Posted by: beckydale | July 10, 2013

New Blog

At some point I may return to the short-lived Ilunga.

In the meantime please proceed to:

The Menace of the Years

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Posted by: beckydale | April 12, 2012

Panels and Priorities

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

*****

Admittedly, for someone as non-confrontational and debate-resistant as I, I do love a good panel. I love the open forum provided by panels; the chance to interact with publicly acclaimed “experts” in their field of knowledge and experience; the lively discussion between panelists and laypeople like myself taking up space in the audience. Panels can provide a healthy opportunity for constructive dialogue and the occasional position determinant. I appreciate them for the sheer novelty of having so many great minds collected in a single venue to trade thoughts and ideas and research.

Yesterday, my colleague sat on what was termed, but was clearly not intended to be (at least in the eyes of several of the panelists themselves), just such a panel. I would like now to discuss 3 things regarding this campaign – Kony 2012. Each of the following links will lead to a separate blog post for the sake of keeping the information organized and from getting overwhelming. Finally, due to the intense personal nature of the third point, I am temporarily keeping that private until I can devise a way of framing certain parts of my story. I appreciate your understanding in the meantime.

I: The Audacity of the Conversation

  • The viral video has launched a welcome amount of attention and even more welcome opportunity for dialogue about an issue that has long been suffocated by media and popular insistance upon focusing on no less worthy causes and topics as oil, a moral dilemma regarding Iraq, a Royal Wedding, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the  terror of the Rwandan genocide, and other such heralded events throughout the print and digital news. Yet even with this great opportunity I am baffled by the response I have experienced – on Facebook, on the news, and even among such esteemed colleagues as those who spoke yesterday on the panel to discuss “Kony 2012” at large.

II: Invisible Children in Context

  • The oversimplification presented in the video has led to an unnecessary and regrettable oversimplification of Invisible Children (and the campaign itself). Just as a panelist emphasized yesterday that we cannot discuss anything without the proper context, and we cannot compare cross-medium/cross-border/cross-conflict, etc. I would like to formally express that perhaps some context should be dedicated to the organization including its founding, the lessons its staff has learned over the years, and the realities that I experienced while working within those office walls.

III: The Evolution of the Activist

  • Lastly, the critical attacks have abandoned the central message of the video and have entered the realm of personal, exacerbating the generational gap that we experience. So as someone who has felt intentionally criticized over the past month for my youth, my inability to relate to the events in central Africa, and the white guilt/white savior complex I supposedly exude, I would like to share, for the first time in any public setting, my story in its entirety. This is why I am involved – from the moment I first learned about the conflict to the present-day, leaving nothing for want of detail except in the few select cases where it would be truly detrimental to include such things.
*****
These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 
Posted by: beckydale | April 12, 2012

II: Invisible Children in Context

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

*****

[Continued from Panels and Priorities]

II: Invisible Children in Context

I don’t want to speak on behalf of an organization for which I am no longer employed. But as a partner in this campaign, as a friend to many of the current staff and interns at Invisible Children, and as an enthusiastic former intern myself, I do feel the pain brought on by the narrow criticisms posed by everyone from the sixth-grader who has insider intelligence that Joseph Kony died in 2006 (I mean, like, do your research, guys!) to credible journalists whose articles I have often read while nodding in solemn agreement, trusting that they’ve done their homework, to academic “experts” who are quite knowledgeable on topics like the political realities of northern Uganda. I am pained by the lack of research and by the quick dismissal of this organization that has been and remains so closely linked to my identity and to the line of work in which I am currently involved.

But I must admit: Invisible Children has not been altogether diplomatic in their responses of late to some of the criticisms.

On the one hand, why should they be? I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course. The organization has always prided itself on its transparency and commitment to the input and guidance of the very people it is working to help. To work within the office is a very different experience than to exist in the outer ring fundraising/donating or supporting as a contact putting on a screening. In the San Diego headquarters, there is a life and energy that drives everyone to their limits day in and day out. There is a passion (a term I do not toss around lightly) for the task at hand that continually inspires the staff and class of interns. From the way everyone commits themselves to their jobs, it would seem as though this work is temporary – and in a way it is. There is just no way of knowing when the end date may be.

Invisible Children has come a long way since Jason, Laren, and Bobby first went to east Africa in 2003. The conceptual framework of the organization has changed. The means of achieving the ultimate goal have been reevaluated numerous times. The staff has undergone turnovers and additions as well as subtractions as the months roll by. Some plans were brilliant in their ingenuity but minimal in their results. Some ideas never quite lifted off the ground. Many times outcomes that were deemed “impossible” were inexplicably realized to the shock and awe of hundreds of thousands of people, including those working so hard to see the efforts produce the desired result.

I have often been in awe of this organization’s achievements, but even more of its ability to retain creativity, idealism, community, and cross-cultural appreciation. There is an almost religious fervor with which we all worked toward an end to the violence of Joseph Kony and the LRA. But the people who work at IC come from all walks of life. I no longer fit the generalized group of supporters that fall under the category of white, middle-class, Christian (likely Evangelical) and female with a modest, expendable budget and a heart for change and that elusive but ever-attractive goal of “world peace.” It is Invisible Children which launched me to where I am today, which has molded my identity, though not my full array of interests, and which continues to remain a source of information, entertainment, and faith in the resilience and power of honest creativity when used for good.

That is not to say that I have not questioned the organization. Many of my friends will likely recount instances when I have expressed intense frustration with IC’s poor communication, exploitation of my time, and assumed donation of my resources. Even as I graduated into an older, more critical, and more responsible adult these same assumptions about my dedication were placed on me and I would get genuinely hurt and upset by their self-assurance that I would bend over backwards to do everything to please them and to make their dreams reality. It’s simply untrue.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I welcome and admire the challenge that IC thrusts upon its supporters. I appreciate that my intelligence is not insulted, my abilities are not overlooked, and my autonomy is not disregarded. If anything all three are amplified to a level beyond my actual abilities. Yet after a point I can only fill so many thankless favors and take on so many menial and burdensome responsibilities before I feel under-appreciated and objectified. Inside the office in San Diego, such feelings rarely surface, such is the motivation that powers our work. But back in the world where fun and games are not an integral part of pure, difficult labor, it has become increasingly difficult to appreciate the same kind of all-or-nothing enthusiasm each day.

