Congressman Donald Payne: Fighting for Civil Rights and International Justice
Editor’s Note: Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), who also serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health on the Committee for Foreign Affairs, has been a longtime advocate for human rights. In his Enough moment, Congressman Payne shares how his domestic involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement has evolved into championing for international justice issues.
Regarding the LRA, it was around the time that I came to Congress in 1989 that Kony began wreaking havoc in northern Uganda. I knew Uganda well, having traveled there in 1973 to meet with Idi Amin to protest the expulsion of the Asians. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the media’s spotlight was shown on the recruitment of children by Kony and the LRA, and it was really then that the world began to learn about the phenomenon of the night commuters—hundreds, maybe thousands, of children who had to leave their homes in rural parts of northern Uganda for the town centers to take shelter and sleep for the night.
I decided to take this issue up personally because I had been involved in the civil rights movement in the United States during my high school and college days, and I have been a fierce fighter against injustice. As an extension of my work internationally, when I became involved in the worldwide YMCA movement and became chair of the World Council of the YMCA in 1973, I started to focus attention internationally the way that I had domestically.
People often think lobbyists hold so much power because they can influence lawmakers. It is true that lobbyists have a great deal of influence, but at the end of the day, it is the people—the constituents—who are the most effective and have the greatest potential to influence lawmakers. Members listen to constituents and will side with them over lobbyists if they assert themselves and hold their representatives accountable. Church groups and advocacy organizations can be particularly effective.
This profile and many others were compiled for The Enough Moment, a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about engaged citizens – known and unknown, in the U.S. and abroad – who are mobilizing to help end genocide, rape, and the use of child soldiers in Africa. Visit the Enough Moment Wall to hear people describe their “Enough moment” and to upload a video, photo, or written testimonial of your own.
Photo: Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) during an emergency hearing focused on the ethnic-based violence in Sudan’s South Kordofan region, held on August 4, 2011 before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee. (Jonathan Hutson / Enough Project)