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April 2nd, 2008 Shefali Kulkarni | Q & A
 

John Prendergast

Why an anti-genocide activist canceled a trip to Portland and what he thinks about Angelina Jolie and granola bars.

     
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FLY BOY: John Prendergast travels often in his efforts to end genocide.

The only things on John Prendergast’s mind on Monday were Uganda—and granola bars.

Prendergast had been scheduled to speak this week in Portland about both the Darfur crisis and his work as the co-chair of the ENOUGH Project, an effort to end genocide. But he made a last-minute change in travel plans from his home in Washington, D.C., after learning he needed to go to another African hotspot—Uganda.

Instead of coming to Portland, Prendergast was packing for a March 31 flight to meet Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony in hopes of brokering a peace agreement between the Ugandan government and Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

That’s not as weird as it might sound.

Prendergast, a 45-year-old self-styled peace strategist, wrote the 2007 New York Times best-seller Not on Our Watch with actor Don Cheadle. And Prendergast often plays African tour guide and humanitarian expert to celebrities. He blogged with Angelina Jolie in Congo, coordinated the Not on Our Watch organization with George Clooney and is planning a movie with Javier Bardem about the Ugandan crisis.

Prendergast took a 15-minute break from packing for Uganda to talk with WW about the pluses of working with celebrities and what everybody can do to stop genocide.

WW: What advice do you give someone like Angelina Jolie on how to be effective with issues like Darfur?

John Prendergast: It’s one thing at a time—focusing on the place you are going, to learn as much as you can about the people there so instead of just saying, “Oh jeez, they need more food or they need more medicine”…they’ll advocate a more real solution. Hopefully in each one of these cases we get a person…a personality, a celebrity, an athlete or whatever that has a big audience…who can be at least knowledgeable about the issues so they can speak out meaningfully and publicly.

How do celebrities compare with an everyday person who wants to help?

Well, first off, everyone’s different. The people I’ve worked with, I always let them come to me because then it’s more genuine—like Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Ryan Gosling. They are all very committed and dedicated. They are wanting to get involved because they think they can bring something positive to make a difference.

Do you ever get starstruck when they approach you?

I think it’s the opposite—you see their humanity right away and their search for some form of meaning. I connect to that really quickly, and it’s easy to find a common ground to communicate with people once you see that element of humanity. Then you really don’t think of them as a movie star, you think of them as a person with a big heart who wants to do something to help.

What can we non-celebrities in Portland do to help?

What’s really exciting is that we finally have the beginnings of a first anti-genocide movement in history, and it’s an international movement. I think the most important thing for people to really do is to join it. Get involved in one of these organizations, whether it’s Stop Genocide Now, Save Darfur Coalition or STAND. Get engaged and there will be lots of activities that any one of these groups will be a part of with each other or on their own. One step at a time, get involved. Dedicate 10 minutes of your week for the next month or two to help take actions [for Darfur] that will help bring about the end to the first genocide of the 21st century.

Which presidential candidate is best on issues such as Darfur?

I think all three of the remaining ones are very good on these issues. I’m personally working with Senator [Barack] Obama’s campaign. But I think all three of them are very dedicated to these issues. I think we’ll be in good shape with all three of them.

What are you packing on this trip?

Just a bunch of granola bars, basically.

What kind?

This time I got those crisp bars—I don’t like them, but I just have to have them. I think my mom gave ’em to me (laughs). I had a little stash of them—I like the [chewy] fruit-and-nut ones. I love those. But I don’t have time to go to the store.


LEARN MORE: ENOUGH Project (enoughproject.org), Stop Genocide Now (stopgenocidenow.org), Save Darfur Coalition (savedarfur.org), Not on Our Watch (notonourwatchproject.org).

Prendergast assures WW he’ll reschedule his Portland visit as soon as he can.

 
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