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Recently, my colleague Michael and I had lunch with Mark Hanis and Angie Deane from the Genocide Intervention Network. GI-Net is an impressive organization with a great story. Created by Mark and a group of his fellow Swarthmore students in 2004, the organization's goal is to empower individuals with the tools that can help put an end to genocide. Mark, whose grandparents were all Holocaust survivors, felt compelled to help make the oft-repeated slogan "Never Again" a reality for all people. By creating and mobilizing a permanent anti-genocide constituency among ordinary Americans, he believes they can apply the political pressure necessary to make the issue a priority in the US.
Meeting Mark and learning more about his organization left me with a not totally unfamiliar feeling of awe and inspiration. At 26, he reminds me that all any of us millenials really need to bring about change is a passion for a cause, a few friends and the social networking tools we already know so well. If we're honest, most of us have wasted more than a few minutes clicking through the photo album of a complete stranger because our Facebook news feed told us they tagged our high school classmate in a picture. We could all probably spend some of our time more constructively, combining the relationships we have with the viral nature of social networks.
GI-Net owes much of its success to its ability to do just that, to mobilize people offline through online social networks. Their GI-Net, which has more than 30,000 members, prompts users to make their own Anti-Genocide profile with places for photos, informational links and testimonials about why they joined. Not expecting everyone to come to them, GI-Net has established a presence on mainstream social networking sites, and today has more than 7,500 fans on Facebook and more than 11,000 MySpace Friends. (To put this in perspective, studies estimate that the average Facebook user has about 150-200 friends.)
Another online tool that has produced real results is their Darfur Scorecard, which allows individuals to easily assess how their legislators are doing on the cause. I was pleased to learn that Jim Moran of my home district in Northern Virginia has an A+, but the C's received by both senators from Virginia are a little disappointing. In addition to explaining what congressmen have done - or not done - to help put an end to genocide, the site has actionable items for average people, including contact information and talking points for a call to their legislators.
Their student-led division, now called STAND, has more than 30,000 members and more than 850 chapters throughout the world. These students have been instrumental in their Sudan Divestment campaign by putting grassroots pressure on universities and state governments.
Their efforts online and offline are making real headway on the anti-genocide front. In addition to a wealth of information and ways to connect with other activists and spread the word online, perhaps most importantly, GI-Net continues to share with people the tangible steps they can take to help now - both as individuals and as part of a campaign in their community.