - almost eighteen months after the force was authorized - perhaps only two thirds of the total force is expected to be deployed in Darfur. As is, the force lacks basic logistical support such as helicopters, aerial reconnaissance, transport trucks, engineers to build military installations, and logistical support units. And what's more, the Sudanese government has been given an unconscionable veto over the force's composition and operations. An American president with commitment and leadership can provide the necessary support and pressure, making the peacekeeping force in Darfur operational and saving lives.

President-elect Obama will have to contend with many vital issues, not the least of which is the health of our economy. But let us not forget that one of these issues must also be stopping genocide in Sudan. The people of Darfur have waited six long years for protection and a chance at peace. The next president must be resolved to place this African region on top of his must-do list; he must be prepared to act for Darfur from day one.

Our movement has staying power. We ask for protection of civilians from violence, starvation and disease; sustainable peace for all Sudan; and justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators. Barack Obama must end this genocide instead of continuing to manage it. It's not too much to ask.

Jerry Fowler is president of the Save Darfur Coalition and is leading the "Be a Voice for Darfur" campaign to collect one million postcards for delivery to the next president urging him to make Darfur a top priority.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama

During his campaign, President-Elect Obama pledged to "make ending genocide in Darfur a priority from Day One" of his new administration. It is important that he be held to this promise--that as activists we push now for the end of this genocide, not just a continued management of the crisis. According to the Save Darfur Coalition, "Bold steps will require a "peace surge" by the new Administration; strong American leadership and full-scale use of diplomatic resources can create a peace process that would finally achieve a breakthrough which ends the conflict."

There are many simple actions that you can take to help make sure the president-elect upholds his campaign promise. The most simple is to sign the petition to President-Elect Obama on this page (in right column). You can also go to Save Darfur, read the press release on this issue, and download the letter to President-Elect Obama, then write your own letter to the president-elect.

John Prendergast, ENOUGH! co-chair, said, “The election of President Obama is an opportunity for a fundamental change in the world’s approach to Sudan. The time is ripe to work with our international partners, including China and the European Union, to stop simply managing the symptoms of Darfur and actually end the conflict.”

Finally, you can write to your Senators and ask that questions about Darfur are included during confirmation hearings for officials in the Obama administration.

Don't let this opportunity pass us by. Take action today!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Images from Tents of Hope

Here are some more pictures from the National Gathering of the Tents on the National Mall in Washington DC. More pictures are available at the SAIDC Facebook page.

Unitarian Universalists Youth Tent

San Antonio Interfaith Darfur Coalition Tent

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tents of Hope National Event

I am in Washington, DC attending the National Tents of Hope gathering. There is also a Save Darfur Coalition Conference going on, which started with a salon discussion with Jerry Fowler, President of Save Darfur and Gary Bass, author of Freedom's Battle: the Origins of Humanitarian Intervention and a professor at Princeton University. There were a number of Darfurians in attendance. It was clear from the discussion that what we are doing truly matters, but it is also not nearly enough. I hope to learn more about what we can hope to accomplish over the next two days and to bring that information back to all of you.

In addition to the salon, we attended a student march and vigil at the Sudanese Embassy (I have two high-school students with me). It was exciting to see so much energy and enthusiasm at work. We also helped put up tents. Below are pictures of some of today's events, including many pictures of the San Antonio/New Braunfels/Seguin area tents.