"In case of fire, run outside and yell, 'Fire, Fire, Fire!'" Those were the simple safety instructions posted inside the small hut where actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, the founder of the Enough Project, stayed during their travels in the Sudan. On his way back to the United States, Clooney says, he realized that the atrocities he saw and heard about in the warring nation were incendiary enough to want to run back and just yell "Fire, Fire, Fire!" stateside.
Clooney and Prendergast are trying to push the U.S. government to do whatever they can to prevent genocide in southern Sudan and to help the people there declare independence from the oppressive government of the north. They spent all day Tuesday in Washington arguing for their cause, speaking with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry and Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar. In the evening, they shared their message with the press and members of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Clooney, who noted that he's People's "two times sexiest man alive," said that since cameras are on him all the time anyway, he figured he might as well bring them down to the Sudan to see the conflict in the oil-rich nation for themselves. Right now, Clooney and Prendergast are focused on a referendum, scheduled in about three months, that will allow the mostly Christian, southern Sudanese to vote to separate themselves from the mostly Muslim north and establish their own nation. According to the actor, this vote could help hundreds of thousands of people avoid the genocide that has afflicted the nation in recent history. While he said that the wake-up call on the issue came late in Washington, it's still not too late for the rest of America to do their share to help make this vote successful. "We were late to Darfur. We have an opportunity to be ahead of this," he said.
According to Clooney, if enough Americans reach out to encourage their senators and congressmen to act, the United States can help the Sudanese begin to move toward peace. "It's still going to be a Herculean task to try to get an election off," he said. "But what we saw also was a very resolute people. We saw people who had for generations been enslaved, been sold, been tortured and been murdered and raped who in 2005 won the opportunity to vote for their own independence. And Jan. 9, they are going to vote for their independence, and they are going to die for it."
The Oscar winner also criticized the media in its foreign aid coverage, saying they need to do more. "What is required is sustained, constant work," he said. "We all joined hands to help Haiti for a week or two, or Pakistan for a week or two, and then we're onto the next news story, the next news cycle. It's a very hard thing. It requires all of us, all the people in the media, and all the people who actually feel the responsibility to do more than just the headlines."
Pictured above: Actor George Clooney, center, talks with the media with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., left, and author and activist John Prendergast after their meeting about the situation in Sudan, on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010.