Recent news out of the Darfur region of Sudan has been devastating. In the midst of increasing violence, with more individuals displaced in the past year than at any point in the 10-year conflict, the International Criminal Court is suspending its genocide case against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and the United Nations is shrinking its already reduced peacekeeping operations in the region. This turn of events is probably news to the American public — perhaps because most have forgotten Darfur was in trouble in the first place.

This is a far cry from just eight years ago, when the situation in Darfur inspired rallies headlined by George Clooney and a newly elected Sen. Barack Obama, both of whom had spent time in the region, and led to bipartisan sanctions legislation in Congress. Cosmopolitan magazine even got in on the act, noting in 2005 that the best place to meet a new guy was at a Darfur protest.

The issue was hot: from college campuses to religious congregations, from President George W. Bush to Oprah, everyone wanted to “Save Darfur.” I helped lead the student coalition dedicated to the effort, which at its peak had more than 800 chapters, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and led the biggest divestment effort since South Africa.

Now, after a few headlines, Darfur will barely ruffle feathers. And this is with Obama as president, and Samantha Power, whose book on America’s response to genocide helped spawn the movement, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. What happened?

To start, new geopolitical crises have pushed Darfur off the front pages. Amid violence in Syria, the never-ending problems in the Middle East, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, Darfur just doesn’t stack up. Our society places different values on human lives from different areas, and those being massacred and displaced in Darfur aren’t as high on the international arena’s scale as they were just eight years ago.

In addition, the American public is becoming increasingly isolationist. A recent Pew poll indicates that more than half of Americans believe that the United States should mind its own business internationally, the highest rate in 50 years. Recent conflicts in Syria and Libya are seen as someone else’s problems, with the far left and the far right uniting to focus efforts at home. The same Darfur movement that emerged years ago might not be possible given the isolationist strands that are now part of the American political consciousness.

The anti-genocide movement also suffered because the right people are now in charge. If you had told activists in 2006 that Obama would be president and Power would be the U.N. ambassador, that scenario would have marked a far bigger success than any legislative options available. However, it seems that electoral success led to assuming that the new leadership would make Darfur a higher priority. It was easier for activists to shame Bush for a lack of effective action than it is to push Obama and Power.

And there is the movement itself. It would be arrogant to say that the loss of activism has caused a substantive change to the international response to Darfur. But the movement’s energy has substantively been sapped out. In 2010, the two main organizations coordinating advocacy on the conflict had a cumulative budget of almost $6 million. They merged, and today that organization, United to End Genocide, has a budget of barely $1 million. The 2006 rally featuring Clooney and Obama saw 50,000 people come to Washington and plead for more action. There is nothing resembling that action today.

Activists became tired, jaded, or both. When Darfur was labeled a genocide by the U.S. government, idealistic young people saw this as a chance to put the “Never Again” principle into action. But the conflict was complicated, and when the genocide did not end overnight, activists moved on. Was Darfur activism a case of upper-middle-class, white college students exhibiting a sense of guilt and privilege? Probably. But the aftermath has been neglect of a conflict that now needs attention more than ever.

There’s a legitimate case to be made that America’s role in the world is not what it used to be, and that the Obama administration could not end the conflict in Darfur. See the administration’s response to Syria. But even with everything going on today, Darfur does need attention. Ending the criminal case against Bashir and pulling out U.N. troops seem to be directly related to a lack of interest from the international community rather than a lack of effective options on the table.

I spent four years committed to ending the genocide in Darfur, and I did leave the movement with a bitter taste in my mouth. I was tired, I was not convinced I had spent my time in the best of ways, and I had too much of a sense of self-importance after fighting a battle I didn’t know much about. But I know enough to recognize that the current situation is about as far away from success as we could have hoped.

It’s unrealistic for another Darfur movement to start today. And it probably wouldn’t be helpful. But it would be nice if everyone who cared about the conflict in 2006, activists and presidents alike, woke up. There is action that needs to be taken. If not, perhaps the only thing the Darfur rallies were good for was a fun time.

Scott Warren is executive director of Generation Citizen in New York. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer. It was distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In this photo released by the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) last year, a Sudanese family takes shelter under their donkey cart at the Kalma refugee camp for internally displaced people, south of the Darfur town of Nyala, Sudan. At least 20, 000 have settled in refugee camps in Nyala. Women and children complain about the lack of food, water, and shelter. (AP photo/UNAMID, Albert Gonzalez Farran)

In this photo released by the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) last year, a Sudanese family takes shelter under their donkey cart at the Kalma refugee camp for internally displaced people, south of the Darfur town of Nyala, Sudan. At least 20, 000 have settled in refugee camps in Nyala. Women and children complain about the lack of food, water, and shelter. (AP photo/UNAMID, Albert Gonzalez Farran)

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