Stephanie Figgins is a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University. After learning about the atrocities happening in Darfur, she started a STAND chapter at her high school with a few friends, and went on to serve for two years as its Washington, D.C., college outreach coordinator. She continues to advocate and lobby for genocide prevention, most recently from her phone.
Last week, I picked up a call from an unknown number; to my surprise, it was my newly elected congressman from Arizona’s Fifth District, David Schweikert.
The day before, I had called Schweikert’s office via 1-800-GENOCIDE, a hotline developed to make lobbying your elected officials on Sudan and genocide prevention a less intimidating experience. I left a message about my opposition to across-the-board cuts to the foreign aid budget (already less than 1 percent of our national budget)--including slashes to funding for disaster assistance, migration and refugee assistance, and crises. I hadn't expected a call back.
I told him I understood the need to scale back the budget, but that attacking foreign aid funding was not the way to do it. Schweikert said that while he was not on the committee that proposed the cuts, he was researching them, and really appreciated my call. He later sent a handwritten note to thank me for our conversation.
I hope David Schweikert heeds the call that I (and many others) are making to maintain funding for the international affairs budget, especially because drastic cuts would harm Sudan at a critical time. In a January 2011 referendum, the historically marginalized people of southern Sudan voted for independence from the north; it’s a great step forward, but preparations for the July 9 split are behind schedule, and civilians are at risk of escalating violence and war. The two sides must still agree on the border and divide Sudan’s oil wealth, while nearly 3 million civilians are living in camps in Darfur, facing violence, rape and resource shortages and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges.
What I love about the hotline is that you don’t have to be a super-activist in order to make a huge difference in terms of influencing our elected officials--you just need a phone and a couple of minutes.