Last night, I went to an event organized by the ONE Campaign as part of their attempt to educate presidential candidates for the ’08 elections about extreme poverty. Thanks to one of my directors for forwarding me the flyer to what became one of the best evenings I’ve ever had in DC.
The ONE Campaign, which hopes to convince the U.S. government to devote one percent of the annual budget to alleviating “extreme poverty” in the world (which ends up being Africa because that’s where the most extremely poor people live). Last night’s event was held on a rooftop with a magnificent view of Lafayette Park and the Washington Monument.
Even better than the view, there was my favorite kind of food. The free kind. And my favorite kind of bar. Open. There was the usual DC in-crowd—senators, congressional staffers, interns, and other well-connected or ambitious people. Sens. Bill Frist and Tom Daschle both spoke at the opening of the event. There was also a fair amount of not-so-powerful Washingtonians like me, my friends, and various other NGO types.
I met a regional director from Amnesty International and his colleague. I also met Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange and currently with the anti-war group, Code Pink. I’d heard her many times on Democracy Now! so I was surprised to see how different she looked in real life. She’s tiny!!
I also saw a performance by an African children’s choir but the young woman who introduced her failed to mention which country they were from. She simply asked us to give a big round of applause for the group, which had “come all the way from Africa.” My friends and I, who know Africa to be made up of a lot of countries thought this was very amusing and showed how ignorant people are about Africa, even those who have publicly committed themselves to alleviating poverty on that continent. Ironic huh?
But by far, the best part of the evening was the performance by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars (no relation to Wyclef’s group). The story of the band—which was formed by a group of Sierra Leonean musicians in a refugee camp in Guinea—is depicted in a documentary film released a couple of years ago. I had met the band last June when they performed at the Kennedy Center as part of the International Refugee Day festivities.
I was pretty chuffed to see them again and even more pleased that they actually remembered me. We hung out for a bit before the show, had some drinks, smoked some cigarettes, and took some group photos. Then they went on stage and put on the most energetic show I’ve seen in a long time. But not before the dignitary who introduced them erroneously stated that the band had formed in New Guinea!! For those who don’t know Africa (or Oceania for that matter), New Guinea (or Papua New Guinea as it’s officially known) shares a border with Indonesia!!! Easy mistake to make. If you’re ignorant, that is.
Anyway, back to the good stuff. The band played for about an hour and a half, non-stop dancing for those of us who cared enough to actually show our support by listening to the band and dancing to their music. The other 90 percent (mainly the DC in-crowd) milled around near the bar chatting each other up and schmoozing!!! By the end of the night, I had a pretty good idea of who really cared about Africa. And I discovered that Medea Benjamin is one hell of a dancer!!!
After the show, the band stayed around to meet and talk to some of the guests. Actually, the same ones who had been dancing. There were about five or six other Sierra Leoneans there but, in true West African fashion, they’d arrived a few minutes before the end of the show. Regardless, the band members were thrilled to spend time with their countrymen. More drinking, smoking, and photo-taking ensued. Then they were whisked off to their hotel to get ready for their departure on the next day to North Carolina.
Thank you Refugee All Stars for a great show and for making last night one of my best nights in DC. Thank you also for making me proud to be Sierra Leonean.