I have questioned some of the simplistic portrayals of the story I have researched nearly to the degree that the Invisible Children staff themselves have. I have questioned music choices in videos and cheap camera tricks to grab attention. I have rolled my eyes at some of the ludicrous ideas IC churned out to reach mass media and I have sat with my arms crossed as they propose truly preposterous thoughts for raising the profile of Joseph Kony on college campuses and in apathetic cities like mine. Most of all I have caught myself smacking my forehead as Invisible Children spokespeople unleash official statements laced in poetry, religious innuendo, and/or naive idealism. These people are brilliant, there’s no question. They are creative geniuses with an eye for photo, an ear for story, and a mind to link it all together in a concise, compelling narrative. They’ve done their research – much more than when they began working on the conflict – and they are sensitive with regard to the communities with which they work.

At the end of the day, they have achieved so much more than a series of flashy videos and some wicked tshirt designs. Invisible Children has successfully fostered a community in this age where “experts” debate the added value of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube – are we really as connected as we believe we are? or is that all illusion and we are in fact now more isolated than ever? Invisible Children cares for its supporters and its staff. There is an emphasis on personal connection, which is why I have time and time again multitasked writing a paper and printing dozens of flyers to promote an event on campus or convinced my clubmates that yes creating a Whip My Hair video is actually a good use of our time, despite it being so close to finals week. The roadies bond with their contacts (and I have been on both sides of that relationship), often keeping in touch long after tour has ended and the screening has passed. The Invisible Children support network is not malicious in its intent nor subversive in nature. It is an expression of pure untethered human desire for community being fulfilled. Critics would do well to identify this network as such and to bear that in mind as they continue to critique the organization.

I am not at liberty to speak about Invisible Children’s history nor about the enormous strides that the staff has taken since the group’s inception, but I would encourage these supposed experts to perhaps sift through a bit of Invisible Children’s backstory as much as these same experts are beginning to sift through the history of the conflict. I am not advocating for a sunny portrayal of Invisible Children in world media, and I certainly do not believe that they have acted infallibly over the years. They are at fault as much as other humanitarian organizations that the general public even today puts on pedestals. I simply ask that Invisible Children (and by extension, the campaign as a whole) not be subject to the same oversimplification that was present in the original Kony 2012 film, that its financial model be treated with respect and viewed through the appropriate lens – not what someone may believe to be the one and only way to spend charitable donations, and that its staff – particularly the most publicly visible – also be treated with the respect they deserve as humans and particularly as humans who have accidentally created a worldwide phenomenon that they could never have anticipated.

I condone further and continued research into the conflict and the elements that have brought it to its current iteration. I likewise condone further and continued research into the organizations that are a part of this media sensation. And I stress that in both cases, proper thorough research does take significant time and energy. A final conclusion or extensive evaluation on either, not to mention of the product campaign, will likely not come quickly; and that’s okay. I would hope we would all do a bit of soul-searching and fact-finding before coming to any kind of definitive position one way or another.

*****

Return to Panels and Priorities

Return to I: The Audacity of the Conversation

Continue to III: The Evolution of the Activist

*****

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

Posted by: beckydale | April 12, 2012

I: The Audacity of the Conversation

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

*****

[Continued from Panels and Priorities]

I: The Audacity of the Conversation

Kony 2012 is a dream come true in many ways. For the first time in 26 years, the western world is discussing en masse what has been termed by researchers and international experts “one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

The video certainly had its shortcomings, not least of which was a lack of emphasis regarding the LRA’s move from Uganda to South Sudan, DRC, and CAR. While I certainly noticed that the point was made – this is not, after all, a video about Uganda – I will not pretend that there was not a skewed amount of attention in the film dedicated to the people of Uganda for the simple reason that (as I stated previously) this is a conflict that was born in Uganda and has now crossed international borders. It would be impossible to put the conflict in proper context without referencing Uganda. Furthermore, the video highlights the story of Jacob – a Ugandan boy who inspired the work of Invisible Children and who today has been given multiple opportunities and outlets to share his story and that of the LRA with people all over the world. Uganda, even today in its state of relative peace and recovery, is not exempt from its connection with the Lord’s Resistance Army. The issue has not taken on a life of its own apart from Uganda – Kony and his LRA continue to foster the ideology upon which the conflict was founded, despite their geographical distance from their supposed objective.

Yet the conversation remains centered on Uganda for some reason. Even some of the esteemed panelists yesterday spoke of the peace in Northern Uganda. A delegate of the Ugandan Embassy, present at the panel, cheerfully pointed out that Uganda has been designated the #1 tourist destination in Africa. Having traveled to this beautiful country and immensely enjoyed the fierce pride, endearing quirks, and generous hospitality of its citizens, I am gladdened to hear that Uganda is getting some deserved recognition such as that. The fact remains, however, that the conversation glaringly ignores the three other countries in which the LRA is currently active.

By focusing largely on the post-conflict reconstruction in LRA-affected areas, the discussion effectively sidesteps the ongoing conflict that, I reiterate, extends across three countries to date. I respect the need to consider post-conflict resolution and reconstruction and were that point not being made among discussions of the conflict, I would certainly raise the point myself. What concerns me at present, however, is that the aggrandizement of the details surrounding post-conflict reconstruction have minimized the current and frankly more urgent need to focus on the ongoing conflict that continues to result in casualties, abductions, injuries, lootings, and general fear. In northern Uganda, in part thanks to smart reconstruction programs put in place by the government and largely as a result of the cooperation of northerners and southerners, peace is a tangible reality. This is a welcome development in the continuing history of the conflict, but it is not the end of the story. The conflict must be eliminated entirely AND reconstruction efforts must be made.

To focus primarily if not exclusively on post-conflict reconstruction is to accept the current state of violence elsewhere as acceptable and therefore unworthy of our concern. I apologize if that comes across as harsh or incorrect, but I have yet to hear a rebuttal to that statement which also concedes that the Lord’s Resistance Army must be stopped and which provides a viable plan for achieving that outcome. Typically the statistics referenced note the size of the LRA’s fighting force – estimated at a mere 150-500. Yet historically, the LRA has caused destruction far disproportionate to its size. It may be true that the size of the forces is far diminished from its peak several years ago, but diminished is not destroyed and I would much prefer that those few hundred fighters plus the accompanying girls/women and children be allowed to return home to their communities so that the focus can shift to solely post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Furthermore, journalists in valiant attempts to capture the opinions of the people discussed in the video and subjected to LRA violence have visited places like Kampala, Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, etc. – all towns in relatively peaceful Uganda – to conduct their interviews. While admirable, the efforts fall a bit short of their intended mission — by a few hundred miles at least. Certainly as referenced above, Uganda cannot be removed from the story of the LRA. Certainly the people of northern Uganda faced much more than their fair share of violence at the hands of Joseph Kony and continue to feel the repercussions of the conflict, not to mention a continual association with the violence thanks to groups like Invisible Children and to media outlets that contextualize the conflict by assigning a country as a source to springboard into a news piece.

