Mickey Jackson was just named Director of STAND — the student-led division of United to End Genocide — for the 2012-2013 school year. Below Mickey answers questions about the importance of student activism, how he became involved in the anti-genocide movement and what advice he would give to activists.
Congratulations on being chosen to serve as STAND Director. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in STAND?
I’m a rising senior at Catholic University, majoring in Economics. My involvement with STAND actually goes back to my freshman year of high school. Like many people, I was decided that I wanted to get involved in the anti-genocide movement after I saw Hotel Rwanda, and, concurrently, started to see headlines about a new genocide in Darfur.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a like-minded group of kids who had just formed a STAND chapter at my high school. Less fortunately, most of were graduating seniors, so I took over the chapter as a sophomore and ran it for two years. At the end of my junior year, I applied on a whim to serve as the Southwest Regional High School Outreach Coordinator, which was my first national leadership position in STAND. At the beginning of my freshman year at Catholic, I was hired as the National High School Outreach Coordinator. During my sophomore year, I took a step back from serving on STAND’s Managing Committee (MC) to start a STAND chapter at Catholic. I spent my junior year abroad and am now very excited to be returning to the MC!
Not everyone realizes that STAND is the student-led division of United to End Genocide. Can you talk about STAND’s role within the movement and the importance of student activism?
Simply put, STAND’s role is to build and strengthen the student component of the permanent anti-genocide coalition. What this means is that we don’t just focus on advocacy; we also focus on the advocates themselves, specifically on developing students’ understanding of the issue of genocide prevention, and training them in the skills necessary to be effective grassroots activists.
Our goal is not simply to achieve a certain number of calls to legislators through United to End Genocide’s 1-800-GENOCIDE hotline or a certain number of lobby meetings; our goal is to develop leaders who can take the initiative in organizing their campuses and communities, and continue to contribute to the anti-genocide movement after they leave school. In the end, by developing a corps of experienced, well-informed activists who will leave school committed to the cause of genocide prevention, student activism can play a key role in ensuring that our permanent anti-genocide constituency does, in fact, remain permanent.
You’ve been a leader in the anti-genocide movement for a long time, what are some of the most significant changes that you’ve witnessed over the years?
We were founded as a Darfur-focused movement (when I got started, STAND was still an acronym for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur”). As the mission has expanded, STAND students have enthusiastically and quite seamlessly transitioned to a multi-conflict approach.
Second, I think it’s safe to say that we have placed an ever-growing emphasis on the importance of well-informed and well-targeted advocacy, and, as a result, have become more introspective and self-critical at both the national and the chapter level. In the past few years, as the movement has gone from infancy to adolescence, our grassroots activists have become eager to join in critical conversations about the effectiveness of our policy proposals and activism strategies. Of course, we don’t have all the answers yet, but more and more of us are asking the questions.
What advice would you give to both students and non-students hoping to make a difference in places like Sudan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma where atrocities are ongoing?
My first piece of advice would be to find a group of like-minded individuals on your campus or in your community. Stopping and preventing mass atrocities against civilians is one of the most compelling moral challenges of our time, so chances are that you’re not the only one who wants to make a difference. If you’re a student and your campus doesn’t yet have a STAND chapter, talk to the leaders of other student human rights groups and ask if they’d be interested in putting together an event or campaign focused on a specific conflict or on atrocity prevention in general. This is a good way to get in touch with people who share your interest, and begin forming a core group with whom you can work on a more permanent basis going forward. If you need help getting started, STAND’s Grassroots Outreach Coordinator can direct you to other activists in your area, including existing chapters at other nearby schools who would be willing to team up with you.
My second piece of advice would be to spend a good amount of time familiarizing yourself with the conflicts that you’re working on, as well as with proposed policy solutions. United to End Genocide’s conflict education pages and STAND’s blog are extremely helpful in this regard. If you can speak knowledgeably and talk about concrete solutions, your message will be that much more compelling and credible to others, and it’ll be easier to convince your peers that it is, in fact, possible to make a difference.
Finally, once you have a good core group together, don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Plan a visible community-wide event in conjunction with other organizations, publish an op-ed in your local paper, or contact your congressional office to schedule an in-district lobby meeting. Again, if you’re a student, our Grassroots Outreach Coordinator can help you brainstorm ideas, and direct you to any resources and trainings that you need.
What’s on the horizon for STAND over the summer and into the fall?
Our first big event this year will be STAND Camp 2012, our annual summer training institute for Core Chapters and our outstanding individual members. This year, it will be taking place outside of DC from August 3 through August 6. If you’re a college or high school student and interested in attending, you can register as a Core Chapter at http://bit.ly/corechapterapps or apply as an individual at http://bit.ly/standcampapps.
Toward the end of the summer, we will also be rolling out a new website as part of an effort to improve the effectiveness of our digital outreach. Finally, moving into the fall semester, our ongoing advocacy work around Sudan, Syria and other conflicts will be complemented by a strategic focus on the growth of our grassroots network. STAND’s Managing Committee will be working with chapters to facilitate outreach at the community level, with the goal of establishing new chapters and sustainable partnerships with other local organizations. We also plan to place a particular emphasis on facilitating relationships between chapters and local diaspora networks, which is something in which a number of chapters have expressed great interest.