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Groups rally to end Darfur genocide

On July 21, the eve of the anniversary of Congress officially deeming the situation in Darfur a "genocide," several groups joined together on the lawn in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard to rally in opposition to the Sudanese government, calling for steps to end the genocide of people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Since February 2003, rebel groups in the Darfur region of Sudan have been in conflict with the Sudanese government over accusations that the government favors Arabs over black Sudanese citizens.

The government mobilized its militias to respond to the rebel uprising, and the conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead and has forced millions more from their homes. As refugees, these Sudanese people deal with extreme hunger, disease and constant fear of attack by the janjaweed forces, who have been accused of ethnic cleansing.

On July 21, the eve of the anniversary of Congress officially deeming the situation in Darfur a "genocide," several groups joined together on the lawn in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard to rally in opposition to the Sudanese government, calling for steps to end the genocide of people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

As the sun set into the western horizon of Westwood halfway around the world from the region, rally participants raised their signs and hollered their chants to stop the genocide. The air of Wilshire Boulevard, between the 405 and Veteran Avenue, was filled with horns of passing cars, voicing their support of those on the sidewalk.

One of the participants was seven-and-a-half year old Jaime Monsher.

"I feel that we should save lives," Jaime said.

His mother, 46-year old Karmi Monsher, brought him to the event. She smiled as she looked at her son, who held his sign as high as he could on the sidewalk.

"What we're doing is making a difference ... It's a terrible thing. It should never happen again," Monsher said.

The Darfur Freedom Summer Vigil was one of several taking place across the globe. Other cities participating included Washington D.C., Jerusalem, and San Francisco.

The event marked the beginning of a new push to publicize the efforts of these groups, in order to further educate others on the situation in Darfur, organizers said.

"Over the last several months, as we have been educating the community about the genocide in Darfur people realize that it's time to take to the streets and make a grander point to more people," said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, chair of the Jewish World Watch, one of the groups that helped organize the event.

The various groups, including the UCLA Darfur Action Committee, distributed information and brought speakers to comment on the rally and the situation in Darfur.

Several distributed envelopes filled with postcards and letters to send to media representatives and political leaders, as well as information on how to call President Bush.

Students from the Darfur Action Committee stood across the lawn closer to the building, encouraging participants to paint one of their hands light blue and put a handprint on a huge canvas, "having a hand in stopping genocide," said Christina Chala, a UCLA alumna from the Class of 2005.

The canvases will be combined with others from across the nation to be laid on the lawns in Washington D.C. in October, Chala said.

Walking across the lawn were several men and women selling plastic wristbands engraved with the words: "Do not stand by idly – save Darfur."

The sale of these bracelets has provided "hundreds of thousands" of dollars in fundraising for Jewish World Watch, said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, the founder of Jewish World Watch.

Schulweis said young people have an untapped idealism that has sparked a great deal of interest in the situation in Darfur, and he hopes to develop a Jewish interdenominational youth coral to involve more young people.

Forty-five minutes into the event, several participants holding signs made their way to the lawn, as speakers began to make their way to the microphone to address the participants.

Standing in front of the Federal Building moniker, 81-year old Renee Firestone spoke about her time in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust.

She said the leaders of the world then had said "never again," yet constantly have failed to bring this dogma to fruition, and situations, such as those in Cambodia, Rwanda and now Sudan, are the result.

Ted Hayes later took the microphone and chanted "never again" while pumping his fist into the air. Everyone watching joined in unison.

Throughout the speeches, several teenagers stood out by the sidewalk continuing to holler at passing cars, jumping up and down vigorously. With every honk, they screamed louder and jumped higher.

"Genocide sucks," yelled 14-year old Jonathan Weiss, who found out about the event through his synagogue Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills.

At this point, the light of hundreds of candles illuminated the lawn of the Federal Building, in respect to those lost to the genocide.

"All the great liberation movements in time have required this kind of a public service. ... Until we do make an impact and the genocide stops, we have to continue,"

Darfur Action Committee