First it was nothing I’d ever heard of. Suddenly it was everywhere. Not Kony. I’d heard of him before all this. Actually, my first real lesson in Joseph Kony and the crimes for which he’s responsible was in the Vertigo comic Unknown Soldier. (Who says comics can’t teach us anything?) And a woman for whom I used to pet-sit, Leora Khan, has done lots of work on behalf of child soldiers through her organization PROOF Media for Social Justice, so I absorbed a lot from her, too.
But yesterday, I saw several people posting the following video on Tumblr, and I think you should watch it. It’s a little over 20 minutes long:
I was inspired, not just because I saw someone actively attempting to stop something on a continent that, quite honestly, few governments actually give a fuck about, but because it captured everything I think is wonderful about the technologically advanced and increasingly interconnected world in which we live. And so I passed the link around.
Today, I’ve seen several people talking about how we shouldn’t be supporting this campaign, because the organization behind it, Invisible Children, is “shady” with regard to the way it uses its money. Some have even gone so far as to say that the LRA, while a big problem (and they always qualify it, because they don’t want to seem heartless), isn’t that big of a deal now anyway, and the U.S. is already doing something about it, and Kony might be dead anyway, so why are we all gonna get invested in this campaign? Wil Wheaton reblogged a post from The Daily What’s tumblr. A friend of mine posted the following comment after I posted the video on Facebook:
Although Kony is still out there, the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006. And several reports have been made that he’s ill and not very active himself, possibly dead. We should find out for sure, of course, but Invisible Children has been criticized by several for leaving out facts and the group has come under investigation several times for questionable money practices and for sometimes refusing to share charity financial records. Definitely think Kony should be found and happy to spread the word, but not sure I want to support this particular video.
To which I responded:
1) the LRA “not being active in Uganda since 2006” is just flat-out not true. There was the Mokombo massacre in Dec 2009, and attacks continued through Feb 2010. Obama sent in 100 advisers at the end of this past year. No matter what the public said, Washington wouldn’t send anyone to Africa if it were considered a total waste of time.
2) Kony 2012 isn’t about charity. You don’t have to give them money at all. Purchasing the action kit and all that is optional, but the goal is to GET INVOLVED. With at least time and effort, if not money. So if possible charity shadiness is what you’re worried about, you don’t have to be. It’s just as easy to download and print posters yourself as it is to order them through their website. And the video just inspires people to action. However, just about EVERY non-profit has been, at some point, investigated because of how they use their money. Doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong. Or that, if mistakes were made, they weren’t fixed. Also, Invisible Children has all their financials on their Tri website going back to 2006 if anyone wants to look into it.
3) I’d be curious to know what reports have talked about him being ill or dead? Just did a Google search and didn’t turn up anything like that. The only references to him being “sick” all coincide with peace talks he was supposed to attend.
4) Another big reason why I’m behind this particular campaign so much is because it provides an amazing model for activism. I love that the internet really has changed the world in so many ways. From the Occupy Movement to stuff like this, people can actually get together and change things. And Kony 2012 is a very specific, focused goal. If progress is made on this front within this year (progress being that gov’t realizes that their citizens actually do care about this and don’t want the advisers pulled out), then this can be a template for change on other fronts.
I am absolutely shocked and disheartened by the “backlash” this video is getting, because it points to this generation’s seeming need to remain apathetic at all times. If people care about something too much, or if something is too popular, something is clearly awry. It’s our job to be skeptical, and if our choices are between “not having our money used properly” and “doing nothing,” people will choose Doing Nothing every time. Because, hey – at least we’ll still have our money, right? And those problems in the world? Well, it’s not like we were gonna solve them all anyway.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Occupy Movement was that the goals weren’t specific enough. What do these occupiers want? With KONY 2012, the criticism – in addition to the overly-inflated money concerns – is that this goal is too specific. Sure we’d be getting rid of Kony, but that won’t solve the real problems. God, it’s like people will use any excuse to not care! Your goal isn’t specific enough. Your goal is too specific. It’s like being stuck between a stubborn rock and an irrational hard place you wanna punch in the neck!
It’s funny, usually people are idealistic in their youth, and hardened and cynical in their “old age.” For me, the opposite has happened, and I find apathy and cynicism infuriating.
The thing is, KONY 2012 detractors have made this all about money, when the fact is, THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO THIS VIDEO THAN THAT. You don’t have to spend A DIME. On ANYTHING. The video isn’t a call to finances, it’s a call to ACTION, and that’s what detractors are missing. Giving a small amount of money is only one thing this video is asking you to do, and honestly, it’s the least important.
So often we’re totally happy to merely throw money at problems. Look how charitable I’m being! I gave all this money! But we don’t actually care where the money goes. We don’t follow up on it. If we did, we wouldn’t need people to tell us when organizations are being shady, because WE’D ALREADY KNOW. And when it comes to things like calling congresspeople or senators? When it comes to organizing people in our communities? When it comes to making phone calls, or registering voters, or merely SPEAKING UP to our friends about a cause we care about? We don’t do it.
Because it’s too much fucking work.
That’s something that’s been annoying me for a long time. Because I’m someone who wants to DO things about things! I don’t want to just write a check and call it a day. I want to be INVOLVED. And whenever I’ve tried to be involved and get others to be as excited, I feel like a cheerleader without a team. And it’s difficult to be a cheerleader with no one else holding you up in the pyramid!
Watch the video and share it. It costs you absolutely nothing. I think the video might inspire you to a) learn more about the plight of child soldiers, b) call your elected officials, c) take this issue into account when voting this year, d) take part in more grassroots organizing around this, or any other issue you’re passionate about.
And as for Kony, I think that ascertaining his whereabouts is a worthwhile goal for all of us this year. It is one thing we can focus on and help to accomplish. Even if Invisible Children is inflating their involvement in our government’s decision to send advisers to Uganda, or misusing funds, or any of the other charges thrown in their direction…what the video says about us living in an age when we can accomplish so much more because we are interconnected, and have a duty to care about the world beyond our borders? That is not wrong. That is the idea this video ultimately spreads.
That, not money, is what KONY 2012 is about.