Transnational Advocacy and the Single Story Problem

In 2013, a group of students at the Fletcher School at Tufts organized a research seminar on the topic of Western advocacy campaigns and their shortcomings. Several short pieces were posted online (here’s an overview of the seminar [also as a pdf]), which I followed from afar, and I was happy to hear that the organizers decided to turn it into an edited volume. When I was asked to review it, I excitedly agreed:

Transnational advocacy is an increasingly apparent part of activism in a world that is more and more interconnected. As Twitter and other social media sites allow people to forge relations with like-minded individuals, many have chosen to stand with or for others in their activism. Some of this has taken the form of solidarity movements like BDS while others can more easily be categorized as part of the “white savior industrial complex,” like Save Darfur.

While the book covers much more, the problems of Western advocacy campaigns are at the heart of Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism, a new collection of articles edited by Alex de Waal with Jennifer Ambrose, Casey Hogle, Trisha Taneja, and Keren Yohannes. In an age when there are more and more edited volumes that fail to achieve much, this is one example that is more than the sum of its parts. The chapters in Advocacy in Conflict strike at the heart of what activism looks like and does, and what it ought to do.

Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism, edited by Alex de Waal

One crucial theme throughout the book is the role of single narratives. While we’ve all seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on the dangers of a single story by now, not everyone was aware of this danger when planning advocacy campaigns for causes around the world. Mareike Schomerus shows this in her chapter on the most (in)famous attempt to craft a single narrative: Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video and campaign. The dangers of a narrowed narrative are also present in Burma, where Maung Zarni points out the limitations of a narrative centered on an individual such as Aung San Suu Kyi rather than Burma as a nation, which has left the country with a facade of democratization; it is present in the D.R. Congo, where Laura Seay explores the unintended consequences of Enough’s conflict minerals narrative, including a de facto boycott of (and loss of livelihood for) legitimate Congolese miners; it is in South Sudan, where U.S. support of the SPLA helped create a new country out of Sudan, but also bolstered a corrupt and murderous structure that led to the ongoing civil war in South Sudan; and in disability rights, where Tsitsi Chataika et al. show that the complexities of identity and representation get molded into a narrowed discourse as Western donors get involved, a discourse which carries out its own oppression.

The pitfalls of a single narrative are just one thing that the book questions in its attempt to “reclaim international advocacy movements to make them more self-reflective and accountable to the people and the evolving situations they represent” (1). Other key questions that the organizers of the volume set out to answer include critiques of the legitimacy of advocacy on behalf of others, the question of inclusiveness, how to bring academic knowledge and public activism together, and the hierarchies of local and global contexts. The book does not necessarily offer explicit answers to each of these topics, but throughout the pages one can find explorations and ruminations that get us closer to building a better form of activism that is aware of its vulnerabilities and the importance of a more robust activism rooted in solidarity.

The book as a whole does a good job of turning success stories on their head. De Waal’s chapter on South Sudan shows that the success story of South Sudanese independence is anything but, and in so doing he renders the current civil war not a sudden crisis but a long-expected emergence rooted in the SPLA’s history as “a regressive resistance army masquerading as a liberation movement” (165). Citing Rebecca Hamilton’s brilliant reporting on South Sudan’s leading supporters in the U.S., de Waal also shows how these activists provided pressure that made U.S. policy inflexible, something I remember seeing in my own brief encounters with Save Darfur activists. This critique of past policies and advocacy helps place the current conflict in a new context, which can guide activists working to end this most recent crisis.

Critiquing movements that are commonly seen as success stories is more than just a buzzkill exercise. By doing this over and over, the book as a whole attempts to forge a new way forwards. Roddy Brett’s chapter on Guatemala shows that international efforts helped open space for indigenous activists to demand rights and gain a voice, but simultaneously made the realization of those rights impossible. Schomerus’ chapter on Invisible Children emphasizes that even radio programs that seek to inform people about LRA activities can inadvertently feed fear of rebels and empower armed militias that should otherwise be disbanded. Research like this, and others in the volume, show us what to be wary of as we engage in activism regardless of where and for what cause.

