Trading in on your celebrity or cashing in on your business influence is ethically neutral in and of itself. Most people would probably see it as "bad" if someone uses their influence for matters of greed or pure self-interest. What do most of us see as the right thing to do? A person might use their corporate influence in a way that sheer profiteers would consider crazy because there's no pocket value in it. A celebrity might "throw his weight around" in the service of human rights, and he might be inspiring and followed - or he might be called a "Hollywood busybody" by careless naysayers. In a discussion today at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting, it was clear that two particular men have cast aside the possibility of worrying too much about any of those public perceptions while they are in the service of their fellow men and women's human rights. They are hoping that other world citizens will join them.
As a rule, pure altruism isn't what gets people motivated - it's their pockets. One witness to genocide's consequences is actor Don Cheadle, who starred in Hotel Rwanda a number of years ago. He experienced a personal transformation after talking with victims of genocide, and has been an activist since. He would like to think that we're moving beyond the "Oh my God" when we hear about atrocities in Darfur and that we're moving toward acting for the real alleviation of suffering.
There are no customers or business prospects in Darfur today, so many in the business world ask Timberland's Jeffrey Swartz, "What are you doing in Darfur?" He reflected the personal truth that "sometimes you choose - and sometimes you're chosen." You can choose to be an illogically involved CEO or "Missing in Action" while people die. He made his choice firmly: "Mark me as illogical."
This question does not have easy answers: How do we avoid using tired and failed activism strategies? Mr. Swartz has thought a lot about the private sector and how he and other socially conscious businesspeople can put the pressure of the marketplace to work. He suggested that, together, we all can create sensible and successful solutions in Darfur and that it's not a notion borne of business sense, intellect, profit or gain - it's a visceral notion. He stated proudly that those suffering in Darfur could count on him to be "on their side."
John Pendergast works with the International Crisis group. In Sudan, Crisis Group suggests strategies for peace in Africa's largest country, riven by ethnic and religious divisions, and multiple conflicts, including in Darfur. Mr. Pendergast asked the question that so many have recently asked, including celebrities like Mira Sorvino, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as George Clooney and Elie Wiesel who were in front of the the UN Security Council last week. "Why does nothing real seem to occur?" He says that bell-ringing for "anti-hypocrisy" is important to geting to a meaningful and effective solution to the societal atrocities in Darfur, and that it is the worst human rights disaster on the face of the earth today.
Following General Colin Powell's past speech to the UN on Darfur, there was hope that the 'sacred covenant' implicit within the international community and their oft-used slogan "never again" would be enough to spark real action and inertia. Unfortunately, there are politcial priorities that are constant obstacles to a meaningful solution and they can only be overcome by a "raise in temperature" through citizen action. Faith based communities and students are the ones primarily pushing for solutions on Darfur today. They have developed emotionally-inspired commitments to press for action. These "rag tag" groups want "never again" to be a statement that we truly mean and that we just don't say it, throw up our hands, and do nothing.
If the international community recognizes this as "genocide," the choice of "Do Nothing" or a "Non-consentual deployment of force" is a false choice. There are many other ways in the middle to address the human rights disaster. Violent counter-insurgency strategies with no international political costs to the government of Sudan is not going to change the Sudanese government's behavior. We, as a global community, need to impose that cost if we are to act as a moral people who show the people of the world that its leaders mean what they say.
Panel member agreed that what is needed is a continuation of a groundswell-building of information. Darfur is under-reported by media, barely in the news at all. CGI is one real-world soution.
For Mr. Cheadle, speaking at demonstrations and premieres is a way that he personally educates citizens about the Sudan crisis. Leaders, in general, respond to what they believe their constitiuency wants, and is the only thing that captures their attention from the usual special interest "gods" that they serve. To each and every citizen, Mr. Cheadle says that there will be no rally and no action if you do not take any personal steps. To him, it is disturbing to know that we're still sitting down and having to talk about what has been happening for so long. He looked into the eyes of those who had directly suffered. Rwandan citizens - human beings - pleaded with him to tell their story and he promised to do so. He commented that when you do that and you don't see the line moving, it's pretty frustrating. On the hopeful end, Mr. Cheadle feels that disparate groups are beginning to coalesce.
