“We are displaced because they are,” read a spraypainted cardboard shelter at Magnuson Park in Seattle on Saturday night.
“Voice of the voiceless/ I am displaced” read another, and another, “Spoon for peace.”
People often step into the roles they see no one else around them fulfill, and at Displace Me, an event sponsored by Invisible Children Inc., 4,000-plus guitar-thumbing, hacky-sacking, predominantly young activists from as far as Coeur D’Alene ate next to nothing and converted Magnuson Park into a sprawling cardboard-encampment ode to Uganda’s Internally Displaced Persons’ camps.
Many wore a red X across their shirt to symbolize their solidarity with a single refugee.
“It’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s actually like to live your entire life in a displaced persons’ camp, to be born in one and your whole life live there,” said Kelsey Linderman, who drove with a friend from Vancouver, B.C., for the event.
The schoolless, scantily-fed camps have existed for the last decade of the 21-year civil war between the Ugandan Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), after the government forcibly evicted 1.5 million people from their homes — 80 percent of all Northern Ugandans — in an effort to shelter the population from LRA violence.
Upon arrival at the northeast Seattle park, each Displace Me participant surrendered their one water bottle and packet of saltine crackers to the 150-strong volunteer staff. The supplies were piled and redistributed, mimicking food and water rationing. Malnutrition and access to clean water are major problems at Ugandan refugee camps, where UN funded food aid was recently halved.
An estimated 75,000 people encamped in 15 cities across the United States Saturday night, calling on the U.S. government to observe and support peace talks between Uganda’s government and the LRA rebels.
South Sudanese-mediated peace talks resumed last week in Southern Sudan, with a UN Special Envoy shuttling between the two parties. Norbert Mao, a Ugandan Member of Parliament, is presently in Washington, D.C., also requesting U.S. observation of the talks.
The LRA has abducted more than 20,000 children aged 7 to 17, according to Invisible Children. A Ugandan research agency places the number of abductees aged 13 to 30 at 66,000. The abductees swell the ranks of an atrocity-committing rebel army or are forced into sexual slavery.
The LRA is estimated to be 80 percent children by the Uganda Conflict Action Network, which notes that the Ugandan military and civilian militias, called Local Defense Units, also recruit children.
“I’m here because it’s absolutely unacceptable, the situation these kids live in. It breaks my heart,” said Rebecca Tucker of Seattle.
Sixty percent of schools in Northern Uganda are closed, leaving 250,000 children without education, according to Invisible Children.
In 2006, Invisible Children Inc., a nonprofit founded by filmers of a documentary by the same name, sent seven grassroots teams of “roadies” around the country by van to show the movie at schools and community events. They estimate there were 250,000 viewers. Thirteen roadie teams are planned for 2007.
Displace Me is the second countrywide event Invisible Children has held to highlight the plight of Uganda’s young. Last year, 80,000 people participated in the Global Night Commute, a commemoration of the walk most North Ugandan children are forced to make every morning and night: they walk to town-centers to evade the LRA’s refugee camp night-raids.
Two weeks after last year’s Global Night Commute, in June 2006, peace talks were initiated.
Melanie Phillips, 21, participated in the Global Night Commute, walking 10 miles from Beaverton, OR, to Portland. She got the feeling that the state-side walks made an impact.
“Senators, they really listen,” she said. “They got so many letters last year they had to listen.”
A video compiled at all 15 protest sites is scheduled to be shown on the U.S. Senate floor.
By CHRIS MILLER, Contributing Writer
More information on the conflict in Uganda and what people in the U.S. can do about it: www.invisiblechildren.com/displaceMe