Catching Joseph Kony

This Monday, Invisible Children released its newest film – the thirty minute Kony 2012. I’ve been involved with IC since early 2007, and my relationship with them is almost always in flux – ranging from being inspired and truly believing in the work to being a critic of the trendy oversimplification. After helping Resolve and the Enough Project gain support for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in 2010, IC has embarked on a new mission of trying to effectively end the war in 2012, with this video as a part of the broader campaign.  The video is centered on Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, explaining Joseph Kony, the war criminal in charge of the LRA, to his son.  The take-away from the video is that the goal of the next two months is to teach people who Kony is, thus leading to more change and ultimately his capture.

Through most of Monday evening Facebook and Twitter were slowly ramping up in my world. I have met scores of people in my work on the issue, and many of my friends are on the staff at IC, so the hubbub was expected.  By Tuesday afternoon, some staff members were tweeting that, in the first 24 hours, the video had been viewed 800,000 times. Late Tuesday evening, the campaign took up six of the top ten trending topics on Twitter, and “Kony” and “#KONY2012” accounted for 3-4% of all tweets.

The last 24 hours (checked at 7:45am, MST today) of Twitter traffic, from trendistic.

Like many who are aware of the crisis in central-east Africa, I would love to see Joseph Kony brought to justice as soon as possible. Kony is the leader of a highly centralized rebel group comprised of abducted fighters – some of them children. Kony is among the first criminals indicted by the International Criminal Court, and his arrest would go a long ways towards ending the Lord’s Resistance Army as we know it and reinforcing an essential international institution like the Court.

”]As I mentioned, I’ve been a supporter of varying tenacity, and I have disagreed with Invisible Children here and there over the years. I support many of their programs on the ground in the region – granting scholarships for students to attend rebuild schools, teaching displaced people employment skills, and building a radio warning system among them – and am one of the many that first got involved in human rights and activism through their work here in the States. I’ve always felt that there is a huge disconnect between the great work being done in the region and the simplistic, sexy, and purely PR work Stateside, which is a shame. I’m not as much of a critic as others, but I do have a few qualms with the current campaign that’s launching right now.

Invisible Children continues to oversimplify the message of how to get rid of Kony. I understand that advocacy groups need to take really complex problems and boil them down so that it can be disseminated among supporters. As the movement grows, however, the leaders should be better educating their followers.  Being involved for five years, I have yet to see IC expand on its very simplistic history of the war, which is critical to understanding how best to approach ending it.

Something needs to be said about the narrative that IC creates, but I’ll leave that to everyone else.  IC has been running programs in northern Uganda for several years – ineptly at first but more recently they operate like any other aid organization there. Meanwhile, their PR campaigns in the States aim to address the LRA, who left Uganda – which has been in relative peace and experiencing slow recovery – in 2006. The videos blur the lines between the countries, and simplify everything to Kony roaming Africa abducting kids. That’s not to mention that there is no evidence of the 30,000 children figure endlessly repeated by IC and other NGOs, and no discussion of how to define abduction (which is important, since some are forced to help transport supplies before being set free, while others are forced to kill their own family members before being conscripted for life). The story IC creates will drive policy, and it needs to ensure that we have a dialog about the peace-justice debate, the accountability of the Ugandan military, and ways to move forwards without losing momentum.

IC’s campaign for the next two months is heavy on awareness. We supporters are to tell all of our friends and put posters everywhere, and then write messages to 20 cultural leaders (who control public discourse) and 12 political leaders (who are involved with real change). This build up is to April 20th, when we’re supposed to plaster our cities in Kony 2012 posters to “make him famous.” There is footage of “Kony 2012” – to make him as popular as possible – a sort of Public Enemy #1.

When I first got involved with IC, I attended an event that included learning about displacement camps in northern Uganda – an eye-opening experience that really pushed me to start a student organization in college. This year’s big event is to put up posters. This is all in the name of garnering more name recognition for Kony to make him (in)famous, but when you get the most bipartisan congressional support for any Africa-related bill in history and you claim hundreds of thousands of youth support you, you’ve gotten the word out. Claiming that nobody knows about Kony (the video says “99% of people” have never heard of him), is absurd. There is enough attention that we can move from awareness to action now. It’s time to pursue real change – front and center. E-mailing the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should not just be a side-note to hanging up flags and tweeting at Oprah, who is probably sick of IC distracting her from her work in South Africa anyways.

As Daniel Solomon notes (and you should definitely read his post), if people are tweeting at me to watch the video and aren’t reading the ICG report to learn more, then a vital part of the campaign has missed the mark. Mark Kersten also calls out the campaign in a post you should read, and here’s a critique of “crowd-sourced intervention.”

After six years of building a massive youth-led base in America – including raising millions of dollars in record time and directing masses of young people – we have passed the deadline for moving forwards. In the film, IC tells us the Kony 2012 campaign expires at the end of the year – a movement has an expiration date alright, and it’s important to freshen up the whole IC movement.

Update: The list of related links has moved to a new post, as it continues to grow.


A Campaign Deferred

In April of this year I met with a number of like-minded individuals at Arizona State University.  By like-minded, I mean people who are concerned about social justice and human rights.  We had a vision of linking our student organizations – interests like women’s rights and fair trade, LGBTQ equality and anti-genocide came together.  Our primary goal was to establish something ASU didn’t have, but that we thought it needed: a Committee for Socially Responsible Investing.’

