Janessa Goldbeck, Director of Membership for the Genocide Intervention Network, and Sara Weisman, Outreach Coordinator for the Museum's Committee on Conscience, introduce a joint effort from December 1st through the 7th to enlist the public in pledging to prevent genocide, “Pledge2Protect.”
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Welcome to this week’s episode of Voices on Genocide Prevention. This is Bridget Conley-Zilkic. With me today is Janessa Goldbeck, who’s Director of Membership for the Genocide Intervention Network, and my colleague, Sara Weisman, who is the Outreach Coordinator, for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience. Thank you both for joining me.
JANESSA GOLDBECK: Thanks for having us.
SARA WEISMAN: Thanks, Bridget.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: I invited both of them today to talk about a new project that the Museum and GI-NET are launching together. And it’s called, “Pledge to Protect.” Janessa, can you explain for the audience what this new project is?
JANESSA GOLDBECK: Absolutely. Well, we’re really excited to launch this just this week. The project is designed to allow Americans, and actually folks worldwide, to join the movement to prevent genocide. Building off of the museum’s new exhibit, “From Memory to Action,” which Sara will talk a little bit more about, we’ve designed an interactive online place where people can pledge to join the movement to prevent genocide. We think this is really important, because in the past we’ve had folks come together around ongoing conflicts, or around their experience of horror and disgust around the Holocaust or other conflicts of the past. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of Americans and people worldwide mobilizing around genocide: ongoing genocide in Darfur, atrocities and war in Congo, eastern Burma and other places around the world. What we’ve realized at Genocide Intervention Network is that while it’s important to be mobilizing around conflicts as they unfold, even more important and more impactful, can be taking action to prevent genocide before they actually begin.
We wanted to demonstrate that this something that people really do care about. So we’ve designed this website, ipledge2protect.org, where people can go and make the pledge to prevent genocide, or sign up to host a canvas to collect other pledges from their friends, family and communities around the world. We’re really excited about it. It’s a historic initiative. There’s never been a push to organize and mobilize people who believe that genocide prevention is important. We’re thrilled to be a part of it, and thrilled to be working with the museum.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And Sara, how is the Museum involved?
SARA WEISMAN: Absolutely. Well, thank you very much, Bridget. Just to reemphasize what Janessa said, the goal of this campaign is to really show the groundswell of public support across the country and the world for genocide prevention. This was one of the main recommendations that came out of the Genocide Prevention Task Force report. Really, to show that there is public support for genocide prevention and to build a constituency that cares about this issue. The Genocide Prevention Task Force report was an initiative that was convened by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Institution of Peace, and the American Academy of Diplomacy. It was chaired by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen. The task force released its report a year ago, and focused on actions that the United States government can take to prevent future genocide.
The Museum sees this as a follow up to that initiative, and to really demonstrate to the public and to public officials, that genocide prevention is a priority and there is support for it. The new website is really a great opportunity to get individuals involved in this movement, as Janessa explained. Each individual pledge that’s going to be made is actually joining 30,000 pledges that have already been made, as part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new interactive installation, From Memory to Action.
This installation is available, both, to visitors that come through the museum. But it also has a new online website for us that can be accessed at USHMM.org/genocide. It provides visitors with an introduction to genocide, overviews and updates of regions at risk for genocide, eyewitness testimony, photo galleries, films, and all of the other resources that we have available to the public so that they can educate themselves, both on past genocides that have occurred and also how to prevent future genocides. Part of this new exhibit, both online and when you visit the Museum, is that visitors are encouraged to make a personal pledge against genocide. So we see this initiative, this new project with Genocide Intervention Network, is continuing our work to build up pledges from individuals that care about genocide prevention.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And Janessa, how does this particular project, the canvas and the website campaign, fit into GI-NET’s larger spectrum of issues and actions that you’re undertaking?
JANESSA GOLDBECK: Well, you know, a few years ago, Samantha Power wrote a book called America In the Age of Genocide. Where she looked at every genocide that had really taken place in the last century, and asked, “Why wasn’t more done, or anything done, to prevent or stop this?” The thesis or the promise of her book and the answer to that question that she found -- and she won a Pulitzer Prize for it -- was the idea that the cost of inaction for policy makers was less than the cost of action. Meaning that American policy makers and officials felt that Americans didn’t really care about preventing or stopping genocide in some far-flung place on another continent. It just wasn’t a relevant issue for them. So she argued that if there had been a political constituency, a permanent constituency of people who made noise and demonstrated that preventing and stopping genocide was an important issue and electoral issue for them, that maybe we could prevent and stop genocide in the future. That is really where the movement to end the genocide in Darfur was born.
Over the past couple of years, we have been working to build and mobilize this constituency. We’ve made great gains in that effort. But what we’ve also learned is having that political will isn’t actually enough. There was more to the story. [Just because] We have policy makers and elected officials in place now who have pledged, for instance, as President Barrack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have both done, to approach the conflict in Darfur with unstinting resolve. That was a pledge that they signed prior to the 2008 election. Despite having people at the highest levels of government involved and aware of the issue and know that it’s a politically relevant issue, we are still not seeing the kind of progress we’d like to see made. Because of the Genocide Prevention Task Force report that Sara was just talking about, we know that there are distinct things, specific targeted things that the US Government can do to be better prepared to prevent and stop genocide. There actually isn’t a system in place right now to accurately, effectively, and nimbly respond when crisis are just beginning or just starting to unfold.
