Saturday, June 09, 2007

Not On Our Watch: The Least Depressing Book About Darfur You'll Ever Read

We want to show that it is possible to care enough to change things. We want to remove all excuses and impediments to individual action, because such actions--collectively--do make a difference --Not On Our Watch.

It isn't often that you can't wait to keep reading a book about genocide, but that is how it was while I was reading Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast. Don't get me wrong, there are extremely sad and depressing stories in here, but mostly it is a book that shares Cheadle and Prendergast's, "Two Paths Out of Apathy," inspiring citizen activist success stories, and tools and information to help you take action.

I particularly appreciated the historical background on the situation. What surprised me the most (you all probably already knew this), is that the Sudanese government officials who were close to Osama bin Laden (who lived there from 1991-1996) are cooperating with the American counterterrorism authorities, so the United States doesn't want to rock the counterterrorism information boat by upsetting them about Darfur. Once again, our counterterrorism policy brings more terror.

I also found it heartening to hear that the US government actually does listen when the public applies pressure. Prendergast, who worked at the White House and State Department during the Clinton administration writes:

I have seen firsthand this continuum of pressure and its results. When citizens write letters and press their agendas in a coordinated way, Congress responds. And when Congress presses the president to act on a foreign policy issue, the president responds. When citizens are silent in the face of the world's horrors, as they were during the Rwandan genocide, it is almost certain that the president will not act.

The book is interspersed with personal anecdotes from Cheadle and Prendergast. Cheadle's stories reveal the reality of being a celebrity activist. Before speaking at a STAND rally at UCLA he reflects:

It is a perfect--yet to me often strange--example of the power of "celebrity". I probably know less than Jenny [a student speaking at the rally] about whence I speak, and possess maybe a quarter of her energy, and yet the unitiated and heretofore uninterested are now beginning to pool to hear what Basher Tarr of Ocean's eleven/twelve/etc. has to say. Fine then. It shouldn't be all sunglasses and autographs anyway. I have been blessed with the rare opportunity to draw focus for however long it lasts, and I am happy to have something to talk about other than Brad Pitt's favorite food or what Catherine Zeta-Jones is like in person (tacos and lovely, respectively).

The book is also filled with stories of citizen activists making a difference. When is the last time you read a book or a magazine article about a social/environmental/political issue that not only addressed the problems, but also solutions? So refreshing.

My favorite, because it is so creative and have fun-do goody is the Harry Potter Alliance which, "seeks to motivate Harry Potter fans to take a stand against tyranny, genocide, global warming, and more, using parallels to the book series."

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this book, because right before it I read Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy, a really intense book which discusses a lot of disturbing things like water privatization, female feticide in India, and prevention of seed saving by corporate patents. Important things that everyone should be aware of, and I'm glad I read the book, but boy did I feel depressed and powerless to create change by the end.

Not On Our Watch, on the other hand, ends with an eight page Appendix of ideas and resources for change. Their Six Strategies for Effective Change are:

1. Raise awareness
2. Raise funds
3. Write letters
4. Call for divestment
5. Join an organization
6. Lobby the government

I particularly appreciated the 7 Deadly Sins of Human Rights Advocates (these tips apply to all kinds of advocates!):

1. Don't be boring
2. Don't be too long-winded
3. Don't be too unilateral
4. Don't be too complex
5. Don't be too unstructured
6. Don't be too random
7. Don't be too touch feely.

And the Five Helpful Hints for Advocacy Initiatives

1. Keep It Simple
2. Keep It Short
3. Keep It Sound
4. Keep It Smart
5. Keep It Special

Here are some of the resources they listed if you want more information about what's going on in Darfur:


International Crisis Group
Eric Reeve's website
Voices on Genocide Prevention podcast from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
mtvU's Darfur video game
Genocide Intervention (GI-Net) Action Alerts
STAND's National Newsletter
Save Darfur Weekly Action Network
Africa Action Action Alerts

Honestly, this is my favorite read of the year so far. As strange as it sounds, it can even be a "beach read"--(that's where I read it!) It is that accessible, and it makes you feel like you can make a difference, or as the quote at the top says, that it is possible to care enough to change things.

Full disclosure: I requested a review copy of Not on Our Watch from Hyperion.


  1. It will take a huge act on the part of all the powerful nations in the world to fix these problems, I hope one day and soon people come to the realization that this sort of thing should never be allowed to happen anymore. The world is getting smaller, secrets are much harder to keep now, and NO one can claim ignorance anymore.

    Great post thanks!

  2. Don Cheadle's words, ...I have been blessed with the rare opportunity to draw focus for however long it lasts,... remind me of George Bernard Shaw's powerful saying, "Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations". Way to go Don!


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