April 10, 2007

Why is STAND accepting blood money?

Often, the toughest questions facing activists are questions of tactics. Activists must choose what tactics are best suited to achieving their goals. Unfortunately, it seems that in the case of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), their recent strategic choices have done little to further their cause.

There are multiple issues at play here, but I’m going to focus on two in particular. First is STAND’s curious stance on University funds. Since learning of the Board of Trustees’s decision not to divest, but instead to create the $200,000 Darfur Action and Education Fund (DAEF), STAND has engaged in a public relations war that consists primarily of insulting the University and the fund. Witness, for example, STAND cochair Michael Pareles dumping a sack of pennies on an administrator’s secretary’s desk in an attempt to inform the University of STAND’s opinion of the fund. (The footage is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyrcw043mX4. The dumping occurs six minutes in.) Moreover, members of STAND have throughout the year called University money and the DAEF in particular “bloody money” and variants thereof. According to Pareles, “[the DAEF is] money the University has received from profiting from the killings of Darfurian civilians” (“STAND Requests Student Funds for Refugee Protest,” 4/3/07). However, STAND suddenly seems to be perfectly willing to accept this money for its own ends. STAND just requested and received $4,000 from Student Government for a one-week Darfur refugee camp simulation. (Granted, this may not technically be considered University money, as it is paid for by the Student Activities Fee, paid directly by students.) STAND nonetheless was willing to use the much-maligned DAEF, but “didn’t go to the fund because of deadline reasons,” according to STAND cochair Aliza Levine, in the April 3 article. Thus STAND insults the University and the fund, unequivocally calling them morally reprehensible, then expresses a desire to use their money. Such behavior does not encourage students or administrators to work with STAND.

However, even if you reject this argument on its face, there is a more serious issue at play that should be considered. There is an issue of honesty that must be dealt with. Consider the following passage from the April 3 article: “Pareles also asserted that it has been the ‘people around STAND,’ and not necessarily members of STAND itself, that have openly used the term ‘blood money’ to describe the education fund.” Unfortunately, this claim is simply not true. It has been ingrained in the language of STAND to call University money “blood money” and equivalents. There is even written evidence to corroborate this claim. I received a handout from the March 7 protest, given to me by a rally marshal as I passed by. At the top of this handout is a STAND logo, and below are 12 chants. The one I wish to draw your attention to is the following: “200,000—Ain't that funny? We don't want your bloody money.” Evidently, it is not just people around STAND making such claims. It is STAND itself that has done so. Not only has STAND done this, but it has since tried to cover these claims up. I am deeply disturbed that it appears that STAND is not willing to hold itself accountable for the claims it has made. (I will also note that if you listen carefully to the YouTube video, you’ll hear cries of “blood money” when the change is dispersed.)

This, however, goes beyond the simple phrase “blood money”; this is also about the general tone of the language employed by STAND in itsefforts. STAND’s particular choice of words has consistently demonstrated its belief in the “blood money hypothesis.” Pareles, as cochair, knows exactly what goes on in STAND and what its beliefs are. I am exceedingly disappointed that he saw fit to attempt to cover up his organization’s beliefs out of a desire for financial and political gain.

I firmly believe in open dialogue and debate. I believe in doing what we can to end genocide. However, to do so, we must be honest with ourselves and with each other. We must be willing to not simply shout as loudly as we can when people disagree with us. We should not tacitly approve of organizations that insult our school’s moral character and then have the gall to lie about it on the record.

STAND’s tactics are ultimately alienating both the student body and the Administration. Whether STAND likes it or not, its task will be much easier and more effective with these parties on board. We need our anti-genocide advocates to be interested in debate, to renounce intellectually disingenuous tactics, to be open to other tactical viewpoints. We need STAND to be more interested in ending genocide than in expressing simple moral outrage. STAND, please, this is a cause that deserves better than you’ve been giving it.