In the 1960s, frustrated voters were looking to President John F. Kennedy to make good on a campaign promise to sign civil rights legislation. The president said it would take "one stroke of the pen."
When it didn't happen fast enough, an "Ink for Jack" campaign was organized, resulting in thousands of pens being sent to the president to replace the one that had apparently run dry.
Nature Coast Technical High School international relations students are trying to get President Barack Obama's attention in a similar way.
Seniors Lucy Werner, 18, and Samantha Rei, 17, and sophomore Sumer Doulk, 16, are hoping to nudge the president to make good on his campaign promise to eliminate genocide. Instead of ink, the students are collecting and mailing erasers for a project called Erase Genocide.
The students have adopted an Obama quote as the centerpiece of their campaign: "We can't say 'never again' and then allow it to happen … I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to the slaughter."
The students say they realize the president has a lot on his plate; they want to "just show him that there's a following," Rei said. It's as if they are saying, she said, "We know you want this done, too. We're here to support you."
"Any genocide," Werner said, "it shouldn't be happening."
The biggest part of the students' effort is to advertise what they are doing to multiply the number of erasers sent to Washington. The international studies class, facilitated by teacher Marguerite Kling, has groups of students working on various projects but supporting one another. The Erase Genocide group has benefited from that support as it has tried to raise the number of erasers.
"Instead of picketing, rioting or protesting," Rei said, "we're trying to get more attention by being civil and maybe creative, trying to catch someone's attention." To that end they are advertising on Facebook, Twitter and their website, erasegenocide.org, created with the help of classmates.
"We've had people contact us through e-mail or the website or Facebook," Rei said. They have received feedback from as far away as Alaska.
The team has created, again with the help of classmates, starter kits for people who show interest in spreading the cause. The kits contain CDs with student-made public service announcements on them, a couple of information cards, a bookmark, a T-shirt, a button and a cover letter.
One public service announcement shows Werner holding a giant eraser in front of a banner with "genocide" written on it in pencil. She steps to it and begins to erase. She is joined by others. The speed increases. The word disappears, except for the "o." Then it's just Werner again with a pencil. She changes the "o" into a peace sign.
The team has received erasers from Nature Coast and from partnerships with Challenger K-8 and Powell Middle School. The University of Tampa stepped in to help. "They have a humanitarian group like ours," Rei said. "They help us network and get the word out."
The students are asking everyone to send an eraser in an envelope with "Erase Genocide" on it, collect erasers and send them in boxes, or send photos of themselves holding erasers to the White House.
The students have sent erasers to the White House and to Mrs. Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Florida senators. They sent one package to singer Gloria Estefan, because they heard the president was going to see her at an event.
They have had one response from the White House, but it was generic. They don't think they have made the impression they intended and are continuing the effort.
"Obviously, we haven't done enough yet," Werner said.