- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

James Carter of the District and Laura Schonfeld of Potomac are throwing a huge party this weekend. It won’t be your stereotypical March Madness beer bash, however. They have invited 100 of their “socially conscious” friends to pick up their pens and write letters about the horrors in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“We wanted to galvanize our friends … to recognize that we are in the privileged position to voice our concerns,” Mr. Carter said. “We’re so privileged that we’re allowed to be ignorant of global issues.”

Mr. Carter, 25, and Ms. Schonfeld, 24, are among the untold concerned citizens participating in this weekend’s letter-writing campaign to stop the genocide in Darfur. On the order of ethnic cleansing, thousands of children and adults are being slaughtered, raped and abducted each day by the government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed.

This weekend, the Save Darfur Coalition is sponsoring a consciousness-raising campaign, called “100 Hours to Stop Genocide,” with the aim of sending 100 letters to each of the 50 senators and 435 representatives in Congress.

Sending a letter is as simple as visiting the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization’s Web site, www.savedarfur.org, and filling out a form that will be electronically forwarded to the appropriate legislators.

Tomorrow, beginning at 4 p.m., the Schonfeld and Carter contingent will file into the Arthur Fleming Center at 1426 Ninth St. NW to write letters and learn more about the Darfur crisis. The event is open to the public.

“This is all about increasing awareness,” said Mr. Carter, a legal assistant for the U.S. Postal Service. “No matter if you lean left or right, human suffering is a bipartisan issue, and the government’s response to human suffering can be bipartisan. [Darfur] is a serious situation and we want to let our leaders know this is something they need to prioritize.”

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said: “I wish I was receiving lots of letters [about Darfur]. I’d be encouraged if I did.” However, he is not.

“The American people need to get worked up about this. There used to be a greater constituency in this country for human rights,” Mr. Wolf said.

Mr. Wolf has traveled to Darfur five times and witnessed the atrocities firsthand. Like the vivid images of death and destruction after the Indian Ocean tsunami, Mr. Wolf said, if more people were made aware of the Sudanese situation through more graphic photographs, they might be motivated to get involved.

“It’s basically fundamental crimes against humanity — call it genocide, whatever,” Mr. Wolf said. “It’s so horrible.”

Mr. Wolf said U.N. estimates released this week say 180,000 people have been killed in Sudan in the past six months. Also this week, the House passed a bill that includes $150 million for aid to Sudan and $100 million in disaster relief and refugee aid to Sudan and other parts of Africa.

More letters to Congress certainly would be productive, but Mr. Wolf said concerned Americans also should write to the United Nations, urging the U.N. Security Council to take stronger, swifter measures against the genocidal perpetrators. Also, there should be major demonstrations at the New York headquarters and in front of the Chinese and Russian embassies in the District.

“I think the world just has to be focused,” Mr. Wolf said. “That this is happening in 2005 is incredible.”

Ms. Schonfeld and Mr. Carter agree. Former co-workers, the pair transformed their water-cooler political conversations into community action.

“Darfur exposed my ignorance, and I had to ask how could I consider myself socially conscious but be completely ignorant of this massive problem. That’s what moved me to be plugged in,” he said.

A member of Potomac’s Congregation Har Shalom, which hosted “An Interfaith Evening of Information, Inspiration and Action” on Darfur earlier this month, Ms. Schonfeld was able to raise $1,000 selling handmade baskets on behalf of the Rwandan Partners Women’s Center that teaches widows how to weave so they can earn a living for what is left of their families.

Ms. Schonfeld, an interior designer, was “really, really affected,” by the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” which depicted genocide in Rwanda. Then, she heard U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan slaughter, promising that the world would “never let this happen again.”

“I thought, ‘The same thing is happening and we’re turning a blind eye to Sudan.’ I wondered what could I do to help. … We can stop this,” she said.

“It’s spun out of control, but that’s OK. We’ll be writing lots and lots of letters because we’re trying to do our small parts instead of sitting around apathetically,” Ms. Schonfeld said.

“We’re so physically removed from other people’s suffering that we’re allowed to be ignorant,” Mr. Carter said. “Something as simple as writing a letter is a way to engage and hopefully make a difference.”

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