Darfur “genocide” raging five years on, GOP calls Ellison protest “unbecoming”

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Getting arrested for civil disobedience is “unbecoming” the office of U.S. Representative, said outgoing Minnesota GOP chair Ron Carey of Rep. Keith Ellison, who along with four other House Democrats was hauled off during a protest at the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C., on Monday. But is it?

Ellison and seven others were arrested for crossing a police line Monday in protest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s decision to expel 16 international aid agencies from the country. In Sudan’s Darfur region, some 450,000 people have been killed since civil war began there six years ago. Ellison was arrested along with civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.); Donna Edwards (D-Md.); and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), as well as local activists.

“While we respect his advocacy for the cause of stopping genocide, members of Congress are offered no shortage of platforms to advocate for their passions that don’t involve crossing police lines and getting arrested,” said Carey in a statement. “This is a publicity stunt that is unbecoming of the office he holds and the responsibility he bears as a representative of Minnesota.”

But Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, an assistant professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas, disagrees: he thinks it’s well within Ellison’s role as legislator and that it fits the wishes of many in Ellison’s 5th Congressional District. Further, he thinks Ellison’s a patriot.

“That the Republican party would challenge one’s patriotism based on a creative act of civil disobedience shows a great ignorance of history,” he said. “The history of civil disobedience goes back to before the founding of the country. That’s what the Boston Tea Party was.”

“For me this is an extension of why we elected him,” he added. “I’m thrilled he would represent us in that way,”

Plus, many others have taken the same route — some at the same location, for the same cause. On Apr. 28, 2006, five Democratic legislators were arrested in front of the Sudan embassy in Washington, the same one where Ellison was arrested. The late Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the first Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, was arrested along with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), Jim Moran (D-Virg.), John Olver (D-Mass.), and Jim McGovern, who was arrested in Monday’s protest with Ellison.

“We have been calling on the civilized world to stand up and to say, ‘Enough,’ ” Lantos said at the time. “The slaughter of the people of Darfur must end.”

That was three years ago today — and five months before Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the United Nations excoriated world leaders for “shameful passivity” on Darfur.

The GOP’s Carey says the likes of Ellison have myriad “platforms to advocate for their passion.” Five years ago this summer, members of Ellison’s body had full access to one of them. In a “never again” moment, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling the killing in Darfur “by its rightful name: ‘genocide.’”

Given this history, it’s no surprise Ellison and his fellow congressional protesters are tired of waiting for more “becoming” ways of bringing relief to Darfur.

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