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Quick and Dirty

Wartime Rations

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/15/2004

The Sept. 7 conference outside the offices of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-7th) looked like the world’s response to a genocide, in miniature. “We have to put our money where our mouth is and show what Americans can do,” insisted Lane Berk, one of a dozen people who marched 15 blocks to Cummings’ office from the Republican Party office on the 2500 block of North Charles Street. “We’re asking early enough to save millions.”

Standing before Berk was Mike Christianson, a special assistant to Cummings, chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes. Christianson launched into an explanation of Sudan’s complexities, in which the Arabist government has unleashed militias to kill black Africans and pen survivors into concentration camps. Human-rights groups say the militias—known as the janjaweed—have killed at least 30,000 during the past 18 months while displacing 1.5 million into the camps, which are short of water and food. Some observers estimate that 350,000 more people will starve unless much more food is brought in immediately, but so far the United Nations has done little more than ask the Sudanese government to cease. “I think Congressman Cummings will support this,” Christianson said. But “there’s also the question of protecting the aid workers.”

A. Robert Kaufman, the Baltimore activist who organized the march and has pledged to march every Tuesday until the Nov. 2 election or until the group’s demands are met, reiterated the demands: That the United States do whatever it takes—including air drops if necessary—to get food to starving people and that both major political parties make the Sudan genocide a campaign issue.

“Have you spoke to the Kerry campaign?” Christianson asked, pulling on his second cigarette.

You’re the Democratic Party!” Kaufman thundered.

James Chiracol serves as a spokesman for the Sudanese community in Baltimore. The death in western Sudan is not new, says Chiracol, but an extension of a 20-year policy of extermination that has killed 2 million people in Sudan’s southern regions.

“I support bringing more attention to it,” Christianson said. “I’ve got to say, though, that this is more complicated than dropping food from the sky.”

“James, is security an issue?” Kaufman asked.

“Not really,” Chiracol replied as Christianson continued talking.

Berk cut him off: “I’m 76,” she said. “I heard the same types of arguments in the ’30s [when the Nazis began exterminating Jews]. What you’re saying is not incorrect. It’s just not enough to meet the issue.”

Christianson pledged to send e-mails detailing Cummings’ position on the issue. They came just before midnight: Cummings has already asked President George W. Bush to act “unilaterally” if necessary to stop the killing.

On Wednesday Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Sudan situation “genocide,” triggering headlines. Kaufman called it “bullshit diplomacy. It’s already been established by the vote of Congress and the president that it’s genocide. And so now he’s saying it. Well who is he? He works for the president. Essentially, nothing has changed.

As of press time the United States had sent no more food to Darfur.

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