But the views of the northern Ugandan Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative are, respectfully, far different from those of the communities in South Sudan, CAR, and DRC, who are facing violence or threat of violence at the hands of the LRA today, right now. These affected communities find themselves in such a position that they cannot rely on the institutions and frameworks in their respective countries to handle the LRA and thus have called on international help.

Though Kony’s refusal to cooperate during multiple peace talks has been widely documented by groups not limited to Invisible Children, Resolve, HRW, and the UN, I want to emphasize that none of these groups or institutions have removed peace talks from the list of options available to Joseph Kony. Simply put, any situation that can be considered “complex” likewise has no simple solution. And just as an esteemed panelist yesterday pointed out that conflicts must be evaluated within their own context, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, I do not believe that it is possible or prudent to completely ignore previous conflicts and action that has been taken therein. That would be akin to developing laws without referencing the historical or social landscape. We have to approach this conflict within the regional context of the four affected countries (culturally, politically, geographically, historically), taking into account previous conflicts that particularly gave rise to the Lord’s Resistance Army. We must also, through comparison with other researched rebel groups, approach the conflict within the context of the LRA itself as a guerrilla force. It is not quite like any other fighting force that we know of.

I was once a peace-promoting, tree-hugging, granola, pacifist hippie (see III: The Evolution of the Activist) who scoffed at military intervention and believed that approaching the entire situation with love in my heart and forgiveness on my lips and maybe a buck or two to get my African brothers and sisters back on their feet was a worthy and admirable approach, in line with the Christian idealism that guided my decisions at the time. It has taken a great deal of time, research, and thought for me to reach my current position that lines up quite nicely with the Kony 2012 campaign. That is to say, while peace talks should never be removed from the table, rather than allow the LRA to continue raiding throughout central Africa unmolested, I condone the use of simple, strategic military force – with the heavy input and guidance of the local communities – to pressure the LRA combatants to defect and surrender at which time they will receive care and rehabilitation before being reintegrated to their home communities, to capture Joseph Kony and bring him to justice in an international forum, and to simultaneously provide adequate protection for the communities whose livelihoods are most at risk in these areas of conflict.

This campaign has provided a brilliant opportunity, for the first time, for people all over the world to discuss so many aspects of this area of work and beyond. Off the top of my head, I can recall times in recent weeks where I’ve found myself pulled into rapid-fire question and answer sessions covering topics listed here, although many, many others do also exist:

      • the power of social media
      • the acceptable presentation of the documentary film
      • holding storytellers accountable to the subjects of their stories
      • accuracy in reporting in documentary film
      • the ethics of a white man telling the story of a black man
      • the role of religion in conflict resolution
      • the agency of youth
      • the role of the US military
      • globalization and how it is manifest in our modern culture
      • charitable financial models
      • the ethics of intervention – military, financial, religious, and otherwise
      • the importance of locals’ opinions regarding their own situation and the decisions that will directly impact them
      • the validity of local opinion that has been removed from the situation for many years
      • exacerbating stereotypes
      • the role of the international community in regards to Africa
      • the definition and presence of neocolonialism
      • the danger of oversimplification of complex ideas and situations

How I would love for these topics and those which I have not listed here to be debated among circles of the bright and learned. I would love for the debate to be centered around one of these topics and then discussed at length to further general opinion regarding the issue. I would love for the conversation to move beyond the spread of tabloid headlines to a genuine consideration of the merits of the solutions being advocated for. It saddens me to see that very little such constructive debate and conversation has taken place. I cite yesterday’s panel as a prime example. The topics exist, the educated and vocal people to discuss them exist, but the direction of the conversation is lacking.

In the world’s scrambled efforts to cover every last angle of the story and Invisible Children’s scrambled efforts to respond while retaining the character and transparency the organization has always espoused, a multitude of unlikely “experts” flourished ranging from a 19-year-old PoliSci student from Canada whose blog gained unexplainable traction shortly following the release of Kony 2012 pt. 1 to social media professors jumping at the chance to explain how and why the video went viral as quickly as it did to well-intentioned reporters who had a near-instant response to the public breakdown of co-founder and filmmaker Jason Russell. Each person had a list of sources and a jumbled, partly-researched story to tell. Rather than delve into the many factually inaccurate articles and authoritative, unfounded opinions that comprise the hype surrounding the phenomenon of this campaign, I want instead to promote the conversation that I have yet to see.

May we take this opportunity to actively shape and engage with our own history, rather than just watch it. May we come away from this experience better informed and with a more progressive model of dealing with similar situations in the future. This is a time that will go in history books for years to come. This is the advent of a changing worldview. I hope the dialogue soon comes that will create a forum that appreciates all points of view and allows for their respectful debate.

*****

Return to Panels and Priorities

Continue to II: Invisible Children in Context

*****

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

Posted by: beckydale | March 17, 2012

Kony 2012 is not real.

This is not an analysis of KONY 2012, nor is it a response to every criticism. A few are glaringly absent – not for lack of response, but for lack of time to do them justice. These are my thoughts and feelings in response to some of the media attention, criticism, and inspirational stories that accompany each. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the campaign and unconditionally support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, the Enough Project, or my colleagues. 

—-

KONY 2012 is not real.

The critics had it right all along. Of all the angry, indignant “facts” flying around, this one is by far my favorite. Yes, the publicly available 30-minute video was actually dreamed up and realized by a few southern Californians with the sole, malicious intention of filling their pockets with the millions they would undoubtedly receive in proceeds. I like it even better when “southern Californians” is replaced with “Pentagon officials” and “filling their pockets” is replaced with “expanding their budget.” KONY 2012 is a video vendetta against the American populace. Period.

And while I may be hard-pressed to mask my sarcasm, the title of this piece remains true. There is something about this entire campaign that is a bit difficult to wrap my brain around. But the accusations of falsehood, of neocolonialism, of shady financials, what have you…all of that is manageable and – quite frankly – irrelevant.

