Why I Support the KONY 2012 Video (And Why I Think Some Are Missing The Point)

Published March 7, 2012 by Teresa

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.

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10 comments on “Why I Support the KONY 2012 Video (And Why I Think Some Are Missing The Point)

  • You make some excellent points, Teresa. I’m glad to see you speaking up about how charity is not just about money, and its certainly not the new “cupcake” on the Hipster Trend List. I used to love Heifer International because the concept of a sustainable gift is great. Then I found out something about it that just didn’t sit well with me. So I stopped donating to that charity. I didn’t try to tell everyone about the evils of it, because it’s not evil. The idea is still a good one, it works, and it has spawned similar charities like it that also do good work. If you don’t think that a charity is sparkly enough to give your money to, then don’t. If it’s still a cause that you support, then find another way to support it – by donating to another charity, by volunteering with another charity, by spreading the word of the cause in general, but writing letters to elected officials…Having said that, I have to admit that I haven’t seen this video and don’t know the specifics of it or the charity or why it’s supposed to be so shady. I can say that there are plenty of other charities out there who do good work in these ignored regions of the world (International Rescue Committee is a favorite of mine), so a bit of shadiness on behalf of one organization is not reason enough to forget the general cause. You can look for a reason and a way to help (with or without money), or you can look for a reason and a way to avoid helping.

    • Exactly. Everything you said. With the addition that what I like about this particular campaign (which I’m thinking of separately from the organization that spawned it) is that it has a clear goal that people can rally behind. It’s like, Step One: Find Kony. Step Two: Everything Else. But so often activism doesn’t have this kind of specificity, and I think it should. I think the large problems should be broken down into smaller problems so that we can work our way through the list, as opposed to starting with the nearly insurmountable goal first. Because usually, the things that make a problem insurmountable are the little things that keep it propped up.

  • It is actually true that the LRA hasn’t been active in Uganda since 2006. They entered into peace talks with the government in 2006 and when those fell apart the LRA left Northern Uganda and crossed the border into southern Sudan (Darfur) and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Mokombo massacre in early 2009 happened in the DRC, not Uganda. It was in response to an attack on Kony’s camp in the DRC in late 2008 — an attack that was planned by US military advisors and bungled by the Ugandan army. The US has actually been involved in an advisory capacity for years. The “advisors” that Obama is sending now are like the “advisors” LBJ sent to Vietnam — not advisors at all, but operational special forces troops.

    A few other objections:

    1. The government of Uganda, which the US is currently helping to hunt Kony, has also used child soldiers. The LRA committed atrocities against some Ugandan civilians, but the government arguably did greater damage by treating all civilians in the area like rebels and rounding them up to put them in concentration camps. The Ugandan army also commited atrocities against civilians. The video glosses over what kind of people it wants us to get in bed with.

    2. America’s aid to Uganda against the LRA probably has less to do with humanitarian concerns and more to do with the fact that Uganda is a key ally in the War on Terror. We got a lot of Ugandan soldiers killed stopping Muslim extremists from taking control of Somalia a few years back. Helping a brutal government get rid of its brutal rebels is a debt we’re paying, not an altruistic mission.

    3. The video is completely uncritical of the fact that Uganda’s hunt for Kony inside the DRC might be seen as military aggression against its neighbor, and could lead to a new conflict between Uganda and the DRC. By trying to funnel more American money into the hunt for Kony, the makers of the video are essentially asking us to fund and advise Uganda in a military aggression against its neighbor, and there’s no guarantee they’ll stop when they get Kony. Since militias in the DRC also use child soldiers, more children are potentially being endangered.

    4. Americans often get involved in problems in Africa without really understanding the nuances of the situation. This can have tragic results — 6 million people died when President Clinton attempted to intervene in a revolution in Zaire/DRC in the ’90s. If Kony gets desperate, or militias in the DRC are antagonized by Uganda’s increasingly US-funded violations of its territory, we could be reponsible for that sort of thing again.

    5. This video is entirely about putting pressure on the US government to help find Kony and says nothing about putting diplomatic pressure on the Ugandan of DRC governments to make the search a priority (only 2,000 Ugandan troops are currently taking part in operations against the LRA). In other words, it is the job of former colonial powers to rescue Africa from itself — an approach that smacks of colonialism.

