George Clooney arrested: how his protest could help Sudan

George Clooney was arrested Friday during a protest designed to draw attention to conditions in Sudan. With his star power, Clooney might just succeed. 

Cliff Owen/AP
Actor George Clooney (c.) and Rep. Jim Moran (D) of Virginia (l.) are led to a police vehicle after being arrested during a protest at the Sudan Embassy in Washington Friday.

Actor George Clooney and his father Nick Clooney were arrested Friday outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. They were participating in a protest meant to bring attention to what Mr. Clooney and fellow activists term a growing and needless humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is blocking food aid from entering the Nuba Mountains in his country’s border region with South Sudan, according to Clooney. Sudanese government soldiers have clashed in the area with rebels linked to South Sudan, creating a situation where civilians are desperate for food while missiles and bombs rain down on their land.

“This is a moment where we have a chance to do something because if we don’t, in the next three to four months, there’s going to be a real humanitarian disaster,” said Clooney before police led him away in plastic handcuffs.

Clooney and fellow protesters were arrested after being warned three times not to cross a police line outside the embassy. The high-profile event capped a week in which Clooney met with President Obama to discuss Sudan and testified on the issue before a congressional committee. Clooney and dad were released early Friday afternoon, according to wire service reports.

Will the brief incarceration of one Hollywood actor make a difference here? It’s certainly possible. There’s a reason Washington interest groups recruit celebrities to front their campaigns – it works. Congressional aides and government officials who don’t blink an eye over world leaders will line up to see stars.

Plus, the wild success of the viral Kony 2012 video produced by the group Invisible Children has already sensitized millions of Americans to the continued problems of Africa. In that context Clooney’s advocacy of a deep and genuine crisis could produce more of a response than it otherwise might have.

Finally, there’s a precedent in Washington where a protest at an embassy started small, with a few arrests, then exploded into a nationwide pressure campaign.

In 1984, lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Randall Robinson entered the South African embassy with then-D.C. delegate to Congress Walter Fauntroy. They refused to leave, and the South Africans made the mistake of having the pair arrested, instead of just pitching them out on their ears.

That sparked a movement. Every day for months, protesters opposed to the apartheid regime’s treatment of blacks lined up for their arrest moment. Celebrities flocked to the protests, organized by Mr. Robinson’s TransAfrica Forum, to help raise its profile.

It was a turning point in US attitudes toward South Africa, leading among other things to increased congressional pressure for real change in the nation’s repressive political system.

Among the arrestees in those 1984-85 protests were actor Danny Glover and Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr. On Friday, Coretta King’s son Martin Luther King III was arrested with Clooney, as was Nicole Lee, current TransAfrica president.

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