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Pain By Numbers: U. Massachusetts Lawn Display Quantifies Darfur's Crisis

This story was written by Josh Walovitch, Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Yesterday dozens of body bags were laid on the University of Massachusetts library lawn, representing the hundreds killed each day in Darfur.

Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) organized the event, attempting to raise awareness on behalf of the genocidal conflict occurring overseas.

War in Darfur has been ongoing since February 2003, and is a reaction to ethnic and tribal issues. Over 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million residents have been displaced as a result of the war.

"These statistics are just modest estimates," said MASSPIRG volunteer Nikki Tishler.

The Sudanese government has made it difficult for journalists to gather accurate estimates of a death count since 2005. This suggests the figures are largely underestimated regarding those killed and displaced.

"I don't think people realize how much power they actually have, particularly on this issue," said Elizabeth Hawley, co-coordinator of the Save Darfur campaign. "Our senators Kerry and Kennedy are two of the most active leaders on this issue in this country because of the student movement."

Senator John Kerry has been urging the Bush Administration to recognize the conflict in Darfur as genocide in 2004. More recently, Senator Edward Kennedy has openly stated "the continuing genocide in Darfur is a stain on all humanity and needs to be addressed at once on an urgent basis."

Students have raised significant awareness internationally with the help of student-run organizations such as 'Students Taking Action Now Darfur' (STAND) and MASSPIRG, groups and human rights activists. They've recently aimed to collectively influence the discussion of Darfur in the most recent presidential debates.

"There was this mindset that the Holocaust was the only recent atrocity, but since then there have been tons of civil rights violations," said Tishler. "This visual is a quick reminder to bring back to the forefront of students minds and help them realize that these atrocities have not disappeared."

MASSPIRG said students won't necessarily have the time to stop and listen to a speech going on, but walking by the body bags might be enough for someone to want to educate themselves and others on the issue at hand.

"To me, this visual display is not much different than the Republican Club's putting up giant crosses for the 2,000 babies that are aborted. It reminds me too much of that, I don't see what's wrong with having the information speak for itself," said UMass junior, Nick Ortolani.

Many students asked to comment on the War in Darfur were highly opinionated but felt their comments were too controversial to be quoted.

"Regardless of how I feel about the situation in Darfur, I'm in the military it's not my duty to worry about what's right or wrong," said UMass junior, James Adams. "Originally, lots of people wanted to be in Iraq, but several years later many of those people changed their minds. Going into Darfur could turn into the same type of situation."

Today, no policy on genocide has been pursued or implemented in Darfur by government authorities and the constant threat of violence, disease, starvation and rape continues to be reported on.

"A threat to justice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Tishler said.

MASSPIRG plans to hold events monthly, raising money and spreading awareness around campus. A fundraising open-mic event is scheduled for next month.

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