It’s crucial to ensure that global activism links all parties, giving local voices a global audience and ensuring the buy-in of those directly affected. Otherwise, we wind up with what de Waal refers to as policy that “can be progressive at home and regressive abroad” (19). Whether it’s central Africa, Burma, Guatemala, or Gaza, transnational activism is susceptible to being co-opted by those in power, and the best way to resist this is to ground our activism with those involved. It is harder for Uganda to entrench its militarization of the region if more Ugandan voices are included in advocacy decision-making. Congolese miners are more likely to stay employed and maybe even benefit if efforts to crack down on rebel supply chains were instead diverted to more fundamental concerns like security, justice, and governance at the heart of rebellion. The lesson in each of the cases featured in the book point to similar takeaways: be inclusive of those involved, be aware of the effects of involvement, and engage with complexity in order to address underlying causes.

The book itself is laid out in four parts – a one-chapter history of activism, followed by three case studies of Western advocacy movements linking with local campaigns (in Burma, Guatemala, and Gaza), then three case studies where Western activism diverged sharply from events on the ground (Congo, the LRA, and South Sudan), and three cases of issues-based activism (disability rights, the arms trade, and land grabs). All four sections offer different perspectives on a common problem: how to do advocacy across societies.

De Waal’s historical chapter is a useful look at how transnational advocacy has changed from decolonization through the human rights regime to today (though whether “today” is defined by post-Cold War, post-9/11, neoliberal, etc. is up for debate). The next section is useful for seeing how movements can merge – but the key is to see how this occurs. Sometimes foreign activists can integrate their message with local campaigns, but other times grassroots work gets derailed by intervention. The third section is most relevant to me, perhaps because it’s on Western advocacy in armed conflict in central Africa, but also because it demonstrates how outside activists can advocate for a cause regardless of what those affected actually feel about it. This power relation is an issue that is fundamental to any activist to be aware of, be it mansplaining, the white savior industrial complex, or some other form of the superiority-via-helping tendency. The last section, on issues-based activism, was to me the least interesting (chalk it up to subjects I’m less familiar with, or a different argument structure), and yet there are still key lessons to pull from disability rights activism being co-opted by big international NGOs, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ rapid success which actually heralded its failure, and the ability of actors with very different understandings of land rights to come together to resist it despite their differences.

Regardless of where you’re coming from (academic, development, activists or otherwise), this is a book worth reading. Taken individually, each chapter offers different perspectives and lessons on the particular topic at hand. Taken as a whole, the book coalesces around key concepts and lessons that every activist (and scholar of activism) should commit to her agenda.

In their conclusion to the book, Hogle et al. find four common goals in order to help “reclaim activism.” These are 1) empower local actors, 2) recognize complexity, 3) be inclusive of a range of those concerned, 4) reject single narratives. This call to action, and the volume as a whole, is a salvo in an ongoing debate over how to carry out activism, and it’s packed with important evidence and relevant cases for all aspects of transnational activism.


Weekend Reading: #KONY2012 Edition

A tinge of humor before you read fifty articles about atrocities and development.

Earlier this week, I put together a post on Invisible Children’s new campaign and video, Kony 2012.  It’s gotten a huge amount of readership, which this humble blogger is very proud and thankful for.  Since the whole of the internet joined in what turned out to be a huge debate over both the issue of LRA disarmament specifically and Invisible Children as a whole, I began gathering links to anything I thought was worth reading. The list has gotten a bit bigger than I expected, so I’m re-writing everything here in what I hope to be a more digestible format as an early edition of the weekly reading feature.


  • “Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions,” by Musa Okwonga at The Independent.
  • UN Dispatch has a two-sided post on sensationalist vs. savior.
  • The Wired’s Danger Room gives a quick look of Kony 2012.
  • A blog post at the Washington Post covers the debate.
  • Michael Dreibert gives a succinct history of the conflict.
  • The Guardian has a long live-feed of updates on the debate.
  • NPR asks if the campaign will actually work.
  • The Guardian has an article including an interview with Jacob Acaye, one of the children featured in IC’s original video, as well as criticisms from Victor Ochen, who runs a great youth rehabilitation center in Lira.
  • The Monitor, an independent newspaper in Uganda, has this report that includes support from the UPDF but a criticism from former Gulu Mayor Norbert Mao – who has worked with IC in the past.
  • The New York Times’ Room for Debate features a number of important voices on the Kony 2012 campaign.


