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Embracing the celebrity pulpit

By taking a stand on world affairs, actor's involvement can bring attention to dire situations

George Clooney says he has no idea how much of an impact his charitable work and political activism make on the real world outside the bigscreen. But the numbers tell the story.

“In the 24 hours after George Clooney appeared on ‘Oprah’ to talk about Darfur, we saw a surge in visits to our Web site, and around $80,000 in donations at the site, too,” says Melissa Winkler, the Intl. Rescue Committee’s communications coordinator. “The thing that really impressed me was that when we were in Sudan, George and his father, Nick, immediately wanted to be directly involved with helping the people we met there.”

While the Clooneys were traveling to Chad and southern Sudan with the humanitarian aid organization earlier this year, they gave the IRC $100,000 to bring emergency supplies to a village that was home to an estimated 300 refugees from Darfur.

The Darfur crisis has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of nearly 2 million people since February 2003, when people there began to rebel against state authority, according to reports.

Clooney addressed the United Nations Security Council on Darfur last month in an effort to push for greater intervention in the conflict. Originally, the African Union was scheduled to pull out of the area at the end of September, but now it has decided to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force there until the end of the year.

“That saves a whole lot of people’s lives,” says Clooney, although, he adds, “Now, it’s not like this is a big fix.”

Clooney has been involved in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts as a United Way board of trustees member. In 2005 he donated $1 million to the United Way Hurricane Katrina Response Fund and donated his Academy Award gift bag for the cause; it was auctioned for $45,100.

“He’s selective,” says Sheila Consaul, director of media and public relations for United Way of America. “He made it very clear he wanted to leverage his celebrity and inspire others to give, and was also focused on dealing with the long-term recovery effort.”

Clooney’s activities extend locally as well. In late September, the actor was on hand to watch Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sign a bill that divests California’s public pension funds from Sudan.

Clooney is quick to point out solving Darfur’s issues will take more than the signing of one bill. “It’s a big step, and it keeps the story out there,” Clooney reiterates. “It’s going to take years. We’re all in for the long slog.”

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