Bill Wasserman-a professional activist and alumnus of UCSB’s class of 1982-has created a reputation for himself as a go-to guy for political muscle and grassroots campaign organizing. Currently the president of M+R Strategic Services-a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm specializing in helping out socially progressive nonprofits-Wasserman returned to UCSB on February 28 when Save Darfur came to the school to promote awareness of the genocide currently happening there with its Voices from Darfur campaign. M+R Strategic Services has been managing Save Darfur’s campaigns for three years now.
Before a group of about 100 students, Wasserman spoke about the situation in Darfur as well as facilitating a presentation by Niemat Hmadi-a Darfur refugee and ardent anti-genocide activist. In an emotional speech, Hmadi told students about her experiences during attacks by the Sudanese Army and mercenary Janjaweed fighters. Wasserman and Hmadi were invited by UCSB global studies professor Richard Appelbaum and the Student Anti-Genocide Coalition (STAND). Professor Appelbaum’s interview of Wasserman follows:
Can you bring us up-to-date on the crisis in Darfur? There is increased violence and instability in the region. We need a far more robust security presence on the ground, in the form of a greatly strengthened United Nations Peace Keeping Mission. The Sudanese government has gone on the attack with aerial bombing and militias; many thousands are now pouring over the border into Chad. The world community has yet to fully step up to the plate and demand of the Sudanese that they implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1769, which calls for the deployment of a joint UN-African Union force. Over 2.5 million people are displaced from their homes, as many as 400,000 people have been killed, and the numbers are increasing every day. The international community has to cooperate and end the genocidal campaign in Darfur. What is happening is a crime against humanity-a tragedy on a mass scale.
What about the role of China? China is in a unique position because it is the largest trading partner of the Sudanese-and their principal diplomatic protector and a key provider of arms. The Darfur movement believes that China is in a unique position to make demands on the Sudanese government-something that China acknowledges. So we as a movement are using the upcoming Olympics to demand that China do something to curtail the Sudanese government-by linking the crisis in Darfur with the Olympics.
Why is China backing the Sudanese government? Two-thirds of Sudan’s oil is sold to China, representing 4-5 percent of China’s oil consumption. China has a huge appetite for natural resources, many of which come from Africa. China is far too tolerant of repressive regimes, including Sudan. China’s Security Council role has been to assure that tough economic sanctions are not placed on Sudan, which is obstructing the peacekeeping force. We are calling for tough multilateral sanctions, which we feel will force Sudan to obey the will of the international community and stop the genocide.
According to the media, Stephen Spielberg-who was hired by the Chinese government as creative director of the Olympics’ opening ceremony-recently pulled out completely, shamed by Mia Farrow’s Wall Street Journal article saying he could “go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Olympic Games.” What’s the inside story here? We, and many others, had publicly called on him to resign his post; Mia Farrow played a key role. This is a courageous and thoughtful act on his part, and he did it in a way that got the world’s attention. It has had an enormous impact; the Chinese issue defensive statements every day. This clearly makes them uncomfortable; it is very hard for the Chinese to continue to mask their role. They want to be a world player, a leader in the international community; they need to act responsibly and stop supporting a genocidal regime.
What is the Save Darfur campaign’s next step? There is a global movement around Darfur; the drumbeat will get louder and louder as we get closer to the games. On the eighth of every month until the games begin on August 8, 2008, we will launch advocacy actions. Twenty-three states-including California-have passed pension fund divestment bills for companies that do business with Sudan; many of these are Chinese companies. Lois Capps, your Congressmember, has been a leader and advocate, but we need the Congress to keep pressure on the Sudanese, [the] Chinese, and the Bush Administration.
What about the role of the U.S.? President Bush has not done enough. Labeling it a genocide is not an action; words are not enough. He needs to work harder at the UN, share U.S. intelligence with the International Criminal Court so there is an adequate investigation of crimes against humanity, provide a more active and aggressive role in convincing other countries to contribute the troops and helicopters that are needed.
What can ordinary people do? Most importantly, give us your email address at our Web site-go to savedarfur.org to find out how you can get involved. There is a role for Congress, the president, the Chinese, the UN. You will find it all on our Web site.