There are a number of critical takes on both the Kony 2012 campaign and on IC itself as an organization:

Kings of War has a critique on the military side of the campaign.  African Arguements has a piece up by Angelo Izama about the video’s misrepresentations. A guest post at FP by Michael Wilkerson criticizes the video’s apparent inaccuracies; Wilkerson also wrote about it at The Guardian.  Elizabeth Dickinson writes about the moral conflict of the campaign as well as comparisons to the Darfur advocacy campaign.  Global Voices has a collection of Ugandan criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign. And here’s another look at the backlash of the campaign. Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a good article criticizing the video as well. An FP article explains that the danger of troops being withdrawn might be unfounded. Adam Branch at the Makarere Institute for Social Research thinks IC is a symptom of US actions and doesn’t affect things on the ground. Timothy Burke questions the goal of Kony 2012’s direct action.

TMS Ruge wrote specifically about how the narrative denies agency to Ugandans. Africa is a Country has a post lambasting IC co-founder Jason Russell and Kony 2012’s white savior narrative.  Amanda and Kate from Wronging Rights wrote a piece at The Atlantic – also they made a drinking game.  Teju Cole tweeted a short burst of criticism against American sentimentality. There’s also a fun, satirical interactive map.  This article in the CS Monitor touches on the need to reach out to African groups. Alex de Waal argues that elevating Kony to “make him famous” isn’t the right way forwards. There is also an article on Kony in the real world.

In Defense

Resolve, Invisible Children, and Enough released a letter to President Obama (pdf) that is a blueprint for the way forward.  Invisible Children also released a response to critiques directly responding to many of the critiques. Paul Ronan, Resolve’s Director of Advocacy, posted this from South Sudan, where he has been doing research in the field.  Anneke van Woudenberg wrote a recent piece for Human Rights Watch explaining the need for action. Senator Chris Coons wrote that we should work together to capture Kony. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responds to financial critiques in this new video.

And a critique of the Visible Children blog in defense of Invisible Children was posted on Facebook by an IC staffer working on the Crisis Tracker. Bridgette Bugay offers a response to criticisms at the LSE blog. Sarah Margon, a former staffer for Senator Russ Feingold (who spearheaded the bill that was passed in 2010) has this defense to offer. Jared White, a development worker at IC’s Uganda office, wrote about the benefits of IC’s three track system.  James Pearson criticizes the video, but give his support to the mission of Kony 2012. A former IC roadie wrote a half-defense at Dave Algoso’s blog.

Things to Think About

Daniel Solomon gives some views on the way forward.  Kings of War’s original post on the topic covered the dangers of “crowdsourcing intervention.”  Shanley Knox does some reflecting on interacting in Uganda as a savior versus a partner.    This World We Live In offers a warning against hubris. Dave Algoso touches on the differences between simplification and distortion in advocacy. Think Africa Press has a piece on Uganda’s military and a survivor’s story that’s important to consider. The Washington Post interviewed Glenna Gordon, the photographer who caught the filmmakers posing with soldiers in 2008.

Siena Anstis provides a number of ways to learn more about the crisis. Hayes Brown looks at whether or not the UN could harness the momentum, while Give Well has an argument for concentrating on malaria, which could actually be stopped if more people paid attention. Mafoya Dossoumon argues that we should hold African leaders more accountable, which is a great point. Daniel Solomon also has a piece on seeing advocacy as discursive, and how that changes the approach. Here is a look at the video’s impact on documentaries. And Aaron Bady put together a list on the “Genre of Raising Awareness of Someone Else’s Suffering .

A Week Later: More Links

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.

Henry V at Washington, or a Letter to the Resolve Fifteen

This is an open letter to my fellow advocates and dear friends with whom I spent a lot of time (and at the same time not enough) in DC. It’s on this blog instead of an e-mail because what I experienced this weekend really should be on the record. If you want to know why we were there, click here. If you want to see what I did with my own time, click here.