The stories of LRA violence are the stuff of legends – children forced to kill and eat their own parents, families displaced for years from their homes and receiving nothing in the way of food support, entire communities afraid to till their fields and therefore starving, retaliation attacks that slaughter hundreds and abduct hundreds more, escaped child soldiers shunned by the very people they used to call friend, mother, father. I do not want to take the time now to expound on these stories. Many have been documented, many more continue to surface from years past, and many continue to be reported every day. The gruesome nature of these incidents and their innocent victims is what engaged me in the issue seven years ago. To do these stories justice would take more time than I am allowing myself in this post alone.

from LRACrisisTracker.com

Uganda is no longer the central focus of this story, but neither should it be ignored and forgotten when discussing the LRA. The atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army have not changed over the past 26 years, they have simply relocated. The three currently-affected countries where the Lord’s Resistance Army makes its bases and carries out its raids, killings, abductions, lootings, rituals, etc. tell some very different stories than the people of northern Uganda.

It is this violence, orchestrated by a man who has recently been equated with evil itself, that has inspired a nation to action. The LRA operates unmolested in central Africa not because nobody knows, not because nobody cares, but because not enough people know or care to do anything. Does watching a 30-minute video bring this decades-old conflict to an abrupt end? Absolutely not. Does it tell the nuanced history and politics of the region in a thorough and comprehensive manner? How could it, when not a single academic, researcher, or local can today claim to be a foolproof expert on these three countries and on the LRA in particular? Does this video explain the series of steps necessary to capture Kony and rehabilitate his hundreds of soldiers and concubines? Though I do believe it could have been more direct, the bottom line is that there is no formula. Ask any military commander who has experienced several conflicts. They can describe one conflict as “just like” another, but the truth of the matter is that each conflict is situationally unique – each conflict has a specific set of factors that sets it apart from any that came before it and any that will come after. The set of factors surrounding the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army is no different.

Returning to the inspiration to action, therefore, I want to focus on the calculable results of KONY 2012. Oft-debated among idealists and cynics, KONY 2012 has had an undeniable impact on the average household in America. The campaign has two taglines: 1-“Make Him Famous” and 2-“Stop At Nothing.” The first, without argument, has certainly been accomplished.

In under 27 hours, the KONY 2012 film had been viewed 1 million times, according to the Invisible Children interns who frantically messaged me with the news. After just a few days the online hits had exceeded 70 million. Today, over 120 million views and counting has made this film the fastest-growing viral video to date, not to mention I would imagine it’s also the longest and most depressing. As the Twittersphere exploded with hashtags heralding the news that Kony must be stopped, that the world must watch this video, the number of people watching the video grew exponentially. Every view above 2 million is incomprehensible to me. The numbers can be total spam, the tweets and facebook comments all a farce, and at this point my brain might actually believe it. I question if that would that even matter, however, since the “damage” has been done. My life has turned a full 180.

I hear Kony’s name mentioned on the metro, in coffee shops, on the news as I wander my apartment with the tv on, in parks with dog owners concernedly discussing world affairs, on the phone with friends and family back in Missouri. Before KONY 2012 I could not speak of Joseph Kony without gauging the political and humanitarian interests of the other party, or without slipping into my 5-minute/1-minute/single-sentence spiel about the LRA and the cause. Invisible Children has been lambasted for oversimplification, but in a world of people with short attention spans and snazzy headlines that are unrealistically assumed and expected to contain the entire message of the subsequent article, I credit them with retaining interest for 30 minutes, albeit in such a way that may oversimplify the conflict’s and region’s complexity to a rather childish level.

I want to draw attention to not the sensationalism of the response, nor even to the sensationalism of the video itself, but to the second tagline that seems to be lost amidst the fiery criticisms and supportive articles alike.

Stop At Nothing is a weighty phrase. Despite or perhaps because of this weight, it has been the modus operandi of organizations like Invisible Children, Resolve, and the Enough Project for years now. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not a “fad issue,” there is no “bandwagon” to join, and the sudden attention to Kony and the LRA is neither “misguided,” “imbalanced,” or “neocolonial.” My pockets are not filling with the royalties skimmed off the millions Invisible Children reportedly makes off its flashy animation and camera angles. Au contraire, my pockets fill instead with lint, notes-to-self, ink stains from pens that take a beating and unleash their innards, and quarters for coin laundry. My days start early and end late. My inbox fills, my inbox empties. I run, I cook, I sleep, I work, I read, I write. My life can be considered normal, but for the fact that I receive phone calls from central Africa without blinking an eye and I incessantly research an area of the world that is rarely if ever in the public eye. At least until quite recently.

Reporters who have documented the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the past and assert their knowledge of the issue with abandon have entered league with those who are learning of Invisible Children and the LRA for the first time. Both groups wag an accusatory finger at Invisible Children (the most visible face of the recent phenomenon) for not having a long-term strategy to capture Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen. With little to no research, these same reporters seem not to notice that IC has for years emphasized sustainability in its approach. Programs such as the Legacy Scholarship Program, Village Savings and Loan Initiative, and MEND have long since replaced the very temporary and unsustainable bracelet production. All of those programs were conceived and formulated by the locals who would benefit from them and who understand many of the implications that may be lost on westerners like myself. I may not agree with everything Invisible Children does, says, and stands behind, but their programs in central Africa I admire. Having lived through the crazy roadie life, visited the IC programs in northern Uganda, and watched the development of the organization for many years, I can admit that they are not perfect, but they sure try to be. I can’t fault them for trying.

Another often-forgotten fact: Invisible Children is not the only organization working on KONY 2012 this spring. The campaign is co-branded by my current organization Resolve (repeat disclaimer, all thoughts expressed are my own). The criticism that KONY 2012 has no long-term plan to address the issue of Joseph Kony is blatantly untrue and is planned out step by step in a report that my colleague Paul Ronan published a month ago called Peace Can Be: President Obama’s chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012. To anyone criticizing the campaign’s temporary nature who has not read this report, I respectfully refer you to its 37 pages of thoughtful analysis and ask that you not speak again until you have read, absorbed, and fully appreciated its contents.

This particular document, formulated over years of careful attention to the issue, building off a previous report released in 2010, and solidified during Paul’s 3-month trip to the LRA affected region last summer, was the basis of the entire campaign and indeed the foundation of not only Resolve’s current advocacy campaign but also a resolution that was recently introduced into the House to reaffirm the White House strategy released in 2010. The Senate version of the resolution will be introduced shortly. My job these past few weeks has been to channel the mass interest and awareness being raised by the KONY 2012 video toward local lobby meetings being held all over the country to garner Congressional support for these two resolutions. And what I have found has been heartwarming at worst.

