On Campus: Cal Poly’s End Impunity Campaign
by Katie Hoselton, JWW University Fellow
This January, I launched an End Impunity campaign at my university, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The campaign consisted of three weeks of advertisement through a series of posters, and culminated in a screening of the documentary The Prosecutor by Barry Stevens. The first poster that went up was a picture of Omar al-Bashir’s face covered by a QR link, with the words “Can you stop me?” This poster is intriguing because it does not give much information and poses a challenge to the viewer. People around my campus were confused by it at first. I put posters up all around campus: in bathrooms, classrooms, elevators, hallways – so people became really curious to find out what it was all about. After about a week of posting these around campus, I asked a few of my friends if they had seen and most said yes, and then asked me what it was all about. I think a lot of people were very curious but many either didn’t realize that they are supposed to scan it with their smartphone (had never seen a QR before), or didn’t have a smartphone to scan it with. This problem will disappear as QR and smartphones become more common. The posters I put up in the graphic arts and computer science buildings received the most attention, as people there knew what to do with them!
After about 10 days of QR posters, I put up “wanted” posters. I did not notice as dramatic of a response from the students from these posters as I did with the QR ones, but they did provide a clear message of the situation at hand. I put the posters up side by side so that people would make the connection that they are the same person. After another week, I put up flyers for the screening event, which was held on February 15. The flyer for the event had a picture of the QR link with al-Bashir’s face so that people would connect this event to the original posters. I also wanted to get members of the community involved, so I advertised in the local newspaper and on a San Luis Obispo events website. I also got in touch with a local congregation in SLO, Congregation Beth David, who advertised for the event at their temple. I also worked with the political science department and talked to most of the teachers in the major, who either announced the event in their classes or allowed me to come in and make a short announcement. A few of the teachers offered extra credit, which was a major plus. I talked to about 7 classes and clubs, which encouraged a lot of people to come. They saw that this was a student-run event, rather than just a lecture their teacher thought they should attend. I also saw students I knew in some of the classes I went to, which encouraged them to come to the event and support the cause.
Over 40 people turned out for the main event. I was happy with this number, because I really had no idea what to expect. I was a little surprised that more kids who were offered extra credit did not come. I reserved a big room with comfortable chairs in our University Union, which is one of the central hubs on campus, so we had an ideal location. Pizza was donated by Woodstocks. I think the smell of pizza wafting down the halls might have drawn in a few last minute attendees! I also bought soda, water, and chips, so that we had a little more food to offer. One thing that was frustrating was several people left early. Some left as early as 30 minutes into the 95 minute film. I had people sign in at the door, so I think students who came for extra credit realized they had already signed in and decided to leave early. I realize that there is nothing I can do about this but hope that the people who attend an event like this are truly interested in the cause. By the end of the film there were about 20 left.
Following the film we had an open discussion about the film and the issues it touched on. The Chair of the Political Science Department, who is very familiar with the workings of the ICC, helped me lead the discussion. Many people ended up voicing their opinions. The debate got quite heated and we ended up discussing how to ultimately achieve world peace! We stayed until the maintenance man came to kick us out. A few of the people who stayed until the end told me the next day how cool they thought the event was. The discussion at the end definitely enhanced the experience, and next time I will focus on getting more people to stay for it.
I consider this event a success, as I learned that there is a network of people at Cal Poly who are interested in these causes, even though sometimes I feel very alone in my pursuits. I think many students are aware of the situations in Sudan and Congo, but there is just currently no movement or outlet for these people to meet. The success of this event, as well as the positive response I have received from those who attended, have motivated me to continue to pursue these causes that I feel are so important. People seemed thankful for the opportunity to learn about what is going on in other parts of the world, which is very reassuring to me. While I still feel like I have a lot of work to do to make Sudan and Congo topics of conversation here at Cal Poly, I think that the End Impunity campaign was a great start to achieving this goal.
Thanks so much to End Impunity, who walked me through every step of this campaign, and to Barry Stevens for creating such a wonderful and provocative film.