To Whom Advocating for Peace is the Most Paramount Task,

In Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia, he uses a scene of human rights abuse in Shakespeare’s Henry V to analyze the massacre at Srebrenica. Since we were all in DC as a part of our advocacy against mass atrocities, I thought it was fitting that I thought of a wholly different part of the same play. What we learn from Shakespeare is that, on St. Crispen’s Day, Westmoreland wished they had more troops to fight, to which the King responded – at length – that he would rather die with those who were around him: “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

There were only a few of us that were able to make the trek to Washington this weekend. I boarded my plane knowing two friends would be there, alongside a few who I only knew over the phone, and a handful of strangers. I left with over a dozen friends with whom I can share this experience. And it’s not just an experience of being able to say “I got to see David Plouffe speak” or “Holy crap I just saw Bo in the hallway,” it’s much more than that.

Half of the gang on Pennsylvania Avenue

It’s the fact that I can say that not only did most of us meet for the first time at State Place & 17th Street in the early morning on Friday – and proceed to spend almost all of the next 48 hours together – but that we made true friends and learned a lot from one another during that time. It was with this group of new friends that I learned about the Fourth Estate (which I sadly missed and sounds inspiring) and shared my thoughts on America’s LRA strategy (thanks for listening, Adam). I experienced my first poetry slam at Busboys and ate the greatest sweet potato fries. I met four people whom I could never thank enough for helping me over the years via phone calls and e-mails, and I had three people bear witness to the hostel at which I stayed.

Eugene tells a story. Laughter ensues.

More than learning about USAID’s programs around the world and seeing the White House’s outreach efforts first hand, I got soaked in rain with friends – twice – and got in more than one conversation about the attractiveness of a certain former Director of African Affairs at the NSC. I talked about the ICC, heard about conflicts in the CAR, and learned about crisis mapping in the DRC. But I also learned how not to use Camden Yards as a slip’n’slide, was compared to the sorcerer Jafar, and laughed uncontrollably at somebody saying “K as in knitting.”

I am truly humbled by having the chance to meet you this weekend. We all traveled to DC, some of us flying across the Great Plains while others took buses up from the South, to hear what the White House had to say and learn from it. I have been involved with this cause for a long time in my life, but I got involved my senior year of high school. I am only 21 years old and I just barely finished my undergrad, and yet I wasn’t out of place. Some of you are still in high school and are already raising thousands of dollars and lobbying your senators and representatives for this. Some of you have been done with school and are already forging ahead into the real world, blazing the trail for advocates. You all are superstars.

While we were able to raise our concerns with several officials (spitting fire while we did it), we did even more. We solidified our place as advocates with more than just an issue or a cause, but with a passion. As I told some of you, I’m at sort of an impasse in my life where I’ve stopped cheering for Enough and I haven’t fundraised as much for IC as I used to, but I can’t stop, won’t stop, advocating for peace and justice through Resolve.

To each and every one of you who joined me in any of these escapades, thank you. We raised our voices and delivered letters, we definitely made a difference. But I sure as hell made some great friends too.

A Day at the Executive Mansion

This post is the political and analytic post about the DC trip. For the general trip run-down, click here.

Friday was the big day, and in the morning I took a stroll down F St. to the White House gate, and started meeting all sorts of great fellow advocates. Once we all got together, we went through security and headed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, one of two office buildings that flank the White House on the premise. We filed in and took our seats in a small auditorium, and listened to the following and surprisingly long list of speakers.