I am much more politically aware and informed now than I was three years ago working so hard to generate nationwide support for The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, now Public Law 111-172. My feelings over the past two weeks since the video was released have largely been reminiscent of these naïve years gone by. The thrill of adding cosponsors to an ever-growing list; the high I got from explaining to high school students how to contact their representatives and the pride they radiated when that first call was completed; the conference calls to discuss local lobby meeting logistics; the teary welcome and surge of emotion at the news of 250,000 signatures on a petition to the White House finally being reached. These were battles both grand and small that young activists like me had tackled day in and day out. Each successful result boosted momentum and morale. That process has just begun for KONY 2012. The critics are quick to jump on the controversy of the campaign, but I believe wholeheartedly that within a month they will discover that the impassioned youth of America will have once again achieved some unprecedented milestones in this journey to end LRA violence and restore peace to the affected communities.

To return at long last to the issue at hand, I re-reference the title of this post: KONY 2012 is not real. It is the one phrase that has circulated time and time again with conviction (stated in a tone of utter disbelief) among the many people working on this campaign. The 100+million views of the video? Not real. The 800 lobby meeting signups from people hoping to get more involved? Not real. The fact that Kony is not just being discussed by a handful of 20-somethings in San Diego and Washington DC anymore, but is now a household name? Definitely not real. We are all in a state of shock.

Criticism aside, I have found the response to be a beautiful thing. As humans we seem hardwired to focus on the bad in the short-term and, paradoxically, to cut it from our memories once the emotional wave has passed. I hope now is one of those times. My dear friends on the other side of the country are facing some rough challenges at the moment. Their financials – which I have always seen to be honest and transparent – have come under some close and misguided scrutiny of late. Critiques of their video have bled into critiques of the organization as a whole, which is a dangerous and hypocritical stance for a reporter to take: accusing the organization of the same flippant generalizations and un-researched efforts that they themselves are actively practicing. A dear friend, mentor, and inspiring soul has experienced a tragic misfortune at the hands of this very criticism. This is not my outlet to defend Invisible Children nor to distance myself from them in self-defense. I simply believe that they can speak for themselves much better than I can of them. I have supported them in the past, I support them now, and I will likely support them in the future. They have received an unfair amount of backlash for what is, in my humble opinion, a very well structured and strategic campaign. Of course the video does not follow the storyboard I would have set out; certainly I am not one of the organization’s cute, grinning, bracelet-wearing, meme-dropping teen activists-in-training with an unhealthy amount of idealism and “passion”…but I once was. To have walked in those shoes for several years, and to find myself here today, I challenge the critics that believe awareness alone has no power.

From my place in the city where idealism is ousted like a cockroach and passion is almost tangible with many organizations advocating without ceasing for years for the same issues over and over and over, I have trouble wrapping my head around the numbers and the support and criticism alike. But I don’t experience that in the same way Invisible Children does. I get to speak with the young activists, many of whom have never been or are not even now interested in politics, and discuss what options are available to them to “get Kony,” or, a favorite, “to stop that Kony guy.” They are well intentioned without a vehicle to guide their footsteps forward. My job is to provide that very vehicle and to walk them through what for many is their first time engaging with the political system. I coach them through making calls, writing letters, setting up lobby meetings, and I serve as a guide until the meeting is long over.

Recent critics point fingers at the massive drop-off in twitter attention as a good gauge for the lack of interest. I hold a different opinion: the KONY 2012 film achieved its mission of making him famous and igniting the spark of interest in enough dedicated people that want to bring an end to this conflict once and for all. They all believe that twenty-six years is too long. I have an inbox filled with requests to join lobby meetings, not just from every single state in the country, but from dozens of countries around the world: Serbia, Czech Republic, Algeria, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, and Colombia, to name a few.

The emails that sometimes accompany these sign-ups are endearing, though some do seem to border on outlandish. Razi* (*not real name) from UAE wants to lobby with her sheikh. Robert* from China has a body of students who want to Cover the Night on April 20th. Mara* from Morocco expressed her contempt for Joseph Kony in no less than 4 paragraphs. Over 30 people from Australia want to know how they can help. Santo* from Argentina is looking for a Spanish version of the movie and posters to share with his friends and family. And we’ve even received word that a student group in Libya is hoping to raise the profile of Joseph Kony among their friends and family. Unreal.

And that bipartisan resolution introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday of this week already has 10 cosponsors. That’s excluding the two honorable Congressmen who introduced it. Watching each name join the list of its colleagues is so thrilling. It’s a competition that fills the people working on the advocacy side of the campaign with hope and pride in the youth that have brought about that change. Not unlike watching the bill cosponsors roll in back in 2009, I look forward to proving to the critics that KONY 2012 is not just hot air and is much more than a viral video. There is a real impact that is being translated from video to advocacy to action. I never thought I would get to see this level of interest in the niche issue that has been so near and dear to me for the past 7 years, but without reservation I am proud to be a part of it. I look forward to the rest of 2012.

Update: On March 21, 2012 the Senate Resolution 402 was introduced by Senators Coons (D-DE) and Inhofe (R-OK) along with 31 original cosponsors. The House Resolution 583 at the time of S.Res. 402’s introduction had 29 total cosponsors.

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[Again] This is not an analysis of KONY 2012, nor is it a response to every criticism. A few are glaringly absent – not for lack of response, but for lack of time to do them justice. These are my thoughts and feelings in response to some of the media attention, criticism, and inspirational stories that accompany each. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the campaign and unconditionally support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, the Enough Project, or my colleagues. 

Posted by: beckydale | March 16, 2012

KONY 2012 is not real.

This is not an analysis of KONY 2012, nor is it a response to every criticism. A few are glaringly absent – not for lack of response, but for lack of time to do them justice. These are my thoughts and feelings in response to some of the media attention, criticism, and inspirational stories that accompany each. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the campaign and unconditionally support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, the Enough Project, or my colleagues. 

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The critics had it right all along. Of all the angry, indignant “facts” flying around, this one is by far my favorite. Yes, the publicly available 30-minute video was actually dreamed up and realized by a few southern Californians with the sole, malicious intention of filling their pockets with the millions they would undoubtedly receive in proceeds. I like it even better when “southern Californians” is replaced with “Pentagon officials” and “filling their pockets” is replaced with “expanding their budget.” KONY 2012 is a video vendetta against the American populace. Period.

