by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hile 1,800-some other University High School students slump in their desks, filling their heads with trig and biology, nine students in gloves and jackets and woolen hats are lodged in camp chairs around a makeshift fire, not 30 yards from the school's front door, taking their education into their own hands.
It's noon on Friday, the last day of a campaign the students are calling Cold for a Cause. They've been out here since before sunrise on Wednesday morning, working to bolster public awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Up around 5 each morning, they're out on University Avenue by 7, holding signs that, taken together, read HELP. US. SAVE. DARFUR. In a tent near the school's parking lot, they sell teal screen-printed T-shirts that read, "Stop Genocide in Sudan." They're $5 each, and the entire proceeds will go to CARE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty and bringing aid to Darfur.
At base camp, two large tents on blue tarps flank the portable fire pit, which is burning firewood and sawn-off segments of 2-by-4s. Everywhere are half-empty containers of food -- six or seven scones, a pot of goulash, a plastic box of tiny quiches. Taking a break from picketing, most of the students rest their sneakers on the saucer edge of the fire pit. Senior Kyle Bielen reads from a textbook, quizzing a few classmates on the invasion of Lombardi by Napoleonic forces. The rest stare into the fire. They joke easily, but they look a little bored. And cold. Tori Head is wearing two hats to keep warm.
So it's a relief when Paul Schneider springs outside with good news. The faculty advisor for the Cold for a Cause campaign, he was also one of its main instigators. Looking for an excuse to organize some kind of political activism, he pounced when he saw two students return from a college visit to Pacific Lutheran University with the teal T-shirts. Ferris High School students had put on a campaign called "Freezin' for a Reason," in which they camped outside during the fall to raise money for local food banks. Could U-High do the same? In the dead of winter?
"We can get every student in a T-shirt. Charge them five bucks. That's $10,000," he recalls thinking. He held an interest meeting at the school, and 70 people turned up. "That's huge."
And now the good news: T-shirt sales have now raked in $10,000, he tells the students around the fire. "I think by the end of today, we can rest confident that we hit our goal." There are murmurs of both excitement and relief among the students. But not complacency.
Schneider's eyes dance as he spells out the next steps in the campaign, sounding less like the high school's AP history teacher and more like its excitable football coach. A new target: $15,000. Then $20,000. He'll urge teachers to give students an incentive to buy more shirts. Like, at $15,000, they'll shave their heads. At $20,000 they'll get something pierced. Next, the Jam Against Genocide, a concert featuring U-High bands, to raise more money. That's on Feb. 2. Then, the Day of Conscience, a Feb. 21 assembly at which the group will present a check to a CARE rep. Run, pass, touchdown.
But while Schneider has coached the campaign to success, it's the rosy-cheeked students out here who really deserve the credit for victory. They put up the art installations in the hallways of the social studies wing, with pictures and historical outlines of the last five genocides in history -- Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust, Armenia. They ringed the balcony of the school's commons area with photos, quotes and anecdotes from the crisis in Darfur.
They're running T-shirt production and distribution, selling them here and at Gonzaga, Whitworth, the community colleges. They booked Jam Against Genocide. They've been in front of Rotary, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & itting around the fire, they speak gravely about the conflict in Darfur, where black rebels and the Sudanese government -- aided by a militia called the Janjaweed -- have been fighting for nearly four years. In that time, some 400,000 people -- mostly Darfurians siding with the rebel group -- have died. As many as 2.5 million more have been displaced to neighboring countries.
But the students' efforts are as much about making a statement as they are about ameliorating the crisis in Africa's largest country. "This is not about school spirit. It's not necessarily about a fashion statement. It's about showing we're united," explains student Dale Knudsen.
"[We're] helping the student body come to realize there's more problems in the world than just your little sphere," adds another student.
They say the message has been well received, for the most part.
"The amount of support we got from the community has been absolutely overwhelming," says Kyle Bielen. Sure, they've suffered some slings and arrows from fellow students (one of whom shouted, perplexingly, "Go back to Africa"), but "95 percent are nice and lovely and beautiful," explains one woman. "Five percent are icky and gross." Another jokes, "And pro-genocide."
They've even gotten support from a few unexpected sources. About 2:30 Friday morning, they were awoken by a voice outside their tents crying, "My name is John, and I want a shirt!" They stumbled outside to find a 40-something guy with poofy sideburns and a cowboy hat. He'd just come from a Denny's, where he'd read about the group's exploits in the Spokesman-Review.
A little freaky, but the students say it's worth it, if it dispels the notion that their generation is stocked solely with do-nothing slackers. "We don't want to be that generation," says Knudsen.
For questions or donations, call Paul Schneider at 228-5273.Jam Against Genocide at Decades Meeting Place, 10504 E. Sprague, on Friday, Feb. 2 at 7 pm. Tickets: $5 advance, $7 door.