  • Gayle Smith (Director of the NSC) and co-founder of the Enough Project,  talked about America’s transition from a unilateral actor to a multilateral actor in development and international affairs, and emphasized the importance of security, economics, and values in humanitarian aid. She talked a lot about long-term solutions and referenced some advancements in the aid sector.
  • Erin Mazursky (Youth Advisor, USAID), formerly of STAND fame, talked about the link between youth advocacy and conflicts, emphasizing the importance of the younger generation to be involved. Herself a product of that, it was great to hear her talk about her work for USAID in helping youth around the world, and she said that many in the development sector see advocacy as “the wind in our sails,” which is always uplifting to hear.
  • Andrew Sweet (from the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation at USAID), who used to be at the Enough Project, talked a lot about OCMM’s work in producing alert lists of countries at risk of falling into conflict. He also made several references to conflict assessment and contributions to local reconciliation efforts to prevent conflicts in post-conflict zones. In response to some questions, he also referenced that the U.S. was going beyond MDGs in a lot of developing countries, with other goals such as legitimate political systems, justice, and security.
  • Brooke Anderson (Chief of Staff of National Security Council) took a lot of questions and tried very hard to understand where all of us advocates were coming from. In the course of answering questions, she referenced the importance of crisis mapping and that problems in the DRC needed to be addressed, but our group did not get any LRA questions in really.
  • Esther Brimmer (Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the State Department) talked primarily about the UN, saying that the U.S. needed to not just support peacekeeping mandates but also to ensure they had viable plans. She referenced the UN’s role in Côte d’Ivoire and the Human Rights Council. She dodged a question about the LRA, probably because it wasn’t really in her job description. However, she did say that witness protection was a priority, which it definitely needs to be. When asked how to face opponents to UN funds, she reiterated the importance of sharing the burden of peacekeeping around the world.

Originally, myself and two others were supposed to meet with Jon Carson, the director of OPE, to express a little bit of urgency about the President’s LRA Strategy. That got cancelled at the last minute, and I ended up joining everyone for a self-guided tour through the East Wing! From there we split up for lunch before reconvening, and then the following people spoke:

  • Mark Doms (Chief Economist, Department of Commerce) gave a prolonged talk about the current recession, replete with pretty graphs and humorous interludes. Talking points included European debt problems, international uncertainties in the global market, and dependence on foreign fuel.

    Plouffe taking questions

  • David Plouffe (Senior Advisor to the President), also former campaign manager for the Big O, talked a lot about how to move forwards, shifting between calling himself a progressive but also mentioning the importance of balancing budgets. He took questions for a long time, and when asked what President Obama wanted his foreign policy legacy to be, he speculated that it would be ending the war in Iraq, giving AfPak the attention it needed, reestablishing the U.S. leadership role, and non-proliferation (a la START). In short, a “cleaner and safer planet.”
  • Alexia Kelley (Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) talked about her office’s work across the country and ways to partner with the government in communities. It’s also worth noting that during this segment I slipped out to use the restroom and upon my return I passed the First Dog, Bo. It was pretty legit.
  • Brad Cooper (Director, Joining Forces) talked about the launch of his program, which is a support system for military families and is definitely going to be getting bigger.
  • Anne Filipic (Deputy Director, OPE) emphasized the importance of taking our experiences home and spreading the word about the White House’s outreach programs. OPE is holding all sorts of round tables and focus groups across the country to get a better idea of what exactly people are wanting to see from the presidency, which is a pretty great effort. She also referenced ways to connect with the White House via technology.

    Carson taking questions

  • Jon Carson (Director, OPE) didn’t meet with me privately, but instead came to talk to everyone, which was pretty cool. Referencing the small size of OPE, he called on individuals to act as conduits for making sure people in the communities’ voices were heard. When asked about the LRA by one of our own, he said that building networks was an imperative, and called on involving diaspora groups (which I have always been on the fence about, given a majority of them’s contempt for Museveni). When we challenged him to get a strategy going, though, he seemed to take to heart that advocates like us really want to see the Executive Branch give a little and get some skin in the game. He later referenced that, when it came to cuts in the budget, community activism was the key to keeping money where it was needed the most.

As the White House event closed up, one of my fellow advocates – a child psychologist in Kentucky that works in Uganda rehabilitating former child soldiers through art – presented Jon Carson with letters and a drawing made my children addressed to President Obama. Carson assured her that he would pass them along, which is great news.

In the aftermath of the event, we congregated outside the White House and a few of us did interviews with Ricky from Discover the Journey, who was filming a short segment on Resolve’s work at the White House. I did my little part, and also hung out with some great people by the gate.

And that was my day at the White House. It was a pretty neat experience, and it was great to be surrounded by such a great group of advocates. Not all of the speakers were great, but the briefing overall was wonderful. Thanks go to Resolve for the invite and to Citizens for Global Solutions were setting up the briefing in the first place and for hosting a neat workshop the following day at their offices.