And while I may be hard-pressed to mask my sarcasm, the title of this piece remains true. There is something about this entire campaign that is a bit difficult to wrap my brain around. But the accusations of falsehood, of neocolonialism, of shady financials, what have you…all of that is manageable and – quite frankly – irrelevant.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as a few minutes of research will quickly reveal, is a rogue rebel group marauding through western South Sudan, eastern Central African Republic, and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Boing, Yahoo, Google, and Wikipedia will also inform the average passive reader that the LRA began in the mid 1980s as an attempted resurgence of a similar group called the Holy Spirit Movement, headed by the charismatic mystic named Alice Auma. Alice, who is often referred to by the name of the spirit who possessed her, “Lakwena,” gathered her own Acholi people around her and ignited them with a fervor to overthrow the evil dictator of Uganda. Such a movement was possible because of the outrage and shame the northerners felt at their ostracism by their Bugandan neighbors and fellow countrymen. Two years passed with plenty of Acholi taking up arms and fighting for the cause, but with little in terms of results. President Museveni seemed rooted in his position of power. As the movement diminished and Alice Lakwena found herself exiled from Uganda, the crowd of impassioned Acholi was ripe for new management, and Joseph Kony was the man for the job.

Stepping into Alice’s rather large shoes, Kony found himself pulling together a handful of splinter groups that had formed from the once-united Holy Spirit Movement upon Alice’s exit from Uganda. Joseph Kony’s ability to join these small bands together to a single militant group is quite commendable, even if sadistic in nature. Clearly this leader draws on a wellspring of magnetism that should not be so quickly tossed aside as superfluous. True, the group was not called the Lord’s Resistance Army at the time of its formation under new leadership. In fact, it would be several years before the LRA adopted those three words as its brand and banner. By that time, however, Joseph had managed to turn what began as a united force of freedom fighters into a brainwashed band of boys and girls toting guns as large as themselves and preying upon their own villages and communities to stay alive.

What idealism first gripped Kony and his commanders transformed into a sick, twisted worldview. His intention to overthrow Museveni’s spiritually lapsed government and replace it with one founded on the Ten Commandments (no doubt with himself as supreme leader) is no less alive and true today, I would argue. Yet Kony has adopted a false existence – one in which the lifestyle that has become his reality now contains such vast contradictions that his defense of them portrays the inner workings of his mind as mad and scarred by some possessive power, be it drugs, spirits, or what have you. Kony is living a lie. The saddest part is that such a lie has now become the story of hundreds of others who are currently members of his LRA and a part of the story of thousands before them. I would not go so far as to say that Kony is a madman. He is a clever, strategic man as evidenced by his ability to stay alive this long without capture, starvation, or other such life-threatening situation.

Uganda is no longer the central focus of this story, but neither should it be ignored and forgotten when discussing the LRA. The ideology of the militants is deeply rooted in the beliefs of 26 years ago – the notions that so gripped the Acholi people as to inspire action against their southern government. Even as the Lord’s Resistance Army moved out of northern Uganda and into South Sudan, and then DRC, and now CAR as well, that original ideology is still present. The LRA communicate in Luo – the native language of the northern Ugandan Acholi. Many of the fighters, particularly the more senior commanders, retain their Ugandan roots and can no less shake their Acholi tribal identity than wish their skin lighter. Not to say that they would want that. It would make stealth operations in the dense jungle a bit more difficult at the very least.

The three currently-affected countries where the Lord’s Resistance Army makes its bases and carries out its raids, killings, abductions, lootings, rituals, etc. tell some very different stories than the people of northern Uganda. These stories range from politically motivated claims that the LRA is no longer a threat within the country’s borders (a claim by the DRC government, despite that being the area of highest LRA activity) to pleas to the international community to bring the LRA violence and perpetual uncertainty to an end (words documented time and time again by Resolve’s field researcher Paul Ronan on his trips to the region). Where lies the truth, however, is found in the jungle and dense vegetation of the areas in which the LRA operates. It seems to be a blend of the two extremes, though certainly skewed far in favor of the latter.

The LRA is a reduced but hardly spent force, known for long periods of relative calm before large scale attacks. The LRA Crisis Tracker (a joing project by Invisible Children and Resolve launched last fall) documents the activity of Kony’s forces. This includes not just attacks on villages but also escapes, returns, abductions, and records of what items were looted from people and villages by the LRA. Those who claim the LRA is not worthy of American attention should perhaps read the history associated with the group and maybe adopt a bit of compassion in place of what I have often found to be academic skepticism. Those who have studied the LRA for years and have come to understand its patterns should not comfortably argue that this lull in activity is no different than any other. As the KONY 2012 video states, the game has changed. Kony is changing tactics. Now more than ever we must be paying attention to the movements and actions of the LRA. Joseph Kony is aware of world events and he has certainly not missed his own name cropping up in international news. We do worry about retaliation attacks; that risk has always existed. That risk will continue to exist with or without international media hype until the Lord’s Resistance Army is finished and Joseph Kony is in The Hague.

The stories of LRA violence are the stuff of legends – children forced to kill and eat their own parents, families displaced for years from their homes and receiving nothing in the way of food support, entire communities afraid to till their fields and therefore starving, retaliation attacks that slaughter hundreds and abduct hundreds more, escaped child soldiers shunned by the very people they used to call friend, mother, father. I do not want to take the time now to expound on these stories. Many have been documented, many more continue to surface from years past, and many continue to be reported every day. The gruesome nature of these incidents and their innocent victims is what engaged me in the issue seven years ago. To do these stories justice would take more time than I am allowing myself in this post alone.

It is this violence, orchestrated by a man who has recently been equated with evil itself, that has inspired a nation to action. The LRA operates unmolested in central Africa not because nobody knows, not because nobody cares, but because not enough people know or care to do anything. Does watching a 30-minute video bring this decades-old conflict to an abrupt end? Absolutely not. Does it tell the nuanced history and politics of the region in a thorough and comprehensive manner? How could it, when not a single academic, researcher, or local can today claim to be a foolproof expert on these three countries and on the LRA in particular? Does this video explain the series of steps necessary to capture Kony and rehabilitate his hundreds of soldiers and concubines? Though I do believe it could have been more direct, the bottom line is that there is no formula. Ask any military commander who has experienced several conflicts. They can describe one conflict as “just like” another, but the truth of the matter is that each conflict is situationally unique – each conflict has a specific set of factors that set it apart from any that came before it and any that will come after. The set of factors surrounding the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army is no different.

Returning to the inspiration to action, therefore, I want to focus on the calculable results of KONY 2012. Oft-debated among idealists and cynics, KONY 2012 has had an undeniable impact on the average household in America. The campaign has two taglines: 1-“Make Him Famous” and 2-“Stop At Nothing.” The first, without argument, has certainly been accomplished.

