An estimated 400,000 people have died in western Sudan since an outbreak of ethnic violence began there over three years ago.
At least 500 people die every day in Darfur, and experts are still counting.
To apply pressure to state and federal government and aid organizations, more than 40 Chicago-based groups, along with local politicians held a rally Monday at Federal Plaza.
The rally, organized by the Chicago Coalition to Save Darfur, attracted thousands of participants, to lend their voices to a call for action, said Martha Cook, founder of the Chicago Alliance to End Genocide.
“We’re concerned because half [of the 400,000 dead] are children,” she said.
Cook said another 2 million people have been displaced after the Janjaweed, a government-backed military, burned their villages. She added that half of those displaced were children.
The three-year conflict, more aptly called genocide, “is basically a power struggle between those who are in power and those who are not represented,” Cook said.
“In Darfur [people have] no voice in their own government, so they began to demand their rights and the government’s response was to murder them,” Cook said. “They are trying to obliterate them.
“It would be like us having the Boston Tea Party and the government coming and dropping the atomic bomb on us,” Cook added, referring to government actions in the region.
Cook said those at the Monday rally would use their cell phones and dial the White House switchboard to tell President Bush: “We support any and all peacekeeping action in Darfur and any increases in humanitarian aid.”
“When we all speak with one voice, that’s when we are heard,” Cook said.
Steve Dishler, a rally organizer from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Chicago, said last Wednesday that he had concerns that the immigration rally on Monday might interfere with the Darfur demonstration.
“It is a concern that their large numbers will tie up traffic and draw media attention [from the Darfur rally],” Dishler said. “We have been in contact with the organizers of the immigration rally, and they are aware of our issues.”
But Cook said the immigration rally could benefit the Darfur cause. “It might work in our favor,” she said, “because the immigration rally will really last all day and the news crews will already be out.”
The Darfur rally at the plaza did draw some of the immigrant marchers, according to news reports. More than 400,000 attended the immigration march and protests on Monday.
Dishler said major goals of the Darfur rally are to encourage Illinois legislators to apply more pressure on the Bush administration, increase humanitarian aid and enforce a no fly zone over the Darfur region.
Another goal is to increase media attention, Dishler said. “Other issues like Iraq or domestic issues are taking more time. African issues are lower on the totem pole as far as media attention and focus.”
Cook did not anticipate the immigration rally to draw away participants and interest from the fight for justice in Darfur.
“Those who are interested and involved in this have been waiting a long time,” she said.
More than a dozen speakers addressed the crowd Monday, including U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Congressman Danny Davis, Aaron Freeman, a commentator for National Public Radio, and Georgette Gagnon, deputy director for the Africa Division of the Human Rights Watch, a human rights organization.
Ben LaBolt, press secretary for Schakowsky, said she has actively worked to increase awareness and support for the Darfur region.
“She traveled to Sudan and Darfur [in February] to determine what actions need to be taken by the U.S.,” LaBolt said.
LaBolt added that Schakowsky is calling for additional ground troops, more money and equipment for the African Union and some form of NATO action for civilian defense.
“When we turn aside from the sight of a young child being beaten by the military,” Cook said, “we turn aside from our humanity.”