Darfur supported at rally

Darfur supported at rally

By Marc Larocque

There was a dreary overcast, but that wasn’t enough to stop some from challenging those they see as contributors to the first ethnic cleansing of the 21st century.

On Sunday, April 29, Northeastern students dressed in white boarded the MBTA Green Line on their way to a protest at the Boston Common.

There, people from around New England – and some from as far as Colorado – converged to call attention to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. It was the finale in a week-long series of events held around the world called Global Days for Darfur that recognized attacks – deemed genocide by the White House – on non-Muslim villagers, by militias reportedly armed by the nation’s Arab-led regime.

“Darfurian women are raped and the men are castrated by the janjaweed militia, paid for by the Sudanese government,” said Amanda Kelly, a middler nursing major who participated in the event.

Event organizers ushered students from the Boylston T stop to the gazebo area of the park. Guitar sounds came from the bandstand, and tables set up by groups, like Physicians for Human Rights and the Massachusetts Coalition for Darfur, circled the crowd of about 2,000 and offered pamphlets full of facts.

The genocide in Darfur has been occurring since 2003 and has killed an estimated 450,000 civilians and left 2.5 million citizens displaced, according to a national Student Anti-Genocide Coalition called STAND press release. STAND is an umbrella organization of more than 700 chapters in high schools and colleges in and outside the US.

The group claims they can contribute to a solution by pushing investors to sever ties with companies, like PetroChina, that “contribute significant revenue to the Sudanese government,” according to the release.

Representative James McGovern, D-Mass., told the crowd about when he was arrested for protesting the genocide outside the Sudanese embassy and how he thinks the United States should boycott the upcoming Olympics held in China. Sudan is China’s largest overseas oil project, according to a report published in The Washington Post in late 2004.

The crowd’s focus was suddenly interrupted by a small group of sabotagers who yelled “stop your racist lies!”

“They’re calling for a war against Sudan and they are using this false pretext of genocide to start a war for oil,” Rhode said. “The Chinese have access to that oil and these Zionists are trying to get it.”

Captain Bernard O’Rourke of the Boston Police Department stood by idly. “It’s free speech,” he said.

Sunish Oturkar, founder of the Northeastern chapter of STAND, rushed through the crowd to the source of the disruption.

“Let’s drown them out,” the middler engineering major said to some of the percussionists playing for the event. “They want people to focus on them so they can get off topic.”

The crowd got louder in their cry against genocide. But then they symbolically died. In what is called a “Die-In,” the participants laid down on the ground for five minutes to silently represent “that every five minutes someone dies of this genocide,” Oturkar said.

Near the bandstand, two brown boxes resembling coffins were lifted.

The pallbearers led the crowd of 2,000 to the State House by what resembled bodies shrouded under colorful “tobes,” or Sudanese garments. The art display, titled “Violence Inscribed,” was produced by Khailid Kodi, a teacher of drawing and painting at Boston College and the Massachusetts College of Art.

As bystanders watched the protesters in confusion and awe, Kelly said it was a way of creating awareness.

“If it didn’t seem like that big of a problem before, this mass of people will demonstrate the severity of the situation,” Kelly said.

After turning on Water Street, the crowd approached 82 Devonshire St., Fidelity Investments headquarters. The crowd filed in chanting, “Fidelity, you can’t hide. You are funding genocide!”

The coffins were placed in front of the building. Participants piled paper plates painted with clocks into the coffins. Attached to the back of the plates were petitions.

In its February Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Fidelity’s global holdings of PetroChina topped $1.3 billion. It is the largest holder of PetroChina (PTR) on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fidelity financial packages have been offered by Northeastern to employees since 1992, said Laura Shea, assistant director of communications at Northeastern. Employees have the option investing in many mutual funds, some with stock in companies like PetroChina.

Thus far Northeastern, along with most private schools, has not committed to divesting their shareholdings from companies doing business in Sudan, Oturkar said. Public schools – like University of Massachusetts – Boston, which recently announced it would divest, seem more likely to take action, he said.

He said the board of trustees should feel obligated to divest at this point because it would represent about 15 percent of the undergraduate body, which was the number required to elect the student body president Students can sign a petition at www.nustand.org supporting Northeastern’s divestment. The petition count is approaching 2,000 signatures, Oturkar said.

The procession continued to City Hall Plaza where the protesters unveiled small hourglasses filled with red grains of sand, symbolic of blood and time.

“These state and school divestment campaigns will be what pushes the movement,” Kelly said. “Other states will see us as an example and eventually Bush will get the message that we want to put sanctions in effect and send some peacekeeping troops into Sudan to protect the genocide victims.”

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