    None of this is to say that it wouldn’t be nice to get that sadistic fuck Kony for all the terrible things he did. It’s just that we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much if we do get him. For your average Ugandan, it’s a bad situation all around — even if we don’t mess up and make it worse, just getting Kony isn’t going to improve it very much.

    Here are some good articles if you want to get some perspectives beyond what is in the video:

    http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136673/mareike-schomerus-tim-allen-and-koen-vlassenroot/obama-takes-on-the-lra?page=2
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-deibert/joseph-kony-2012-children_b_1327417.html
    http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/03/07/stop-kony-yes-but-dont-stop-asking-questions/

    • Thanks for all the resources and for making these points – a lot of which I agree with. A couple of things:

      1) I definitely misread my friend’s comment, or I would’ve specified. I read what he wrote as “they haven’t been active.” And what I was trying to say is that they’re still active, they’ve just moved.

      2) Yes, the U.S. has already been involved to varying degrees. What the video is arguing for, however, is making this a priority.

      3) It’s not just about Americans – and that’s something I think you (and possibly others) are missing, too. A big point of the video, one I like, is the fact that this isn’t about “Americans getting involved.” It’s about the WORLD getting involved and making this a priority. It’s also not about solving all of Uganda’s problems. It’s about getting the world behind this one objective. And if we can do that, we can do so many other things. In a way, I see it as a reinforcement of what’s already starting to happen. Organizing by average people on a global scale. It’s not about colonialism, because this video could just as easily inspire people in India, in Egypt, in Uganda itself. It’s not only about getting our country involved, but getting people in other countries to get THEIR governments involved, and letting people in Uganda (those with internet, anyway) know that the world is rallying behind them, perhaps inspiring those in Uganda who thought themselves in a hopeless situation that they can do something to rally their own government, because the world has their back.

      This video isn’t about the US swooping in and saving the day. It’s about the inter-connectivity of the world, and how we have to start thinking that way in order to solve problems.

      4) Everything is motivated by self-interest down to doing something nice for the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives you. This doesn’t surprise me, nor is it a reason not to do something to help.

      5) So, governments should only intervene in countries with governments who haven’t committed human rights violations? ‘Cause, it’s likely that any government like that doesn’t need anyone to step in.

      You bring up a lot of valid concerns, and no one is saying that capturing Kony is going to end the troubles in Uganda, just like killing Osama Bin Laden didn’t stop terrorism. But it’s a start. And it sends a message. And this video and the actions it will likely inspire also send a message. That people are willing to speak up and rally their governments to action all over the world. Ultimately, that’s why I support the video and the campaign if not the organization behind it (which I still don’t know enough about one way or the other).

    • Also, I just read the HuffPo piece you linked to, and while I think it’s awesome that the writer provides historical context:

      1) He’s assuming that those who made the video don’t know that history, or that everyone watching it doesn’t know that history. He talks about people encouraging governments to “blindly” support Uganda, and that’s not what the video’s asking at all. It doesn’t even say we have to help the Ugandan government. It says that IC and the US HAVE helped in Uganda. I would assume that our military gets better information than any small non-profit. The goal is to get Kony wherever he is. Perhaps that means working with another government. Or putting more focus on Darfur to kill two birds with one stone.

      2) And that’s the thing. It’s not the average person’s job to come up with the solutions. That’s what we elect governments for. What IS our job is to stay informed and speak up about the things we want and don’t want. It’s our job to vote with our ballots, our money, our time, and our voices. I love how people are criticizing this video for not doing things it isn’t its job to do in the first place.

      3) The director who made this video has ALSO been to and worked in Uganda several times. If this HuffPo writer is going to point fingers about “well-meaning” White people visiting Africa and thinking they’ve learned everything about it…? Um, pot? Meet, kettle. You know what to do.

      4) Once again, we see this attitude of “if someone is naive enough to think they can solve a problem, they clearly don’t have all the information.” Or, “they don’t really understand the intricacies of the situation.” Because, of course, the more you know about something, the less likely you’ll want to get involved. After all, it’s just smarter to stay out of it, right? Because seriously, of all the criticism I’ve read that discusses what shouldn’t be done, no one’s proposed what should.

