“Kony 2012” is the most viral video in history according to Time Magazine. The 30-minute video was viewed 79,927,048 times in the first seven days that it had been on YouTube. The video, which has gained extreme popularity among college audiences, hasn’t gone unnoticed by Cobbers. However, responses to the campaign are mixed across campus.
The video, created by the nongovernment organization Invisible Children out of San Diego, Calif., seeks to raise awareness about and bring to justice Joseph Kony, who, on their website, they call the “world’s worst criminal.” Kony is the leader of the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army out of Northern Uganda, which Invisible Children cites as having abducted more than 30,000 children and displacing at least 2.1 million people in it’s 26-year history.
While U.S. military advisors are already in central Africa working to find and detain Kony, Invisible Children claims they are on a “‘time-limited’ mission…if Kony isn’t captured this year, the window will be gone.”
The NGO hopes that by making Kony famous, or infamous, enough people will contact their political leaders to keep the US support in Africa and eventually capture Kony.
To do this, Invisible Children is encouraging its supporters to buy a “kit” for $30 that contains buttons, bracelets, stickers and posters in order to continue raising awareness about Joseph Kony.
These posters are set to be plastered across cities around the world on April 20 of this year. The event, which is being referred to as “Cover the Night,” will also be taking place on Concordia’s campus, and the Facebook event “COBBER COVER THE NIGHT – KONY 2012” currently has 103 students declared to be attending.
Freshman Bethany Tompkins, who created the event, said that she did so because she really wanted other people to be aware of this issue and wanted to become more involved on campus. It’s an issue she is passionate about, and she wants to see Kony brought to justice.
“I believe the first step in ending this violence in Africa is spreading awareness, and that’s what Kony 2012 is all about,” she said. “Yes, awareness itself will not solve all of the problems, but it is a fantastic way for us in America to help out in a small way.”
She also feels as though fighting for this cause fits well with Concordia’s theme statement of becoming responsibly engaged in the world.
“I think it is important, not just as Concordia students, but as people in general to take time to research and support causes outside or in our community,” Tompkins said.
Rebecca Klein, a junior at Concordia, supports Kony 2012 and is set to be attending the Cover the Night event.
“Things have already been put into place, but there’s still more to do,” Klein said. Klein went on to say that she’s known about the war going on in central Africa for a while now, but finally feels as though she can get involved and do something because of the focused nature of this campaign.
More importantly, Klein feels as though becoming involved with this effort gives students a chance at having the power to change something.
“Kony isn’t like Stalin or other big names that we know are ‘bad guys,’ and it should be,” Klein said. “It’s a lot easier for him to do what he does when nobody knows about him.”
However, Klein believes that “nothing’s black and white,” and understands that not everyone agrees with Kony 2012.
In fact, Invisible Children has undergone a considerable amount of scrutiny since launching “Kony 2012,” including criticisms for its distribution of finances, emphasis on awareness as opposed to action, oversimplified message, their propagation of the “white man’s burden,” and the fact that Kony is no longer in Uganda and hasn’t been for six years.
This critical effort was spearheaded by the blog “Visible Children,” written by Grant Oyston, a college student in Canada. However, other sources have recently begun critiquing the efforts of the NGO, including Ugandan journalist Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama, who says that to “call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement” and that the campaign is “disempowering” to African voices.
“While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era,” said Izama in her online essay “Stop #Kony2012: Invisible Children’s campaign of infamy.” Instead, Izama argues that today’s true invisible children are those suffering from “Nodding Disease,” an incurable condition affecting over 4000 children in central Africa.
In addition, on March 11 Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell was found “masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and possibly under the influence of something,” according to the San Diego Police Department. For an organization already under examination, this recent development does not appear to be helping their cause.
In response to the recent attacks on “Kony 2012,” Invisible Children released this statement on their website:
“Credibility in the eyes of policymakers, fellow non-profit workers, LRA-affected communities, and YOU is our most important asset, so we would like to encourage you, if you have critiques, to get specific: find facts, dig deeper, and we’ll gladly continue the conversation from there. If encountering something you disagree with, suggest an alternative to what we are doing–and we will absolutely take heed. If it’s a matter of opinion, taste, humor, or style: we apologize, and will have to agree to disagree. … Let’s focus on what matters, and what we DO agree on: Joseph Kony needs to be stopped.”
“Regardless of Invisible Children’s policies, where the LRA is currently located in Africa, or any other criticism surrounding Kony 2012, this is an injustice that needs to stop,” she said.
These criticisms do have some would-be supporters worried though, including English professor Amy Watkin.
Watkin has seen the effects of war first-hand on the May seminars she leads to Rwanda. She is also the planning committee chair of the 2012 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium, “Beyond Genocide: Learning to Help and Hope,” but she is hesitant about declaring her own support for the Kony 2012 movement.
“I get excited any time Africa is in the news, and then I get wary and defensive,” she said. “The news about Africa is almost exclusively negative.”
She went on to comment about the explosion of support for 2012 maybe speaks to the attitude of the Millenial generation. A sort-of “here’s a problem, let’s fix it” mentality.
“The danger comes when we help with more pity than empathy,” she said.
What concerns Watkin the most is what she calls, “slactivism,” the idea that “I clicked on Facebook, therefore I’m a good person.”
“When people are dying, what is enough?” Watkin asked.
Instead of Facebook and Twitter campaigns to help out the people of central Africa, Watkin argues, “The best thing we could do is hand them a microphone.”
While Watkin doesn’t discourage Concordia students from joining the Kony 2012 efforts, she advises them to use their critical thinking skills and make sure they aren’t just going into it because it’s the popular thing to do. However, Watkin argues that even if students are just doing it to follow the crowd, it could still have very positive effects.
“I always think it’s exciting to see people helping each other. Maybe a student gets involved with this now and, 10 years from now, something bubbles to the surface that brings that full circle.”
However, for students such as Tompkins and Klein, this is the chance to make a difference that they’ve been waiting for.
“For me, I really think this is a great cause to be a part of,” Tompkins said. “Even if people aren’t riding the Kony 2012 campaign bus for the long haul, this should at least open their eyes to issues and crimes worldwide.”
“I frequently tell students ‘you don’t have to care about this, but you have to care about something,”’ Watkin said. “Whether [Kony 2012] is doing it correctly or not, at least they’re doing it.”
Kate Campbell, class of ’13, is the copy editor of The Concordian and is majoring in English education. She is from Sauk Rapids, Minn. At Concordia, Kate is involved in choir and band and works at the Writing Center. After graduation, Kate would like to teach English in a middle or high school.