Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Armchair Activism: Making A Difference in 45 Minutes or Less

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” --H. Selassie

Instead of some pathetically whiny plea aimed at getting you to do something about the genocide and population displacement occurring in Darfur, I am going to cut to the chase and tell you what I have done to help alleviate the situation. It's not much, but it is a whole lot better than nothing.

First, I am making darn sure that I am not funding the Sudanese government and the militias that they arm. Sudan is rich in oil reserves. They do not, however, have the resources to extract this oil, so the Sudanese government sells that right to major corporations. Seventy percent of the funds obtained by the Sudanese government are used to fund the military. The military, in turn, supports the janjaweed militia groups that have raped, tortured and attempted to annihilate the people of Darfur.

Your mutual fund, 401k, or pension fund could be investing in one of these corporations. This means the money that you work hard to earn might be funding the rape, torture and murder of innocent people. Now that you know this, you have serious ethical issues if you can go to bed tonight without checking up on it.

You can research whether your pension or mutual fund is investing in one of these corporations by visiting http://www.sudandivestment.org/getInvolved.asp. You'll need the exact name of your fund, or better yet, its ticker symbol (those capital letters in parentheses). This website is great because it lets you know whether your pension fund is investing in a "highest offending" company. If they are investing in one of the corporations that fund genocide, you can initiate a a plan to practice "targeted divestment."

Targeted divestment targets those corporations who invest in sectors of the Sudanese economy that most benefit the Sudanese government, such as energy and oil. It does not, however, target corporations that are involved in the production or distribution of consumer or agricultural goods. Nor does it target services intended to relieve human suffering or services intended to promote health, educational, religious or spiritual activities.

Imagine my horror when I entered the ticker name of my Roth IRA and found that my fund invests in one of these highest offenders. Now, to my irritation, I had to write a letter to the fund manager to tell him he better shape up. I said something to the effect of, "Did you know that this company is very, very naughty and it is bad for our karma to give them money?" Actually, you can go to http://www.sudandivestment.org/docs/mutual_fund_letter_one.pdf and view a template of the exact letter that I sent. If you do not know the name of your mutual fund manager, just go to Google, type in your fund's name and the phrase "fund manager." The address that you can mail this correspondence to will most likely come up, as well.

I sent my letter out this morning and I am waiting to see what my fund manager is going to do. If he doesn't do anything about it, I am going to reinvest with a fund manager who is more bothered by the thought of feeding, clothing and arming people who gang rape women or set innocent children on fire in front of their parents. (And, yes, this is exactly what is happening in Darfur.) If I do reinvest, I will be sure to send a follow up letter to that heartless jerk and tell him exactly why I am leaving.

In addition to scrutinizing my personal investments, I also want to make sure that my tax dollars are not going to fund genocide either. Currently, there is a bill scheduled for debate in the Senate called the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act (SADA, S.2271). This bill, in short, makes sure that corporations that the Federal government does business with must certify that their business practices do not fund genocide. Furthermore, it ensures that state and university pensions and fund managers retain the right to divest from companies that fund genocide. I wrote to my senators and told them that they better see this one through.

I didn't want my Representative in the House to feel left out, so I wrote him a letter, too. But, first, I checked out his voting record on the issue at http://www.darfurscores.org/. It was a sad and dismal display, and, in a very respectful way, I told him that.

All of this, not including some research which I have already done for you, took me about forty minutes. Do not tell me that you don't have forty minutes to spend in the cause of the Darfuri people. Literally, you could complete this action plan in the commercial breaks of two T.V. shows. It's simple, but just in case, let's review:

1, Go to http://www.sudandivestment.org/, and use their Sudan Screening Tool to see if you are inadvertently funding janjaweed militia who are responsible for the rape, torture, displacement and murder of Darfuri civilians.

2, If you have money invested in such a fund, write to your fund manager. This information can be obtained through a quick Google search. Write him or her a letter. You can review the template I used at the above mentioned website. I know the issue of divesting from a corporate matched 401K might be problematic, so I will write another post regarding solutions to a sociopathic, hell bound fund manager who refuses to divest from the offending company.

3, Write to your Senators and urge the passage of the SADA. You can read the full text of this bill at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s110-2271.

4, Look up your elected officials at http://www.darfurscores.org/ and shame them for scoring anything less than an "A" on their report card. And if, as was the case with me, on of your senators has an "A" (shout out to Bill Nelson!!), thank them, and tell them to keep it up.

Last , but certainly NOT least, every time someone brings up Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, TomKat, Michael Jackson or some other piece of celebrity trash who is a total waste of oxygen, I am going to say, "I know they are sooo crazy (laugh casually, then sigh). But, you know what is even crazier? The fact that none of these media outlets are reporting on what is happening in Darfur. Did you know that..." and I will launch into a one minute or less speech which covers the following talking points:


1, Five hundred thousand people have perished in this genocide. Over 4 million are in need of humanitarian aid, and over 2 million have been displaced from their homes. Half a million have been displaced in the last eighteen months.

2, UN Security Council Resolution 1769 was passed a year ago and authorized the deployment of 26,000 peacekeeping troops on behalf of an African-UN effort aimed at protecting Dafuris, yet because not a single nation has, of yet, given the helicopters necessary for the operation, nothing has been done. Additionally, there is no funding for the initial phases of this project. The U.S. FY2008 falls about 186 million dollars short of America's needed contribution to the effort. 186 million? I bet you could find that in the bottom of a sofa in the oval office.

3, Women whose husbands, sons and fathers have been murdered are routinely gang raped while doing basic chores such as gathering firewood or fetching water. Some Darfuris have said that, in their culture, it is better for these women to be dead than to be labelled rape victims.


I will then say, "Can you believe that CNN/Fox News/MSNBC are insulting our moral conscience by thinking that we don't care about these issues?"


The number one thing we can do about this situation is simply create awareness. Tell people to go visit a site like http://www.savedarfur.org/ for more information. Or tell them to read this blog posting so, at least, they can do something with the extra forty five minutes they might find in their week. I'm sure you will agree that doing a little bit is a lot better than doing nothing.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Tariq said...

Excellent posting. I heard about this situation a little while ago. However, I am ashamed to say that I did not bother to learn any details and basically turned a blind eye. However, you can be assured that having completely understood what is happening out there, I will be doing the three simple things you mention on your blog. I know giving money is a touchy subject for most people but for any reader interested, here are a couple of websites I found through which you can sponsor a child in Darfur:
http://www.worldvision.org/worldvision/pr.nsf/stable/eNews_darfur_080205?OpenDocument

http://www.islamic-relief.com/submenu/appeal/sudan.htm

Thursday, 13 December, 2007  
Blogger Komal said...

Regarding your post entitled “where I’m from originally…”: This blog caused me to think a great deal ,which is wonderful because normally I usually hate thinking. To be perfectly honest I never actually saw any significance in this “Hyphen Debate” however I see that you bring up an even bigger issue of cultural identity. Although I too get upset when people begin questioning my authenticity of being a straight up American I usually just brush off their comments as pure ignorance. In a country where only 53% of all eligible voters show up on Election Day, what else can you expect? I usually just play with such comments (After all I’m just as ignorant). This one time I actually passed off as a half Caucasian half Ethiopian love child. This didn’t last very long of course…
Oh and yes god bless FISA and the Patriot Act
Swell job on the posting;)

Thursday, 03 January, 2008  
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Monday, 30 March, 2009  

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