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He’s the newest social craze. He has experience in the all-important area of leading a guerilla organization in a decades-long war. Accused of just about every human rights violation under the sun. Horrible with children. Enjoys long walks through the jungle and committing genocide.
Meet the new candidate for 2012: Joseph Kony.
On Feb. 20, 2011, the activist group Invisible Children uploaded a 30-minute documentary detailing the organization's plans to make the genocidal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a radical Christian militia that has waged a brutal war in Central Africa since 1987, famous throughout the world. The video is both a tragic reminder of the general naivety of Americans about what goes on in the world, and an inspiring call to arms. The organization hopes to rally people to provide donations and volunteer their time to the organization.
2012 stands for the group's goals. In 2012, the group wants to influence 20 pop-culture icons, and 12 policy makers in Washington to their cause.
While getting the attention of cultural icons is standard protocol for any activist movement, the 12 policy makers would not only give the movement political clout, but also put pressure on government officials to keep the U.S. military personnel currently training the Ugandan military to fight the LRA in the country. The fear is that a lack of public interest in the conflict would give the Obama administration an excuse to pull out of the little-known foreign mission, the most coverage of which seems to have come from Rush Limbaugh declaring it was an Obama war on Christians.
Through increased pressure on key policy makers in Washington, Invisible Children hopes to be able to keep the military mission in place until Kony is apprehended at the end of 2012. And if the amount of times “Kony 2012” has likely been posted on your Facebook account is any indicator, then a lot of people in Washington are in for an awakening.
The Internet has once again managed to do something that other mediums rarely seem to be able to do: Make young people care.
The video has already gathered 7 million views on YouTube, with the video drawing major traffic within the last two days, with everyone from the TV show "Glee" to Rihanna taking to Twitter to bring attention to the cause. Already today, major news organizations such as NPR and the Washington Post have posted stories on the video, remarking about how quickly the video has spread and generated interest in the movement. If you haven’t seen a post about it on your Facebook account, you probably don’t have a Facebook account.
The Invisible Children website offers the ability to donate funds, volunteer to spread the word, buy fancy T-shirts, bracelets or awareness kits. The funds are to support projects here in the states to projects in Central Africa, such as an early-warning system. On April 20, the group will “blanket the night” with thousands of posters in every major city in the U.S. overnight.
“The rest of the world will go to bed on Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters on every corner demanding justice,” says the video's narrator and a lead activist, Jason Russell.
He may not be actually running for president, but the current candidates could learn a thing or two from Kony’s impressive PR campaign. Indeed, I have seen more young people become committed to this movement in 24 hours than I have seen even talk about the presidential candidates in the year they’ve been running.
The movement has gathered some criticism. Today the new Tumblr “Visible Children” was launched criticizing Invisible Children’s use of funds. “Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32 percent went to direct services, with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that,” according to the site, which is calling for better charities to choose from.
There is also the feeling of skepticism and the usual feeling of indifference when it comes to charities and organizations related to Africa, a place some people feel is a dark hole where money and good intentions go to never come to fruit. Internet memes have sprung up around the internet mocking the video and people who have started pledging to it.
And of course, there’s the fact that Kony isn’t even in Uganda. People have been quick to point this out, and claim that Invisible Children is being misleading. In fact, Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, estimates that Kony is in the Central African Republic at the moment. But according to that group, the same military mission to Uganda that is being pushed in the video also applies to its neighbors, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic, subject to approval by those states. So while the video fails to mention action outside of Uganda, the help the U.S. military is offering to Uganda would still apply to its neighbors.
But the real measure of Kony 2012 is not that it is driving people to push for Kony’s arrest, or even its effectiveness in causing support for Invisible Children, but is the scale on which it has managed to attract young people to the cause, however naïve some of those people may be about actually solving the issue.
The overnight impact of Kony 2012 to the Internet can best be summed up by a friend of mine, Sarahlynn Thureson. “I thought this whole ‘Kony 2012’ thing was starting to get overrated, but now that I finally watched the documentary and understood what was going on, it really touched my heart. Children shouldn't have to fear their lives every day. That's awful. Kony 2012!”
Freeman Stevenson is a college student who spends his spare time at 2 a.m Googling random causes to be an activist for.