From Promise to Peace

A few months ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  It was a piece of legislation that I had spent almost a year pushing for through local lobbying and organizing.  I think most of you can remember my excitement when the House finally passed the bill. In total, I attended seven or eight lobby meetings and made dozens of phone calls before it was finally passed.

Three months later, it looks like I’m back at it.  Included in the law was a mandate that, in 180 days, the Obama administration draft a strategy of how the United States would assist in apprehending the LRA leader Joseph Kony.  Upon signing the bill into law, the President stated that the U.S. was dedicated to this mission.  Soon after, Secretary of State Clinton said much the same thing.  Since then, not a word – and there’s only 70 days left.

Resolve Uganda is about to launch a campaign to keep pressure on the Obama administration from putting together a piecemeal strategy.  If this law is going to do anything, it needs to be a comprehensive plan.  Last week I met with the District Director at Rep. Harry Mitchell’s office and urged my representative in the House to state that he would read and review the strategy.  I’m trying to muster some support for an end-of-month meeting at the office of my former representative, Jeff Flake.  Hopefully, we can keep the pressure on or else this year of lobbying will have amounted to little.


Big news for my friends in Oklahoma and across the country, as well as for us here in Arizona.

On March 9th, 41 days after he put a hold on the bill and 262 hours after activists began camping outside of his district office, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma released his hold on the bill.  Just a few hours later, it passed the Senate with unanimous consent.  The compromise they reached was pretty simple – changed some language to make it more direct that the $40M would be offset and not add to the deficit.  Coburn sticks to his principle, we stick to ours.  So, so excited to see this go through the upper house.  Now we just need to turn to the House of Representatives, where we only have 162 co-sponsors so far.

Speaking of which, here’s the personal victory.  In June my friends met with Representative Harry Mitchell’s staff in DC.  I’ve met with his staff twice here in Tempe.  After all of this, my friend Kristi met him at a fundraiser and mentioned the bill – he said he had never heard of it.  Demoralized, I sent a few follow-up e-mails to his staff and voila!  He co-sponsored yesterday!  I’m such a happy camper right now.  Nationally, we passed the bill in the Senate and my friends in Oklahoma managed to do the unthinkable.  Locally, a few good friends and myself put this obscure African bill on the desk of our representative and convinced him to put his name on it.  It’s a good day for activism.

I want to leave you with a little evidence of how commited people are.  The circles are the homes of people who ended up in Oklahoma City for 262 hours in the rain.

The Hold Out came from all over! (Picture by Rachel Bryan)

Let’s All (go to the) Lobby

In the passed week I have been doing some footwork for the Bill around these parts.  Hopefully it’ll amount to something.

Good news is, the Bill passed committee in the Senate a long time ago and has been hotlined to pass unanimously. Bad news is, Sen. Tom Coburn decided that he didn’t want it to pass, despite the 61 co-sponsors in the Upper House marking the most widely supported Africa-related legislation in modern US history.  In the House, I’m still trying to get a few co-sponsors in the East Valley.

Jeff Flake, strong fiscal conservative and lover of Africa, is my number one target. I met him personally in DC and have been to his district office twice.  He supports our efforts, but has yet to support the bill.  I’m trying to wrap my head around that one, but hopefully he’ll get passed the $30 million for recovery and c0-sponsor it already.

Harry Mitchell, Blue Dog Democrat, is my actual Representative in Congress.  I have been to his offices twice and his staff is super-supportive, but he has yet to help us out.  He’s not in a place of high power for this bill (He’s on the Veterans Affairs Committee, whereas Flake is on the Africa Subcommittee) but any support is good support.  All of the other Democratic Representatives in Arizona have co-sponsored, so I’m hoping he will hop on the bandwagon and get to co-sponsoring.

In the mean time, I’m gearing up for a couple weeks of awareness work at ASU.  I’m rounding up all of our shirts and Erin just sent me a fresh box of trendy hats.  I’ll be putting an order for tote bags in soon, and hopefully we can decorate those in time for the big screenings.  Regardless, we’re hoping for two big turn-outs before Spring Break.  And, for those of you not in the area, you should track down a nearby event!  One of my favorite invisible children, Jacob, the former child soldier from Rough Cut, is headed up to the Pacific Northwest. My good friend Seth is traveling with wise old Norman across the South. Boni, one of the boys living under Lacor hospital in 2003 is going across the Great Lakes region. And New England is home to Innocent, the night commuter from the white bracelet video. And that’s just a few of the great people on tour this spring!  I am so, so stoked for this national tour.  It promises to be super-exciting.

