Days of Prayer and Action 2009: Calling for Change, Making Displaced Colombians Visible

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A close up of a banner covered with thousands of paper dolls representing displaced Colombians. Washington, DC. Photo credit: Carlos Quiroz.

When we started working with faith-based and grassroots groups to plan this year's Days of Prayer and Action, Colombians were being forced to flee their homes at the staggering, almost unbelievable rate of 1,500 a day. By the time 2008 was said and done, nearly 400,000 had become internally displaced people (IDPs) and Colombia's displaced population had swelled to more than 4 million, overtaking Sudan in the seeming-blink-of-an-eye as the country with the world's most displaced people. We knew we had to do something to make this crisis visible to people here in the United State and to our government that has funded and supported so many of the policies that have exacerbated this humanitarian crisis.

After kicking around many good ideas with our organizing partners, we decided on something creative and engaging, something that would unleash the inner-kindergartener in everyone who would participate (although if we're being honest, we did not realize this at the time!), something that was so improbable that it just might work: we'd make thousands of cut-out paper dolls representing displaced Colombians, use them in public mobilizations around the country on the Day of Action, and send them to administration officials and members of Congress alike, imploring them to stand by victims of violence in Colombia.


Well, we're still waiting to see if our efforts will successfully push the administration and policymakers to significantly change U.S. policy towards Colombia this year, but with prayer services held in hundreds of churches, thousands of postcards sent to the White House, more than 30 interviews on local radio stations to discuss the displacement crisis, several dozen doll-making parties and approximately 20,000 paper dolls made, and direct actions using the paper dolls taking place in seven major U.S. cities (Chicago, Washington, Portland, San Francisco, New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles), we can proudly say that, thanks to your hard work, this year's Days were the largest grassroots mobilization for Colombia since 2003. Everyone give yourself a pat on the back and thanks for participating!

We wish you all could have joined us as we spoke truth to power at the White House on the Day of Action, but we had the privilege of representing your voices and we took lots of photos and videos so you can see what happened.

On LAWG's YouTube Channel, you can:

  • Watch Diana Gómez, a member of the Colombian group Movimiento Hijos e hijas por la memoria y contra la impunidad, talk about the "human crisis" of displacement and call for a U.S. policy that "responds to the needs of people in my country."
  • Watch Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director of the US Office on Colombia, discuss how the Colombian government routinely fails to meet the needs and respect the rights of displaced people.

Many thanks to Witness for Peace-Mid Atlantic and the Colombia Human Rights Committee for helping to organize the White House rally.

You can also view an inspiring slideshow with photos from several cities' actions on Flickr. 

Despite the success of this year's effort (we had fun making paper dolls, too!), our work to change Colombia policy goes on. But before getting to that, we encourage you to check out the photo essay  below and take a moment to celebrate what we achieved together this spring. We hope you enjoy it!

Activists hold a life-size doll made by IDP communities in Bogotá. Personal stories from displaced people and calls for change are written on the doll. Washington, DC.
  Marino Cordoba, a once-displaced and now-exiled Afro-Colombian leader, speaks to the crowd at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC about the challenges and stigmatization faced by displaced Colombians.
 LAWG staffers Lisa Haugaard (center, front row) and Travis Wheeler (second from right, front row) join dozens of activists for a photo op in front of the White House.
Nancy Sánchez, a drug policy expert from the Associación Minga, speaks about how aerial fumigations cause displacement in Colombia as activists unleash their inner-kindergartener making paper dolls. Ms. Sánchez visit to Washington, DC was sponsored by LAWG participating organization Witness for Peace.
Liza Smith (left), a grassroots organizer at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, commands the megaphone as she leads activists to a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) office in San Francisco. Photo credit: Irene Florez.
  Activists march through San Francisco's streets with 4,000 red, yellow, and black paper dolls stung together, making the magnitude of the crisis clear to onlookers. Photo credit: Irene Florez.
A close up of colorful paper dolls in San Francisco. Photo credit: Irene Florez.
 Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN) staffer Danielle Wegman (second from left) and Colombian Rev. Milton Mejia (far right) present a life-size doll made by displaced people in Bogotá to a staffer for Senator Roland Burris (D-IL).
  CRLN members and other activists brave the cold for a rally outside of Chicago's Federal Building, which houses the offices of Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Roland Burris (D-IL).
 Colombian Rev. Milton Mejia (left) and Rev. Beth Freese Dammers (right), wearing stoles covered with paper dolls, lead a "What is displacement?" sermon for children at Yorkfield Presbyterian Church in Elmhurst, IL.

  Activists carry paper doll banners and a life-size doll made by IDP communities in Bogotá. Portland, OR.

Cut-out paper dolls representing Colombian IDPs made at a party organized by Witness for Peace—Pacific Northwest.