Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Kony 2012 (Or, Awareness as Power)

I flipped back and forth on whether I was going to say anything or not. Here I am, so we can all probably guess what I decided.

I became involved with Invisible Children when I was in college after a screening of the documentary. It was the first time the issue of the LRA was clearly and effectively brought to my attention, and once you have that kind of information, you can't ignore it.

In the last 24 hours, a half-hour video narrated by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell has quickly gone viral. An extremely condensed version of the violence in Uganda and beyond, the video calls on the global community to make LRA leader and indicted war criminal Joseph Kony "famous," an action meant to condemn rather than celebrate.

In the wake of the video, there's been a prominent backlash. Arguments against the, "Kony 2012," video range from the intelligent to the cynical, and I won't be addressing all of them here. What I will say is that it's incredibly important to thoroughly educate yourself about any issue or organization you support, because propaganda - be it positive or negative - is designed to draw you in. However, I think it's important to remember that research does not end at statistics. Talk to as many people as you can, get an idea of how and why things operate, then make your decision. No matter what the issue, there will always be people who both agree and disagree with you. Ultimately, you need to rely on the strength of your own knowledge.

The, "Kony 2012," campaign was created by Invisible Children, but it is not directly about the organization and while it promotes donation, it does not demand it or even highlight it. "Kony 2012," is about awareness. It's about taking a regional evil and placing it on a global stage. Many have argued that Joseph Kony and the LRA are already well known enough. Respectfully, I disagree. The overwhelming number of people who have reposted the video with the comment, "I can't believe I did not know about this," contradicts that.

A half-hour video can't give you all the specific details of a complex issue. A three hour video still wouldn't be able to hold all that information. Again, I encourage you to educate yourself. Many of the details that critics say are not highlighted in the Kony 2012 spot are easily accessible, both on the Invisible Children web site and elsewhere.

Will bringing in Joseph Kony, dead or alive, immediately solve the problem of the LRA? No. There is no quick fix - capturing terrorists doesn't stop terrorism, AIDS walks don't cure AIDS, feeding the homeless doesn't eliminate poverty - but nobody can argue that these things are not good, that they're not important steps toward an ultimate goal.

Is December 31, 2012 an arbitrary date? Yes. It has wisely been pointed out that issues like this are often marathons, not sprints. It will be just as important to focus on Kony, the LRA, and other organizations that are purely and undeniably evil on January 1, 2013 or 2023 or however long it takes to disarm and dismantle them. In truth, many will not be paying attention. By next week, more than half the people who are reposting the Kony link will be focused on something else. But for every five people who stop talking about it, there will probably be at least one who is now in it for the long haul, who saw the video, got educated, and got involved. That is a victory.

I made a choice years ago to believe in Invisible Children. I made a choice to believe that evil could be stopped, even if it takes decades. I stand by that now, and I support saying, "This is a thing that is wrong. Let's do what we can to stop it." Dismiss me as naive or overly idealistic or flat out wrong if you'd like, but find an action you can believe in after you do.