For about a week now, my Facebook feed has been flooded with comments, articles and of course videos concerning the KONY 2012 campaign created by Invisible Children. I will give my two cents on why I do support the message of the campaign, why I think it has been successful and also why I think that this really is social activism, despite what demotivational posters and cynics say. It is a powerful video that they’ve created, it strikes a chord with bombastic music, large crowds of young, active people caring about a conflict far far away. It features a villain, a few knights in shining armor, a vulnerable and innocent blonde child, and a child that’s been through hell and gets recognition and friendship along the way. It is extremely compelling. And I also get why people are torn and passionate about the issue. And why demotivationals like this have been created:
However, 2 weeks ago, very few people around the world knew who Joseph Kony was, and had even less information on what he had actually done, he’s been on the top of the International Criminal Court’s list since 2005 together with his top generals. Before that, and since, he’s destroyed the lives of countless families and children for the sake of, nothing. But this unawareness has changed (one simple example is to look at how many edits the Wikipedia page has gotten lately). The same goes for General “Butt Naked” who people now use in regular conversation as an example for saying that Kony isn’t the worst. So what? They’re insanely horrible people and do deserve to be put to justice. The fact that people see a face that can represent the atrocities in central Africa is not just a simplification of a horrible conflict, it’s absolutely essential to make a larger populous care enough to contribute.
So far the KONY 2012 campaign has been immensely successful in getting their message out there. They have made Kony famous! As for the low level of aid that IC gives directly to Uganda? Their method is “awareness”, they even say so. A large portion of their budget is direct aid, a lot of the remaining money goes to production of the campaign, according to themselves. And for what it’s worth, they have displayed their balance (and replies to other critiques) on their website for all to see, as well as a response to some of the critiques that have arisen. Allying themselves with the Ugandan military is a very questionable choice, one that I can not support without knowing more about the region. It is in my perspective, their biggest weakness. Perhaps it is unavoidable, perhaps there are other methods. The thing is though, you now know about what is happening to children in Uganda, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. You now have a face of at least one of the most sought after criminals in the world. Can you honestly say that you knew anything about what was going on there a month ago? Now the video is being discussed and shared all over the world, debating solutions, mapping other criminals, calling for interventions, giving a guiding light to finding other aid organizations.
As for the “Seeing a 30 min video doesn’t make you a social activist!”, that’s just bullshit. There is no threshold that qualifies your activism to something “real”. Being a social activist nowadays IS as easy as sharing a video online for your friends. Making activism accessible is one of the reason that people still talk about the democratizing effects of the Internet. The picture most people have of social activism is the Amnesty International volunteers standing in the street corners making you sign a petition or donating $5 a month to their cause. Or the just-out-of-college student that takes a year in South America to work at a day care facility in Bogota. But social activism can be more than that, and so much less. Speaking of the Internet as a new phenomena is getting old, but the Internet does facilitate a discussion on these issues and does make it easier to contribute to causes you beleive in, without leaving your office chair or your bedroom.
In this way, KONY 2012 is both successful and an extremely important example of what social activism in the 21st century can be like.