Mar 09, 2012, 06:13AM

KONY 2012: The New Activism

Awareness is just part of the process, of course, but don't knock 50 million YouTube views.

The activist group "Invisible Children" has ambitiously set out to make Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony "as famous as George Clooney" in order to bring to light his practice of killing, kidnapping and converting children to soldiers. Close to a 50 million views later in a viral video, the group is zeroing in on its goal and it has happened within a matter of hours.

KONY 2012 is a fabulous display of cinematography that hardly echoes the daytime- television UNICEF commercials that today's college students grew up watching. Rather, KONY 2012 successfully weds clips of adorable and relatable white people giving birth and playing on the beach, with stirring stories and violent images of war-torn central Africa. Throw in clips of thousands of invigorated college youths to inspiring background rock/hip-hop music, and a film has been spawned that even the most apathetic of people feel compelled to share.


However, even before most of the world has been able to reach for a second Kleenex, the more contrarian and cunning within the blogosphere have started to lash out against KONY 2012. Many scrutinize Invisible Children for spending on lavish travel and miscellaneous expenses. Photos have surfaced of the founders of Invisible Children posing with the artillery and soldiers of a rival group to Joseph Kony, leading many to wonder if the group is truly advocating peace. The "memes" bandwagon has capitalized with rather amusing pictures, decrying slogans such as "One does not simply... destabilize a Ugandan Warlord by ‘Liking’ a status." And at cafes across the world, folks are surely discussing how this "fad" is another example of empty empathy: college students trying to solve the world's problems by wearing wristbands and feeling guilty rather than engaging in any meaningful action.

Those who consider themselves part of the naysayer camp, however, are missing the point of KONY 2012.

Apart from apocryphal claims of funds abuse, and snapshots taken out of context (watch the video and discern for yourself the priorities of Invisible Children founders), the KONY 2012 movement is doing some good. The movement has proclaimed to be unlike a traditional movement whereby riveting images and stories are thrust upon an unsuspecting audience in order to guilt captive members into donating money. Instead, KONY 2012 professes to be a movement primarily of awareness.

While doubters may criticize "awareness" as an excuse to help supporters sleep at night without engaging in any truly meaningful action, awareness is certainly a start. Millions of people who have shared the KONY 2012 video are doing as much as they can, and it is remarkably snobbish and elitist to think that everyone who wants to help possesses the financial and intellectual resources to travel to Uganda, donate, or otherwise initiate larger scale initiatives. Fundamentally, "awareness" leads to influence within an electorate, which has real power in electing representatives, or removing from office representatives that fail to meet the concerns of a constituency.

Invisible Children is attempting to smash the very paradigm that leads critics of KONY 2012 to such myopic definitions of "activism." Critics hold the idea that activism can only mean traveling to a troubled region and tangibly working for a cause. Those who do engage in this type of activism should be applauded for their efforts, and we should wish that more people become bold enough to do the same. However, with social networking now in our repertoire, we should embrace new embodiments of activism, one of which is promoting awareness "simply by 'liking' a status," despite what the memes might advertise.

It is impossible to tell if "awareness" as a form of activism will have a profound enough reach to bring on material change, but as more people embrace social media and become emotionally attached to what their contemporaries are discussing, chances are the downward pressure will be help to spur real action. And if we're lucky, KONY 2012 will even set a precedent for exposing evil into the future. While it would be foolish to believe that social media and movements such as KONY 2012 can completely solve the complex sectarian quarrels that exist, bringing to light individual sources and acts of pure wickedness, such as trafficking and making soldiers of children, will help set standards moving forward that anyone who engages in such acts will be brought to justice.

Invisible Children grasps this concept quite clearly, and aptly points out that at any moment more people are logged onto Facebook than there were people on Earth 200 years ago. The KONY 2012 video has proven that within hours, effectively what amounts to an entire world population can be made aware of an issue. This is a very real and powerful force that will could bring forces of evil to justice and hold leaders accountable, and KONY 2012 may well be an indication of many movements to come


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