In less than 27 hours, the KONY 2012 film had been viewed 1 million times, according to the Invisible Children interns who frantically messaged me with the news. After just a few days the online hits had exceeded 70 million. Today, over 120 million views and counting has made this film the fastest-growing viral video to date, not to mention I would imagine it’s also the longest and most depressing. As the twittersphere exploded with hashtags heralding the news that Kony must be stopped; the world must watch this video. Every view above 2 million is incomprehensible to me. The numbers can be total spam, the tweets and facebook comments all a farce, and at this point my brain might actually believe it. I question if that would that even matter, however, since the “damage” has been done. My life has turned a full 180. I hear Kony’s name mentioned on the metro, in coffee shops, on the news as I wander my apartment with the tv on, in parks with dog owners concernedly discuss world affairs, on the phone with friends and family back in Missouri. Before KONY 2012 I could not speak of Joseph Kony without gauging the political and humanitarian interests of the other party, or without slipping into my 5-minute/1-minute/single-sentence spiel about the LRA and the cause. For the record, Invisible Children has been lambasted for oversimplification, but in a world of people with short attention spans and snazzy headlines that are unrealistically assumed and expected to contain the entire message of the subsequent article, I credit them with retaining interest for 30 minutes, albeit in such a way that may oversimplify the conflict’s and region’s complexity to a rather childish level.

What I want to draw attention to is not the sensationalism of the response, nor even the sensationalism of the video itself, but to the second tagline that seems to be lost amidst the fiery criticisms and supportive articles alike.

Stop At Nothing is a weighty phrase. Despite or perhaps because of this weight, it has been the modus operandi of organizations like Invisible Children, Resolve, and the Enough Project for years now. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not a “fad issue,” there is no “bandwagon” to join, and the sudden attention to Kony and the LRA is neither “misguided,” “imbalanced,” or “neocolonial.” My pockets are not filling with the royalties skimmed off the millions Invisible Children reportedly makes off its flashy animation and camera angles. Au contraire, my pockets fill instead with lint, notes-to-self, ink stains from pens that take a beating and unleash their innards, and quarters for coin laundry. My days start early and end late. My inbox fills, my inbox empties. I run, I cook, I sleep, I work, I read, I write. My life can be considered normal, but for the fact that I receive phone calls from central Africa without blinking an eye and I incessantly research an area of the world that is rarely if ever in the public eye. At least until quite recently.

For years I have faced patronizing criticism from friends, family, acquaintances, and perfect strangers that my keen interest and work is “cute” and that this phase will surely pass. At times I have withstood lectures, snide comments about being a neo-hippie, and sneering looks if disappointment that I could be doing something so much more “beneficial to my being.” I could, after all, be in grad school at this very moment studying law or medicine or any such profession that most people assume will make me a richer, more secure human being. I challenge them, however, would that make me happy? After seven years, I think a few of the people who know me best have quieted down and have stopped the direct verbal abuse, for which I am grateful. I never imagined there would be a day when the tables turned and strangers now support me and the critics have become media moguls and fly-by-night bloggers.

Reporters who have documented the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the past and assert their knowledge of the issue with abandon have entered league with those who are learning of Invisible Children and the LRA for the first time. Both groups wag an accusatory finger at Invisible Children (the most visible face of the recent phenomenon) for not having a long-term strategy to capture Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen. With little to no research, these same reporters seem not to notice that IC has for years emphasized sustainability in its approach. Programs such as the Legacy Scholarship Program, Village Savings and Loan Initiative, and MEND have long since replaced the very temporary and unsustainable bracelet production. All of those programs were conceived and formulated by the locals who would benefit from them and who understand many of the implications that may be lost on westerners like myself. I may not agree with everything Invisible Children does, says, and stands behind, but their programs in central Africa I admire. Having lived through the crazy roadie life, visited the IC programs in northern Uganda, and watched the development of the organization for many years, I can admit that they are not perfect, but they sure try to be. I can’t fault them for trying.

But IC is not the only organization working on KONY 2012. The campaign is co-branded by my current organization Resolve (repeat disclaimer, all thoughts expressed here are my own). I have now seen Invisible Children from a very different perspective – one of a partner and a friend, rather than as an integral part or excited onlooker. I carry a tremendous amount of respect for Invisible Children and the work it does with the people of central Africa affected by the LRA. Equally and separately – with no allusion to Jim Crow –Resolve has gained my respect tenfold since I began working here 9 months ago. The labor that goes into every decision; the debate that surrounds the nuanced points; Resolve’s emphasis on honoring the needs/views/wishes of the people in South Sudan, CAR, and DRC who face the LRA threat daily: I love to be part of the process and observe, many times firsthand, the mental and emotional strain that accompanies each decision.

The criticism that KONY 2012 has no long-term plan to address the issue of Joseph Kony is blatantly untrue and is planned out step by step in a report that my colleague published a month ago called Peace Can Be: President Obama’s chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012. To anyone criticizing the campaign’s temporary nature who has not read this report, I respectfully refer you to its 37 pages of thoughtful analysis and ask that you not speak again until you have read, absorbed, and fully appreciated its contents. This particular document, formulated over years of careful attention to the issue, building off a previous report released in 2010, and solidified during Paul’s 3-month trip to the LRA affected region last summer, was the basis of the entire campaign and indeed the foundation of not only Resolve’s current advocacy campaign but also a resolution that was recently introduced into the House to reaffirm the White House strategy released in 2010. The Senate version of the resolution will be introduced shortly. My job these past few weeks has been to channel the mass interest and awareness being raised by the KONY 2012 video toward local lobby meetings being held all over the country to garner Congressional support for these two resolutions. And what I have found has been heartwarming at worst.

I come from an area of the country where politics are taboo to discuss and being involved in them launches you into celebrity status but also to a position of suspicion. Nearly one year ago I moved to the political capital of the United States where discussion of current events, party allegiance, and campaign strategies are the topics du jour tous les jours. I’m no fan of politics, and to be surrounded by it quite literally 24/7 means I am suddenly hyper-attuned to its existence and prevalence on an almost dramatic scale. Politics is everyday fare and permeates everything from our purchases, to our education choices, and even to the friends we hold dear. I can neither escape it nor ignore it, and where before politics was an academic interest, it has now become a subject I can happily engage with, however limited my contribution may be.

