Earlier last week on my way into the Thomson store, I tore down a flier.
This flier was for the screening of “Kony 2012,” a documentary created by the organization “Invisible Children.” This documentary should be screened on campus today.
It was only after tearing down the flier, which showed the merchandise that will be sold at the screening, writing some statistics on the back of it and then hanging it back up that I realized I was engaging in censorship – which is something I really do not support.
So, instead of continuing to tear down these fliers, I will explain my difficult and conflicting feelings about this documentary in a more constructive way.
Invisible Children is an organization dedicated to drawing attention and raising awareness of the Lord’s Resistance Army – a theocratic military group in Uganda, which is comprised of abducted children that are oftentimes abused, sexually assaulted and forced to kill their own families. Invisible Children calls for the U.S. to begin a military intervention in Central Africa in order to put an end to the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony.
The film, which is about 30 minutes long, was released and spread across the Internet in a virulent fashion, making its way across Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and various other social media websites in a matter of days.
As of March 24, the video has over 85 million views on Youtube.
In the film, the director and co-founder of Invisible Children, Jason Russell, details his experience in Uganda, learning about the LRA from survivors.
After people saw this film, it seemingly became a race not only to make others aware of Kony, but also to make others aware that they were aware of him. Facebook statuses shared the link to the film and called for action against this man’s diabolical behavior.
Conveniently, Invisible Children makes it known in their documentary that, to truly dedicate yourself to the cause, you can order an “action kit,” which contains posters, stickers, buttons and other publicity materials.
It costs thirty dollars. But to many, thirty dollars was a reasonable price to pay in order to “make Kony famous.”
People, mostly college students, began to organize rallies in their communities under the slogan, “Cover the Night.” People come together to rally against Kony in order to, yet again, raise more awareness.
It seems that people love to make other people aware of things. At the very least, they like to make people aware that they are aware of things and that other people should be aware of it, too. We feel if we make other people aware of something bad that is happening, maybe they will do something about it.
This is not to speak against awareness campaigns, but there is something to be said about this never-ending, ineffectual cycle. What, exactly, does raising awareness accomplish?
Unfortunately, awareness campaigns fall prey to what social psychologists would call “diffusion of responsibility,” which, in layman’s terms, is when the sense of responsibility to take action in a scenario is diffused amongst a group because “someone else will do it.”
What I can assure you is that funneling your money into “action packs” will do almost nothing to benefit the children of Uganda, and here is why.
According to Visible Children, an anti-Invisible Children blog, the company has spent only 33 percent of its $8 million dollars in spending on “direct services” – and by that, of course, they mean the children. This means that the thirty dollars you shell out from your small paychecks working as a student on or off campus or from your parents’ wallets may never even see the continent of Africa.
Invisible Children is also a fan of the Ugandan army: which is notorious for raping, pillaging and abusing civilians, according to Human Rights Watch Africa.
As if the financial disparities are not enough, we also have to confront the fact that some of the information within the documentary itself is not factual.
For example, Russell states that the LRA has over 3,000 children in its ranks. According to most documents it currently has around 250 and has not had thousands of children since 2007, if ever.
A quick Google search will show you how Russell has been reacting to the emergence of all these figures and criticisms of his campaign.
These are the things that make me completely and totally unwilling to support this organization. “But what about the children,” one might ask. How can I be so heartless as to call out an organization that is helping children no matter how much of it is being spent on paychecks, alcohol and trips to Sea World?
Let me make it clear that my outrage towards this campaign has nothing to do with my lack of desire to help people. Kony and the LRA are important things that people should know about.
However, I find myself disgusted that an organization that cannot even keep its books straight would target impressionable young people from middle-class environments, who feel deeply guilty about the misfortunes of others around the world and feed off of their guilt in order to make money to line their pockets.
I also am generally growing sick and tired of encouraging people to spread the word about things instead of taking charge themselves. Does Kony make you mad? Does the LRA make you mad? Go join the Peace Corps. Find a way to get involved in humanitarian efforts in Africa. Send your money to organizations that check out in terms of financial integrity. Do not support those that look only to harp on your guilt and privilege, acting as if they are some kind of savior that can only exist on your dollar.
There are some people who will continue to plaster up fliers and hash-tag their statuses and tweets, “#kony2012.” They will accuse those of us who acknowledge that charity organizations are by no means infallible or incapable of evil of “not caring about the children.”
Here is the cold hard truth, reiterated to you: charitable organizations, non-profits, and the like are by no means infallible or incapable of lying to the public. Invisible Children has clearly been called out on several occasions about being a little fishy. Be wise about the causes you send your money to. Check them out.
I do encourage everyone to go watch the documentary in order to learn about the situation in Uganda. I hope it makes you angry, and I hope it makes you want to inspire change.
I hope you go forth to inspire that change – because people at this university really do have that ability. I just hope you do it in ways that will really count.