The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday December 8th

Activist SURGEs Ahead

Student Looks Worldwide for Social Change

Dennis Markatos is attempting to derail society's injustices through activism.

And he's urging others to abandon passivity and redirect their energy toward promoting global responsibility.

"Society is a moving train. If we go through life indifferently, then we are compliant to whatever direction society is moving," Markatos said. "If thousands of children are dying each year due to hunger, then we are letting it happen if we don't step off the train, analyze its direction and help it move in the right direction."

Markatos stepped off that train two years ago when he founded Students United for a Responsible Global Environment - an international organization that allows students from around the world to band together in a fight for social, economic and environmental justice.

By organizing SURGE, Markatos, a senior international studies and economics major, outstretched his arms and encircled a community of dedicated individuals committed to "global responsibility" and equality.

"I wanted to broaden the group of people interested in creating positive change," he said. "I felt there was a niche that could be filled by an organization to bring activists together and provide the room and energy to help out others."

Markatos' desire for social change coupled with his willingness to dispute ideas and societal norms have allowed SURGE to expand since 1998. The organization now includes more than 200 high schools and universities nationwide.

Today, many of those students will gather on UNC's campus to attend the second international SURGE conference.

Participants in the conference will have the opportunity to learn, discuss and promote global responsibility.

Through 55 workshops, various speakers and musical performances, the conference will try to provide students with the knowledge and enthusiasm to combat disparity.

"If we are able to challenge, question and step out of the conventions we are given, we can create a much more just world," Markatos said.

Prior to his involvement in university organizations, rallies and campaigns, Markatos found inspiration for activism within his family.

"My parents were always involved and I would go to lectures with them," he said. "When I was 12 years old, I went to Washington D.C. and marched in the `No Blood for Oil' protest against the Persian Gulf War."

And he nurtured a concern for the environment in the woods and streams surrounding his home in the rural area of Pittsboro.

As a young child, he often played in the rippling waters near his home, overturning rocks in search of fresh water mussels.

But as he grew older, his undisturbed natural surroundings became affected by economic development.

"I was lucky enough to live in an area where a walk in the woods was easily a part of my day," Markatos said. "I liked going to the creek but when I noticed all the new houses, I also noticed the freshwater mussels dying out in the creeks. I wanted to respond to the way I saw the environment getting neglected."

And he has been responding ever since.

Through building a network of passionate people, Markatos and other members of SURGE are unifying the voices into one call for justice and peace.

"We can do so much by joining hands and cooperating." he said. "We have to recognize we're all here together, so we can face things together."

Joe Straley, facilitator of Chapel Hill's Witness for Peace organization, worked with Markatos in planning a protest against the School of the Americas and said he has a unique spirit for activism.

"(Markatos) is a person to watch. He's not going to fade into the woodwork," Straley said. "This guy carries excitement around with him. He sees good in things while objecting to what he sees as wrong - that is a rare combination of optimism and a downright concern for the world."

Markatos is confident that SURGE's undertakings will forge ahead, fueling the engine driving equality.

He said, "If we can continue to grow and reach out to more and more people, then there is unlimited potential . and there is certainly hope for justice and equality."

The Features Editor can be reached

at features@unc.edu.


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