Until a few days ago, 99% of the world did not know the name of Joseph Kony.
Two years ago, I bought a T-shirt from Invisible Children. I watched a 90 minute film that left my arms pimpled with goosebumps and tears on my cheeks. I felt that tug of inspiration in my gut as I listened to stories of strong young men and women who had lived through hell and then made meaning by telling their stories.
I helped to bring Invisible children to my college campus. I organized an event with my housemates of the Activism for Social Change house, and I was lit up by the faces of those young spokespeople. I was moved, but I didn’t do enough.
Now, after careful planning and expert use of media tools, the Invisible Children NGO is making a war criminal into a celebrity. They are practicing impressively effective Digital Activism–bringing together billions of facebook users and working to inform them beyond the surface levels we have become far too accustomed to. They have involved the voices of the world most listened to–combining political power with the culture-made royalty of celebrity. They have used cyberspace to bring people together in person.
Of course, many criticize this movement. Memes have popped up on newsfeeds with mocking statements…. (see below)
Many have claimed that the video is a ridiculous attempt to explain an issue too complex to condense into 30 minutes. They criticize the consumerism of the movement–pointing to the sale of “hip” t-shirts by the organization and the money spent on the high-quality viral video itself. They assert that viewers are not doing their own research–leading to biased information and skewed opinions.
These arguments are valid. It’s true, no nonprofit organization is perfect. No campaign message is without bias. It is nearly impossible to motivate people without some appeal to material goods. We live in a culture where “credit” for what we support and acknowledgement of what we believe in is necessary. This is why facebook has become so ubiquitous in the first place. We like being able to show our stories. Though the criticisms of Kony 2012 are admittedly legitimate (ideally we would all stay completely informed on our own) they are slowing the progress of a well-designed and amazing movement.
The leaders of Invisible Children recognize that they cannot paint a full picture in 29 minutes of film. They encourage all who watch to do their own research and to find their own way to become involved in a global issue. But they also understand that in the digital age of individualism and time poverty, most will not want (or be able) to make these extra efforts. They understand that making the issue a front-page news story that cannot be blocked out by the blinders of fast-paced lives is the only way change will be made.
Like Obama’s 2008 campaign, Invisible Children has recognized that we do care. Unlike those who criticize the viral video, they want to give people a path to make a difference. They understand the need to meet us where we stand.
I am in awe of this movement, and I hope that in the coming months it will continue to grow. I believe that the formula developed by the organization is well-designed and can only hope that it will be effectively carried out.