      I’m not interested in what we can’t do, I’m interested in what we can.

      The video has a clear focus, true. It’s not an hour and a half-long documentary on all of Uganda’s troubles. That’s not its job. It’s a 20-something minute piece about one facet of the problem. The facet that can rally the most support. Because the fact is, Kony is a great “gateway rallying point” for people. Once they care about that, it’s easier for them to start caring about the intricacies. Put a history book or article in front of people, and they’ll glaze over. One thing at a time.

      It’s already been effective in gaining press attention, which is only going to cause the video to circulate more.

  • The other thing that bothers me a little bit is the nature of the “experiment” they are running. You could say that the experiment is to see if an Internet social network happening can put out a hit on an individual and have it carried out by the end of the year.

    Don’t get me wrong, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. But it’s still a little disturbing. Because all that stuff in the video about Kony being led away in handcuffs is bullshit. This is going to end with US special forces shooting Kony in the head (we’re not going to trust the Ugandans to do it after they messed up in ’08) or with US drone aircraft bombing Kony’s camp, with dozens of collateral casualties. We should all be clear on that when we go put up stickers.

    That being said, I am going to put up stickers — not because I think this will solve Uganda’s problems but because at least it will be one less problem. I’m not giving money to Invisible Children, however. If I do decide to give money, there are grassroots organizations in Uganda that are doing more good and I’m going to give my money to them.

  • Teresa i think you are missing a huge point..
    This is not about America or the western World, its about the Acholi people. The Acholi people saw this video and got very angry, I was present.

    The video is emotionally manipulative and highly patronizing to the Acholi people.

    Thirdly America knew all about Kony years ago..President Bush was always in Uganda during that time..why was nothing done??

    Fourth this campaign came out the exact week news of oil production were introduced in Uganda…coincidence, right??

    5th Kony has not been active for 7 years..any other attacks you are mentioning , I suggest you do a serious background check on them and remember this is Africa , Kony is not the only threat.

    For God and my country

    • Tina, sorry I’ve been so late in responding. I’ve been bad about checking my comments! Thank you so much for your comment and for your perspective. I would be very interested in hearing exactly why this video made the Acholi angry, because I don’t know. Is it that this is “too little too late”? Or is it simply because it was done by outsiders? I’m very curious, and would like to know specifically how this is patronizing.

      As for it being “emotionally manipulative,” it’s supposed to be. It’s a video that’s designed to call people to action. It’s propaganda in a positive way. It isn’t enough to tell people (certainly not in the U.S.) dry facts and expect them to do anything about anything. The success of this video, for me, was effectively tapping into people’s emotions and inspiring them to find out more, or do something.

      I think you’re tying the efforts of this one non-profit to the actions of our government in a way that isn’t accurate. You’re right, our government has known about Kony for years and done nothing. That’s why this organization made this video. This entire Kony 2012 effort is an attempt to petition our government to take action in this matter, starting with Kony, symbolically, but not stopping there. It comes from a place of believing that our world is interconnected. That no group of people in any part of the world should have to suffer on their own. But as for Bush or news of oil production, the actions of this small organization has nothing to do with any of that. There would be no interest for a group like Invisible Children to have this come out to coincide with news of oil production in Uganda. That would require them to be working very closely with our government, which they are not. If anything, a criticism of the group here is that they are getting involved when President Obama has already made this a priority. If anything, IC is seen by many as ineffectual.

      Lastly, and again, as I said this throughout my entire post, neither I, nor this video, claims that capturing Kony will be the solution to all of Uganda’s, or Africa’s problems. It is one of many steps. Remember that this video was not made for the Acholi. It was made as a message to people here, to make them aware and to get them involved in petitioning the government. Because, as you say, our government has done very little in the past. And that is a mistake. This video is an attempt to gather people to convince the government of this mistake. If the video is offensive, I’m sure it’s not intentional, and I would encourage you, and anyone who feels the way you do to do their best to explain why it’s offensive, so the same mistakes aren’t made over and over.

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