I (Josh) initially posted the KONY 2012 video on the RUCKUS website the first night that I saw it. It was about 3 in the morning and my friend Erin and I had watched it together when it only had around 3,000 views, and I was pretty compelled. Its a well put together thirty-minute film narrated by Jason Russel and produced by the mega NGO Invisible Children. Today (less than 48 hours later) it's sitting at over 50 MILLION views between the Vimeo and YouTube accounts, and it shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
The purpose of the film is to shine a light on the international criminal Joseph Kony. Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has been responsible for the abduction, torture, rape, brainwashing, and mutilation of more than 30,000 children. Due to his crimes, Kony is number 1 on the International Criminal Court's list of most wanted criminals. The film documents the fear of children who are or have been in danger of abduction by Kony, and highlights just who Joseph Kony is. The film riles up the viewer in such a way that when it is over you cannot help but want to find a way to stop him. The film's goal is to “make him famous”--so famous that he and his crimes will become common knowledge to the masses, and then to use that knowledge to put pressure on the American government to continue to pursue Kony. They think that if we keep the pressure up, we will eventually catch him and end the brutal legacy of the LRA.
This campaign is brilliant and represents marketing at its absolute best, all out of an attempt to raise awareness worldwide of the travesties in Africa that have been going on for too long. You would think an effort like this would be applauded and cheered on by everyone. Except it hasn’t been... it’s generated a tremendous amount of criticism.
Many have issued valid complaints about the campaign and about Invisible Children as a whole. Questions about funds, legalities, resources, budget allegations, and means of violence have all been raised. While there are many people raising critiques, concerns, and questions, none of them are giving solid alternatives for helping the problem in any way.
My brother Jeremy is a missionary in Africa through an organization called Come, Lets Dance. He became involved in 2006 and has spent over 3 years in Uganda helping love and serve the orphans and widows throughout the slums of Kampala. So, early that morning after the video aired I wanted to get his opinions on what he thought, and the put together and "inside edition" if you will. That being said, here are some of our combined thoughts on KONY2012:
1) QUIT COMPLAINING This campaign is by far the biggest social justice movement that I have seen in my lifetime, and whether or not you like how much money the CEO's of Invisible Children make, they are doing an amazing job, not only raising awareness but also inspiring the youth. The ripple effect these will have is undeniable. And honestly, if you're not offering up how to make it better or offering a valuable alternative, then keep your mouth shut—especially the other non-profits that are all up in arms over the video. By complaining, you're acting like ugly red-headed step children, mad that you didn't get a pony...it makes you seem jealous and petty. So stop. Just Stop.
2) DONT KNOCK IT – RIDE IT The KONY film did its job of spreading awareness, that's a fact. At 50 million views in 2 days, I cant even fathom how many households not only know who Kony is, let alone how many are now aware of the travesties and injustices going in in Africa as a whole. So instead of “Invisible Children's financials have always sketched me out, therefore I will never support anything they do,” you should be saying, “I don't agree with some of how they spend their money. But I'm so stoked that they are spreading awareness because now not only are they making people aware of the country and the people I am in love with and some of the heartbreaking issues happening all around the world, it's going to make my fund-raising for future projects a lot easier.” Rather than discouraging their enthusiasm through criticism, we need to leverage the momentum. Don’t let people stop with just the Kony 2012 Campaign. We need to keep the momentum of worldwide social justice high because there is always more that we can do and will do. Right now the energy and passion is high and eager, so let's invite the world to learn more, do more and serve more. Enthusiasm and willingness to act has taken off. This video has caught the attention of millions of people who are now ready and willing to do something, we can't lose that. For instance, on April the 20th, instead of just posting stickers and posters all around Denver, why don't we pass out PBJ and Hot Cocoa to the homeless in our own backyard?
3) BE SMART This is huge. The biggest problem with American culture is we rush to help—(a lot of the time with money)--without knowing enough about the problem to know how to really help. Most people, especially with issues as extreme and heart-wrenching as poverty, rush right in. And even with the best intentions, if we aren't smart, we can actually do more harm than good. So what does that mean? How do we help? Where do we learn? Where do you start? Well here is the first rule of thumb: never throw money at a problem. Money does not solve problems. Focus on money is often the root of the problem. The second question you have to ask is: are the organizations teaching / preaching independence and sustainability, or are they merely providing material relief? You've heard the phrase “feed a man a fish and he will be full for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will be full forever.” Oftentimes we unknowingly prolong the cycle of hunger and reliance by merely providing supplies. Supplies run out – but education, life skills and leadership development can really turn things around.
4) DONT TALK ABOUT IT – BE ABOUT IT. Act. We have to act. Posting about it on Facebook isn't going to change lives. Changing your profile pic isn't going to change lives. #KONY2012 on your twitter isn't going to change lives. The only way we are going to affect major change is if those ideas / beliefs come off the computer, off the paper, and become a reality through ACTION. If you want to help, but don't know how or where to do so, I suggest you start locally. There are tons of foster homes, homeless shelters, food banks, and even animal shelters that are always in need of volunteers. We have to take care of our own communities. If you're set on helping overseas, then get involved with non-profits in other ways than just monetarily! Come, Lets Dance (www.comeletsdance.org) is the African non-profit with which we have partnered and they are constantly sending teams over to help with all sorts of projects. They are an amazing grassroots organization whose mission is to provide the people of Uganda with sustainability and self-reliance through the means of education and instilling good work ethic. If you have a second, head to their website or their Facebook (www.facebook.com/comeletsdance) and show them some love.
5.) PRAY We can all stand in a circle and pump each other up about how justice needs to be served, but in actuality we are incapable of actually knowing what true justice is. Instead of focusing all of your energy on some vendetta in the pursuit of a single man, we need to be praying that justice is served and forgiveness attributed for the sake of the war-torn region, and more importantly the victims. The enemy is not Joseph Kony, the enemy is not Invisible children, the enemy isn't even Al Qaeda. The enemy is that little thing living inside of our souls that tells us that we know whats is best. Although the things Kony and countless others have done seem unforgivable, we need to pursue justice not for the retribution of an individual, but for the defense of the weak. Simply pray for the wisdom to know the difference, and as strange as this must sound, for the removal of all hate from our own hearts.
For those of us who have been overseas, and especially in Uganda: we have all heard stories, seen peoples' mutilated faces, and walked around IDP's. We have debated and fought (sometimes with each other) about who is doing what the right way on the continent that we love. We are not always going to do things the exact same way. Our views on sustainability and aid will never be the same. I am starting to realize that, much like the church in America, God uses different tools with different goals to impact this place we call home. He uses different means, within different bodies of people, to achieve the same end. He wants us to stand up for the fatherless, the widows and the child soldiers. And He wants us to motivate others to do it with us, regardless of whether my favorite color is blue and Jason Russell and Invisible Children like red.
We know this is going to raise eyebrows or even piss some people off. Trust us, we know your point of view. That's why we (Josh: gritty entrepreneur, capitalist, American gunslinger... and Jeremy: the cynic, missionary, pastor) joined together in writing this article, to round out all points of view.
There is no doubt that you have more suggestions on how to help. We say SHARE them and then FOLLOW UP!! Get your friends and family together and make a difference. Small groups of people doing things within their local communities and worldwide to help educate, empower, promote self-sustainability and give hope is the only way we are going to change the world. I want to thank you guys for your willingness to act and for your hearts to be opened to what's possible if we begin to live outside ourselves.
Josh & Jeremy Schmitz
questions / comments / hate / etc - firstname.lastname@example.org