For GI-NET, we recognize that Darfur, Condo, Burma, and other conflicts around the world are symptoms of this larger problem that the world that doesn’t have the political systems in place to prevent and stop genocide. As an American-based organization with a constituency of Americans who are ready to be mobilized, we have committed to pursuing in 2010 a campaign to implement the recommendations made by that report -- to implement some of the key recommendations, there are a lot, so we can’t do all of them and right away, but to begin that process. On December 1st through 7th, that is why we are holding this canvas. That is the first step to build an army of people in communities nationwide who are committed to helping us implement these recommendations so that we can have the US Government be better prepared to prevent and stop genocide.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And what is the significance of launching this project that first week of December?
JANESSA GOLDBECK: There are quite a few amazing dates around December. For us, like Sara said, we wanted to really demonstrate that the Genocide Prevention Task Force report and recommendations were relevant to Americans and therefore, relevant to policy makers. December 8th is the one-year anniversary of the report’s release. We would like to be able on that day to let the world know that thousands of people have taken this pledge and are committed to it.
SARA WEISMAN: Also, December 9, following the anniversary of the Task Force report, is the anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Here at the Museum, we see it as a great opportunity to remember that anniversary of the Genocide Convention and work to make sure that it is remembered across the world. This is a great project to get involved to show your support for the Convention and for genocide prevention.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And one question I wanted to ask both of you, a little more reflective. Janessa, I don’t know your story as well, but I know from Sara, that you really got engaged with these issues around genocide through learning about what was happening in the Darfur region of Sudan. I wonder, for both of you, how you think the challenges change as you’re trying to talk to a public now not about a specific emergency or crisis, but about the need to be prepared and better organized to prevent the next crisis. That has always been difficult, because it’s a lot harder to prove that you’ve been successful, to get people jazzed up about not letting something happen. How do you think that changes the messaging that we need to take to people?
SARA WEISMAN: I’ll take that first, I guess. I think it’s much harder to sell to the public, to constituencies. Not only, I think, even from when we first started with our advocacy and efforts around raising awareness about Darfur, it was easier to capture people’s attention, because it was newer and people were just learning for the first time about the atrocities. Now that Darfur had been going on for six years, I think you see a diminished interest among the public. People know what is happening, but don’t really know what else they can do to get involved. I think, in general, you see that trend of people who were involved initially in preventing genocide and trying to stop the genocide in Darfur. You see a fall off in interest. And I think, particularly, with genocide prevention, it is even more challenging because you’re not talking about specific individuals. You don’t have stories of suffering or photographs of people who are dying and sharing their experiences of life in refugee camps or IDP camps. So it’s much harder to motivate the public to care about something that’s not quite as tangible as it was with the Darfur conflict.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Do you think-- and maybe, Janessa, this is maybe a question for you, then. Is it possible to engage-- the people who do become engaged, do you think that they’re more serious or more committed -- not necessarily, I don’t know if it helps to compare them to other activists -- but it might appeal to a different sort of person.
JANESSA GOLDBECK: I think, Sara is right to describe the challenge associated with talking about something that you’re working to stop before it starts, right? You’re not going to have the same sort of gut-wrenching potentially photographs or stories. Because hopefully, with prevention, you are getting involved before those stories become reality. So from a “marketing perspective,” it definitely is a little bit more challenging.
I think what is so compelling and exciting for me, especially having worked on this issue -- and as you said, I came in through Darfur, and that’s what got me involved in working on genocide prevention, being politically active around that -- but what’s so exciting for me as an activist, and also in my role at Genocide Intervention Network, is seeing this roadmap towards a solution now that we didn’t have before the Task Force report came out. A better understanding of the structural changes we can make. You know, it can be very frustrating working on a conflict that is an urgent crisis that you want to solve immediately and knowing that it might take years to actually build the peace that you want to see there. Then, it is not the only conflict in the world. There are also conflicts on other continents or in other places on that continent. That can be very overwhelming.
For me, looking at genocide prevention and structural reform of the US Government as a roadmap towards eventually being able to prevent these kind of conflicts is very reassuring and very empowering. I can actually see what needs to be changed and envision a future and a system in place that would actually be better equipped to prevent these things. That is why I think that this canvas is so important in December, because it is a more nuance conversation. It’s a more nuance ask.
The best people to motivate other people to get involved are people who know each other. I got involved with working on the movement to end genocide in Darfur, because a friend asked me to get involved, because a friend sat me down and told me what was happening in Darfur. That was what motivated me to action. What we need are the people who are committed today, who understand why genocide prevention is so important. We need those people to not just sit back and wait for other people to get involved, but to actually be proactive, to go out into the streets, to go knock doors in their neighborhood or table at the grocery store or send an email out to their friends and family. Talk about why this is important and why we need so many additional voices. Because it really is true that in this case, every voice does matter. The most important way and most impactful way, I think we can get more people involved and more people to pledge to join the movement to prevent genocide is by starting with the people that we know.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Thank you, both. And one last time, for those who are listening, how can people learn more about this? Either pledge, leave their names for the effort, or even get more involved?
JANESSA GOLDBECK: You can go to www.ipledge2protect.org, and that’s a number two, ipledge2protect.org. You can make your pledge there to add your voice to join the movement to prevent and stop genocide. You can also learn more about the canvas, download materials, paper pledge cards if you need them, see if there’s a canvas happening in your area that you can, maybe, volunteer at, and read more about the work that both the Museum and Genocide Intervention Network are doing to build a world without genocide.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Okay. Great. Thank you both for joining me today.
SARA WEISMAN: Thank you.
JANESSA GOLDBECK: Thanks, Bridget.
NARRATOR: You have been listening to Voices on Genocide Prevention, from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. To learn more about responding to and preventing genocide, join us online at www.ushmm.org/genocide.