A political solution is the only thing that will wind up stopping the killing. Pressure must be put on the Sudanese government to put a stop to the violent counter insurgency strategies that are senselessly taking so many innocent lives.
Hope has been the tone throughout the CGI meeting. Combine that with common sense solutions from workshop meetings and funding commitments, and we may have hope for many new miracles - great and small.
A light note: One solution the working group suggested toward the session's end was to clone Don Cheadle!
On the Today show tis morning, there was a short segment reporting that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Senator John Edwards, is cancer free. A Reuters article reports that there are excerpts from her book "Saving Graces - Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers" featured in a current People Magazine, where she gives a graphic account of what she experienced in her treatment for the disease.
Mrs. Edwards is expected to be a guest on the Today Show along with an extended feature later on the NBC Nightly News on October 2, 2006.
Mrs Edwards sent this email today about her book:
As you may have heard, I've finished writing a book about you, and it is about to be published. Actually, it is not you in particular (although you may recognize yourself somewhere on its pages). It is about the bigger "you" -- the "you" I talked about in the 2004 campaign, the "you" who sustained us for those two years and who sustained me throughout all the valleys and peaks life has brought.
The book is called "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers." I hope it is a tribute to the power that community can have in our lives. I know that I have been -- and I believe we all are -- always stronger and better when we let the strength of others help us. "Saving Graces" is about those connections and the support they've given me in my life.
I wanted to share "Saving Graces" with you before the book comes out -- next Tuesday -- because I know firsthand that some of the most important connections in our lives may not be face-to-face. I found them in the mail, on the phone, and -- as I describe in the book -- certainly through the internet.
I've been blessed with some amazing gifts in my life, but like most families, our family has faced some difficult challenges. Some have been very public; some have been very private. But whatever the challenge, I have never had to face it alone. Every step of the way, my relationships -- with family and friends, with strangers who have shared similar experiences, and with supporters and believers united in a common cause -- have given me strength and carried me through.
In my book, I write about what it was like to grow up in a military family, moving frequently and learning to make friends wherever we went. I learned, too, that a room of strangers is just a temporary condition, which can be cured by a smile and handshake and making the effort to find what we shared. The lessons of the support and comfort from my extended Navy family have been invaluable every day of my life. I write about the bonds we formed in the 1960s when young people across this country were opposed to the Administration's commitment to a war in Vietnam. I write about meeting John and marrying John, and the simple pleasures of exchanging favors with other parents and neighbors as we raised our family and built careers in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. And, of course, there's plenty to read about the privilege, responsibility, and even fun of a presidential campaign and about the thousands of incredible people we had the opportunity to meet.
I also discuss my fight against breast cancer -- especially the overwhelming support of the tens of thousands of people who made me feel like they were fighting beside me. They -- you -- wrote, emailed, prayed, and, in perhaps the greatest gift, shared personal battles against cancer and illness. I will never be able to thank them -- you -- enough, but this book is a start.
Finally, as hard as it was to write, there is no way I could write about the power of community in my life without writing about the death of our precious son, Wade. As many of you know, Wade died in a car accident in 1996. So many people reached out to us -- with compassion and love, of course, and often with their own stories of loss and grief. I cannot overstate what those connections meant to me. Their support and inspiration -- much of which came online -- will always be with me.
So this book is a thank you to all those who have made me stronger, and it is a message to anyone struggling to cope with the daunting challenges that life sometimes lays before us. Optimism was easy even in the face of obstacles because you believed in tomorrow and told me there would be brighter days ahead -- and you were right. Thank you for taking a moment to read this. And thank you for being a member of our community.