Hun­dreds of Teens March to De­mand In­ter­ven­tion in Dar­fur

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By Steve Vo­gel

It started last year with three Mont­gomery County high school ju­niors talk­ing about is­sues that mat­tered in the world and how they might make a dif­fer­ence. Yes­ter­day, it cul­mi­nated with sev­eral hun­dred teenagers march­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment with a call for ac- tion in Dar­fur.

With cheers and chants, they moved from the Su­danese Em­bassy on Mas­sachusetts Av­enue through Dupont Cir­cle, gath­er­ing at the Syl­van Theater on the Mall for speeches and mu­sic by high school bands. The march, called Steps 4 Dar­fur, was or­ga­nized by stu­dents at North­west High School in Ger­man­town.

They called for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to stop the killing in Dar­fur, a re­gion of west­ern Su­dan where con­flict be­tween rebels and Su­danese gov­ern­ment-backed mili­tias has left hun­dreds of thou­sands dead and sev­eral mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed.

Marches in Wash­ing­ton are hardly un­usual, and al­most any spring week­end brings a con­flu­ence of pro­test­ers in sup­port of one cause or an­other. Among yes­ter­day’s top­ics were cli­mate change and glob­al­iza­tion. What was dif­fer­ent about the Dar­fur march was that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of par­tic­i­pants were high school stu­dents, with only a sprin­kling of adults thrown in. Per­haps more

strik­ing, the march was en­tirely or­ga­nized by the stu­dents.

“It has been an amaz­ing un­der­tak­ing. I’ve been teach­ing 15 years, and I’ve never seen any­thing like this,” said Robert Travers, 41, an English teacher at North­west and the fac­ulty spon­sor for the stu­dent club that or­ga­nized the march.

“So of­ten, you’ll see kids hav­ing big ideas — ‘We have to have a march!’ — and it turns out to be pie in the sky,” Travers added. “I’ll be darned if they didn’t do it. I’m stunned.”

Plan­ning be­gan in Novem­ber as an out­growth of meet­ings of the school’s Is­sues for So­ci­ety Club. Three ju­niors, Maria Se­bas­tian, Hi­ral Pa­dia and Molly Mazuk, were ou­traged at the deaths in Dar­fur, com­ing on the heels of mass killings in Bos­nia and Rwanda in the 1990s.

“It’s a geno­cide, and 450,000 peo­ple have been killed,” said Mazuk, 17. “If this was in Amer­ica, ev­ery­body would be ou­traged. Ev­ery sin­gle time, we say never again, and then two or three years go by and it hap­pens again.”

The girls de­cided to or­ga­nize a march. “It kind of co­a­lesced into a school­wide project,” Travers said. “Molly, Maria and Hi­ral are so pas­sion­ate about the sub­ject.”

They be­gan mak­ing phone calls, but noth­ing hap­pened. No one would re­spond to mes­sages. The girls per­sisted and grad­u­ally made head­way. “They went through moun­tains of red tape,” Travers said.

It took months to ne­go­ti­ate a per­mit from the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. An­other per­mit had to be ob­tained from the D.C. po­lice.

“Of course, be­ing a teenager comes with the stigma of be­ing naive, not be­ing able to put to­gether such a large event,” said Pa­dia, 17. “But there are peo­ple who re­spect teenagers. Be­ing a high school stu- dent has been an ad­van­tage in dis­guise.”

They de­signed and ob­tained a copy­right for a Steps 4 Dar­fur logo, and they raised $3,000 by sell­ing Tshirts and wristbands. They used so­cial net­work­ing Web sites to spread the word to other schools.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, stu­dents from North­west, Wal­ter John­son, Mont­gomery Blair, Clarksburg and Quince Or­chard high schools in Mont­gomery gath­ered in front of the Su­danese Em­bassy, while oth­ers came from Fair­fax County and else­where in North­ern Vir­ginia.

Dis­trict res­i­dent Ge­orge Ri­p­ley, 58, who de­scribed him­self as a so­cial ac­tivist and came to ex­press sup­port for the protest, mar­veled at the the demon­stra­tors march­ing down Mas­sachusetts Av­enue. “It just makes my heart sing,” he said. “Th­ese are all kids — this is amaz­ing.”

As the event wrapped up yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, Pa­dia said she was “sur­prised by the amount of peo­ple that came up and sup­ported us.”

Added club sec­re­tary Nari Lee, 16, “Es­pe­cially since we’re teenagers.”

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