A number of universities have these committees.  They’ve manifested themselves in different structures and with different goals.  One early and prominent campaign was the campaign to cripple the South African regime through divestment (which started in the US with the Sullivan Principles and in universities with Stanford).  Recently there has been a push to divest from companies like PetroChina that do business with Sudan, a frequent human rights abuser.  Currently a number of universities have begun the controversial but justified effort to sever ties with the aggressive and abusive Israeli government.  Yet ASU does not have a committee to oversee what money is spent on.  There is definitely no one looking over the Fulton Foundation’s investments.

So we established the ASU Coalition for Human Rights.  And we drafted a proposal.  And we began meeting with Vice President for University Student Initiatives Dr. James Rund.  We began making progress.  I was among four students in a meeting with Dr. Rund at the end of September.  We spent the better part of an hour debating the need for a committee and the trend of social responsibility that ASU is missing.  We began debating the structure of such a committee – who would serve on it? how would the Coalition be involved? would the committee’s decisions be binding? It was at this point that I turned to Dr. Rund and asked, bluntly: “So, are you saying that you support the creation of a committee, but want to debate the structure of it?”  To which he casually responded, “I’d say yes, yes I am.” We later adjourned the meeting and agreed to speak with Student Government’s Council of Presidents on the issue and come back to Dr. Rund.

Last week, a number of my like-minded peers met with Dr. Rund.  Just weeks after telling me that, yes, yes he supported the idea of creating a committee, we were told that the committee was a bad idea.  We were challenged not only on the structure of the committee, but on the structure of the Coalition itself (we had recently voted down an application from a political student organization on the grounds of the Coalition being apolitical and purely human rights-oriented) and even on the premise of the necessity of such a committee.  We were told that, if there is a question of ASU’s investments, feel free to bring it up with ASU’s leadership.

A lot of our success has been curbed, but we’re not stopping.  ASU has not yet made an official proclamation to have sweatshop-free merchandise (although ASU did cut its contract with Russell Athletic over labor disputes, which deserves some applause).  ASU has not taken a stance in making sure its electronics are audited to be conflict mineral-free.  The Fulton Foundation’s finances have not been made public, so I personally have no idea if my tuition dollars are indirectly supporting genocide in Darfur now or election-disruption in South Sudan in January.  Who knows where that money goes?

I still have hopes that my university will take a step forward.  I have hopes that our organization will be able to keep the pressure on until a permanent Committee for Socially Responsible Investing is established at Arizona State University.  Let’s keep this going.

Social Consciousness

So, I haven’t posted in ten days.  What a slacker!  I will make up for it by posting a thousand times this week*.  It’s been a busy few days.  I’m waste-deep in schoolwork, trying to figure out the logistics of getting myself to Uganda, and trying to move forward in wedding planning.  I think a few blog posts will be forthcoming to address all of the recent events.  The first of which will be a post which I am very proud to write.

In September of 2007, I started a student organization to help end a war.  Lofty ambitions, I know – but it all began with raising money to rebuild a school.  Each spring, Arizona State’s Student Organization Resource Center (SORC) holds a Hall of Fame awards event honoring some of the clubs on campus.  I’ve thrown our name in the mix every year, mentioning camp-out events and national conferences, fund raisers and educational screenings.  Each year, I’ve nominated us for the Social Consciousness Award, and each year we haven’t even been mentioned.  But this year?

This year our bullet points looked pretty damn good: we contributed to the Rescue, How it Ends, Schools For Schools, the Hometown Shakedown, the Legacy Tour, and our own lobby days.  I had high hopes at the award ceremony.  I was talking to the guys at my table – part of a society for business majors – and they wished me luck.  I was listening to what the other groups had done and, albeit great work, I was convinced that we were going to win this year.

WE WON!  I was so ecstatic to be recognized!  I marched on up there, probably with a goofy smile, and accepted a fancy framed certificate.  It was a good feeling to hear my club’s name at the awards ceremony.  Thinking back, the past year’s work has included the help of soooo many people and I appreciate it so much.  Looking forward, I hope that we can keep it going and run again next year.  Talking with club members and supporters from the community, I think we’ll be able to keep up the work.  I guess the work starts now?  Let’s go!

*1000 = 2 or 3, probably.

“It pierces your heart”

Tuesday night, the ASU campus hosted the Invisible Children roadies. I met up with them and helped set up in the Memorial Union, and we just kinda hung out for a while. I met the new roadies and the two Ugandans with them, and I also got to catch up with some familiar faces.

I talked to Richard, a Ugandan from IC’s Mentor Program, a bit before the screening and he seemed like a really interesting fellow.  Easy to talk to.  Then I greeted some familiar faces before starting the film.  I’ve probably seen this movie over twenty times. The crane shot still just floors me. And Jacob crying is still one of the most  heart-wrenching things to behold.  If you haven’t seen this film, I feel that you need to.

After the screening, a former night-commuter from the film spoke to us a little. After he spoke, his mentor spoke for a while. Richard is very well-versed.  He reminds me of my maternal grandparents with all the proverbs and deep thinking. Hell, he invented proverbs as he spoke – comparing people to light bulbs and turning life into a highway.  And while I didn’t record the Q & A, I got most of their addresses beforehand.  I hope you enjoy: