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. 

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