Making History

For the past few weeks I’ve been pestering Senator Jon Kyl’s legislative aide, Peter, about the senator’s co-sponsorship of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  A couple of weeks ago, he assured me that Kyl had co-sponsored (something he rarely does), but we had no proof.  I bugged him again. Yesterday, he told me it was officially reported to Senator Russ Feingold’s office (one of the two original sponsors).  I was elated! And I was even more elated to hear this. In short, Kyl was the bill’s 51st co-sponsor in the Senate, making this the first sub-Saharan Africa-related bill to be supported by a majority of the Upper House since at least 1973 (maybe even earlier, that’s as far back as electronic records go).  Four senators got together to announce this landmark, showing unprecedented bipartisan support. If you’re interested, you can find some good excerpts from their announcement on Feingold’s site here.  The support in the Senate is great, but we’ve still got a ways to go:

Bad news is, the bill already would have passed the Senate if it wasn’t for one fiscal conservative. A while back, Senators Feingold and Brownback hot-lined the bill for passage, meaning it would automatically get 100 yeas unless a senator specifically blocked it. Right before the deadline, an anonymous hold was put on the bill. We now know that Senator Coburn is standing in the way of the best chance to end the longest-running war in the most conflict-heavy continent. In addition to that, the House is stalling.  150 representatives have co-sponsored, but we’ll keep pushing.  I’m trying to set up meetings with Mitchell’s and Flake’s district offices, so we’ll see. Got to keep fighting the good fight!

Against All Odds

So, I’ve been a part of Invisible Children for several years now. But even before then, I have always been a big fan of the 60s.  I’ve always wanted to make a big impact but could never figure out how. Sure, the 60s look fun and impacting but they didn’t make any kind of direct influence on what was going on. Protests prevented escalation but the Vietnam War ended because Nixon (and Johnson) made mistakes. With Invisible Children, my goal has always been to directly influence what’s going on and really make a difference.  Is it possible?  Why wouldn’t it be possible?

Right now, I’m diving headlong into the We Want Obama campaign along with the work I’ve been doing over the passed six months to get the Bill through Congress.  What does all of that mean?  Well in May I e-mailed the heck out of McCain’s district outreach lady – she is not so good at her job. From there I went to Washington in June and met with staffers from the offices of McCain, Kyl, and Flake (Rep. Flake himself made a pleasant, positive appearance at that meeting that was a great boost for all of us!). When I got home I went to a meeting with Rep. Mitchell’s district outreach staffer, who was very nice and encouraging. All of these meetings went really well and gave me a sense of success.

None have co-sponsored the Bill.

So, I’m redoubling my efforts. I’m e-mailing every person I’ve met with in person and telling them my story, giving them my point of view. Arizona has two Congressmen who have co-sponsored, so I’m going to tell them thank you and ask them to bug their colleagues. I’m promoting the We Want Obama campaign which is a petition – which you all should sign at – to achieve something the 24-year war hasn’t seen: a sitting American President to make a public statement about the LRA. I’m not going after him because he’s a Democrat. I want him to do something because he is the President of the United States. The Bill I mentioned would make him do something too. It would be wonderful if the two went through by the year’s end.

I know what most people say when I rant about this. Why this cause? Yes, I do have my opinions on Iraq and healthcare and prayer in schools and immigration. Yes, I know that the children and schools here are suffering to – I want to be a teacher specifically to help them. But why does it have to be one or the other? Why couldn’t a person advocate for a better life both abroad and at home? I do my community service to help Arizona in one club at school, I raise money and awareness of a war in Africa in another. I am majoring to help give American students an education, but I’m also studying why conflicts occur in hopes of stopping them. So I’ve taken November as a fresh start and am contacting everyone I need to contact.

To my readers: go sign the Citizen’s Arrest Warrant at or learn about the Bill at

To my elected representatives: watch out! I’m writing e-mails and making calls and setting up meetings!

Here’s to everything working out.