Marching through the streets of Washington has become a national pastime. Some marchers catch the zeitgeist and make a difference, and some don't. All politics is local, a wise old pol famously said, but to make it count, all politics has to be vocal, too.
The March on Washington protesting the Vietnam War in 1969 is remembered for drawing a million people to the mall, and whether it actually drew that many marchers, the armies of that good night established the benchmark by which such protests are measured. The 1969 march attracted all manner of celebrities, demanding to bring home our boys from a faraway killing place. This Sunday the marchers will come to Washington to protest genocide in Darfur.
Elie Wiesel, who knows genocide when he sees it, will be on the platform. Joey Cheek, the Olympic speed-skating gold medalist who donated $40,000 of subsequent prize money to Darfur relief, will be there. So will Samatha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." Nevertheless, the march for Darfur will have few of the Hollywood glitterati in its ranks. Darfur places well behind immigration, the war in Iraq, abortion and other issues in the public imagination.
Small numbers or not, the march is likely to be the biggest protest since both the Bush administration and the United States Holocaust Museum called the killings in Darfur, in western Sudan, by its right name of genocide. Samantha Power asks in her book why Americans who cried "Never again" after the Holocaust have been reluctant, or unwilling, to decry similar genocide in Darfur. "Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil," she writes. "They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy." This sounds good, but it allows the politicians to interpret silence as indifference; if the people don't care, why should they?
A March poll by Zogby International found that 62 percent of 1,000 people surveyed believe the United States has a "responsibility" to stop the genocide in Darfur. But recognizing responsibility is not the same as endorsing action. Many Americans who want their country to act in Darfur are outspoken against action in Iraq and are loath to dispatch soldiers to a place they think makes no direct impact on us.