My political involvement encompassed voting once in the 2008 presidential election, researching a piece of legislation in fall 2009 that has since become Public Law 111-172, or The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. My roadie teammate Brian and I spent countless hours reading about the political system, filming YouTube videos asking Members of Congress to cosponsor the bill, talking to kids all over the country about what it meant to call a Senator or Representative, and dreaming up creative ways to catch the attention of our politicians. We became resident “experts” on the bill, though neither of us would ever use that term ourselves and we can both recognize now how little we truly knew and understood. That can be considered a fault – two underinformed youth preaching to hundreds of high school and college students about how to get engaged on the issue of the LRA – but we knew enough. We knew enough about how bills worked in the legislative process to speak knowledgeably about S.1067 and H.R.2478. We did not understand the ins and outs of the development of the legislation, but we had debated enough of the content that we both felt comfortable speaking on its behalf from stage before thousands of students, teachers, and parents. We were hardly experts on the region, the conflict, the bill, the political system, or even our schedules for the remainder of tour, but we knew enough about each of them to proceed.

Today both of us are much better informed on all of the above (except perhaps the schedule part), but what I have been feeling for the past two weeks since the video was released has been reminiscent of these naïve years gone by. The thrill of adding cosponsors to an ever-growing list; the high we got from explaining to a high school student how to contact their representatives and the pride they radiated when that first call was completed; the conference calls to discuss local lobby meetings; the teary welcome and surge of emotion at the news of 250,000 signatures on a petition to the White House finally being reached. These were battles both grand and small that we had tackled day in and day out. Each successful result was a boost in momentum and morale. That process has just begun this time. The critics are quick to jump on the controversy of the campaign, but I believe wholeheartedly that within a month they will discover that the impassioned youth of America have achieved again some unprecedented milestones in this journey to end LRA violence and restore peace to the affected communities.

I am a closet optimist and trusting soul with a pessimistic or skeptical demeanor that borders on outright cynicism, unwilling to truly take sides before I’ve read thoroughly through as many sides as I possibly can and heard multiple opinions on a matter. This means that I am rarely one to jump at the opportunity to be the first in line for a new product. I will never be that daredevil investor in some new project or initiative. I will never be the one to dream up the next greatest invention. It is simply not the way I work. But my inner optimist trusts with all its being that this campaign is correct and good – not without its risks, to be sure – but overall beneficial to the missions of Invisible Children and Resolve, both of which can be found HERE and HERE in case someone is confused as to what they might be.

To return at long last to the issue at hand, I re-reference the title of this post: KONY 2012 is not real. It is the one phrase that has circulated time and time again with conviction (stated in a tone of utter disbelief) among the many people working on this campaign. The 100+million views of the video? Not real. The 800 lobby meeting signups from people hoping to get more involved? Not real. The fact that Kony is not just being discussed by a handful of 20-somethings in San Diego and Washington DC anymore, but is now a household name? Definitely not real. We are all in a state of shock.

Criticism aside, I have found the response to be a beautiful thing. As humans we seem hardwired to focus on the bad in the short-term and, paradoxically, to cut it from our memories once the emotional wave has passed. My dear friends on the other side of the country are facing some rough challenges at the moment. Their financials – which I have always seen to be honest and transparent – have come under some close and misguided scrutiny of late. Critiques of their video have bled into critiques of the organization as a whole, which is a dangerous and hypocritical stance for a reporter to take: accusing the organization of the same flippant generalizations and un-researched efforts that they themselves are actively practicing. This is not my outlet to defend Invisible Children nor to distance myself from them in self-defense. I simply believe that they can speak for themselves much better than I can of them. I have supported them in the past, I support them now, and I will likely support them in the future. They have received an unfair amount of backlash for what is, in my humble opinion, a very well structured and strategic campaign. Absolutely there are things I would change about the video; absolutely I am not one of the organization’s cute, grinning, bracelet-wearing, meme-dropping teen activist-in-training with an unhealthy amount of idealism and “passion”…but I once was.

From my standpoint here in the city where idealism is ousted like a cockroach and passion is almost tangible with many organizations advocating without ceasing for years for the same issues over and over and over, I have trouble wrapping my head around the numbers and the support and criticism alike. But I don’t experience that in the same way Invisible Children does. I get to speak with the young activists, many of whom have never been or are not even now interested in politics, and discuss what options are available to them to “get Kony,” or, my favorite, “to stop that Kony guy.” They are well intentioned without a vehicle to guide their footsteps forward. My job is to help walk them through what for many is their first time engaging with the political system. I help them make calls, write letters, set up lobby meetings, and serve as a guide all the way through until the meeting is over.

Critics want to point fingers at the massive drop-off in twitter attention as a good gauge for the lack of interest. I am of a different opinion. the KONY 2012 film achieved its mission of making him famous and igniting the spark of interest in enough dedicated people that want to bring an end to this conflict once and for all. Twenty-six years is too long. I have an inbox filled with requests to join lobby meetings, not just from every single state in the country, but from dozens of countries around the world: Serbia, Czech Republic, Algeria, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, and Colombia, to name a few.

The emails that sometimes accompany these sign-ups are endearing, though some do seem to border on outlandish. Razi* (*not real name) from UAE wants to lobby with her sheikh. Robert* from China has a body of students who want to Cover the Night on April 20th. Mara* from Morocco expressed her contempt for Joseph Kony in no less than 4 paragraphs. Over 30 people from Australia want to know how they can help. Santo* from Argentina is looking for a Spanish version of the movie and posters to share with his friends and family. And we’ve even received word that a student group in Libya is hoping to raise the profile of Joseph Kony among their friends and family. Unreal.

And that resolution introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday of this week already has 10 cosponsors. That’s excluding the two honorable Congressmen who introduced it. The Senate version is expected to be introduced next week. Watching each name join the list of its bipartisan colleagues is so thrilling. It’s a competition that fills the people working on the advocacy side of the campaign with hope and pride in the youth that have brought about that change. Not unlike watching the bill cosponsors roll in, I look forward to proving to the critics that KONY 2012 is not just hot air and is much more than a viral video. There is a real impact that is being translated from video to advocacy to action. I never thought I would get to see this level of interest in the niche issue that has been so near and dear to me for the past 7 years, but without reservation I am proud to be a part of it. I look forward to the rest of 2012.

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[Again] This is not an analysis of KONY 2012, nor is it a response to every criticism. A few are glaringly absent – not for lack of response, but for lack of time to do them justice. These are my thoughts and feelings in response to some of the media attention, criticism, and inspirational stories that accompany each. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the campaign and unconditionally support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, the Enough Project, or my colleagues. 

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