March 23, 2010
Pray with your feet, end genocide
Valley-based group's walk highlights atrocities in Darfur, Congo
As a high school freshman, Katie Hoselton decided to join an extracurricular club called “End Worldwide Genocide.” She didn’t know much about the issue at first but read up on conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa and became a passionate activist for the cause.
“The whole concept is shocking to me,” said Hoselton, 17, now a senior at Agoura High School. “How can such a tragedy go on for so long and so few people my age know about it?”
To help raise awareness of global violence among her peers, Hoselton is recruiting friends to walk with her in the fourth annual Walk to End Genocide organized by Encino-based advocacy group Jewish World Watch (JWW). The walk, which will take place April 18 at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills, aims to draw attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to raise money for JWW’s refugee relief programs in those areas.
Over the approximately two-mile route, participants from across the Southland will march alongside local dignitaries to show solidarity with Darfuri and Congolese refugees. The only requirements to get involved, said JWW Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, are walking shoes and a taste for tikkun olam (repairing the world).
“This is an opportunity for whole families to become involved in activism to combat genocide,” Schwartz-Getzug said recently. “Everyone from children on up can use this as a chance to do what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said -— to ‘pray with your feet.’ ”
Participants have ranged from mothers pushing strollers to students to senior citizens. Many come from JWW’s 64 member synagogues in the Los Angeles area, but past walks have also drawn members of the Armenian and African American communities, church groups, school clubs and individuals passionate about the issue. People can march alone or on teams and can raise money by asking for sponsorships.
Last year the walk drew a crowd of about 2,000 and raised more than $125,000 for JWW programs, Schwartz-Getzug said. These include the group’s education campaign, featuring its ACT project (Activist Certification and Training), a workshop that teaches advocacy skills to students in high schools, middle schools and religious schools; and its range of refugee relief and empowerment programs in Darfur and the DRC, many targeted toward female victims of widespread sexual violence.
More than 400,000 Darfuri civilians have been killed as the conflict in that region enters its seventh year, according to JWW, and 5.4 million Congolese civilians have been killed during 10 years of tribal warfare. Millions more are facing brutal atrocities or displacement to already-saturated refugee camps.
Through its landmark Solar Cooker Project, JWW has distributed 46,000 solar cookers to Darfuri families in refugee camps across the border in Chad, which help reduce women’s dependency on collecting firewood outside of camp borders, where they are susceptible to rape. JWW has also begun to fund the first burn center in the eastern DRC, in partnership with the Israeli organization Moriah Africa and Mashav, the Israeli government’s foreign aid agency.
The atmosphere at the annual JWW walk is a mixture of gravity and levity, Schwartz-Getzug said, as activists from across the L.A. area meet one another for the first time and march in solidarity.
“There’s a sense of excitement at being part of a community of activists who are all on the same page,” she said. Participants usually carry signs bearing phrases such as “Stop Genocide Now” and sing songs like “Lo Yisa Goy.”
Local officials are expected to attend, including California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, L.A. City Council members Jan Perry and Dennis Zine, and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, Schwartz-Getzug said. JWW founder Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of Valley Beth Shalom, will also speak to participants.
There will also be several musical treats for walkers, including a drumming performance and an interactive drum circle after the walk ends.
In previous years the event was called the Walk for Darfur, but this year the name has been broadened as the organization’s focus expands. By the date of the walk, Schwartz-Getzug and JWW founding president
Outside Los Angeles, second-annual sister walks will be held in Santa Rosa and Orange County. JWW organized the Orange County walk, scheduled for April 25 at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, while in Santa Rosa, the walk was founded by 15-year-old Gabe Ferrick of Congregation Shomrei Torah to benefit JWW.
“A walk is a very democratic kind of event — anyone and everyone can participate, without regard to age, income, gender, race or religion,” Schwartz-Getzug said. “It brings our community of activists together in a big way that really empowers and energizes the group and allows them to see they’re not the only ones working for this issue. That’s a very encouraging feeling.”