20 3 / 2012
Young people changing the world.
Thoughts for young people from the author of Visible Children.
Since this all started two weeks ago, I’ve occasionally been criticized for the attention my blog has received on the basis that, as a university student, my opinion shouldn’t be as widely-read as it has been. I guess the logic is that because I’m a “young person”, my opinion is less valuable, or “misinformed and naive”, as Invisible Children’s PR firm eloquently described it.
Actually, the best and most thought-provoking questions I’ve received came from “young people” in a series of discussions I had over Skype with students in Pennsylvania. “What are you actually doing to help?”, they asked. “What changes would you have made to the movie?” “Would it be better if the movie never existed?” What I saw was a group of young people excited about making a difference. If Kony 2012 is an ad, it’s selling the feeling that you can change the world. Everybody wants to change the world, and young people most of all.
The message Invisible Children is sending is that anybody can change the world, and it’s easy. Watch the movie, share it with your friends, tweet at some famous people, and if you get really excited, put up some posters. I’d like to change their message slightly, although mine isn’t as catchy:
Anybody can change the world, but it’s difficult. And you should do it anyway.
Doing what Invisible Children wants may have an impact, but real, thoughtful activism – actual world-changing – is difficult. It takes significant motivation and concentrated effort. It takes research and organization and planning and discussion, and it’s not easy. But very little that’s worth doing is easy. Anybody can change the world, but it’s difficult. And you should do it anyway.
~ Grant Oyston
Grant Oyston is a sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and is the the National Communications Chair of CISV, a nonprofit that hosts international friendship-building programs in over 60 countries for people as young as 11.
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20 3 / 2012
Make Kony famous? No thanks, says Uganda.
“The film’s overall messages were very upsetting to many audience members.
“In particular, viewers were outraged by the KONY 2012 campaign’s strategy to make Kony famous and their marketing of items with his image. One victim was applauded upon saying, ‘If you care for us the victims, you will respect our feelings and acknowledge how hurting it is for us to see you mobilizing the world to make Kony famous, the guy who is the world most wanted criminal.’ It was very hurtful for victims and their families to see posters, bracelets and t-shirts, all looking like a slick marketing campaign, promoting the person most responsible for their shattered lives. One young man who lost four brothers and one of his arms said afterwards: ‘How can anybody expect a person to wear a T-shirt with Kony’s name on it?’ Many people were asking: ‘Why give such criminals celebrity status? Why not make the plight of the victims and the war-ravaged communities, people whose sufferings are real and visible, the focus of a campaign to help?’
“There was a strong sense from the audience that the video was insensitive to African and Ugandan audiences, and that it did not accurately portray the conflict or the victims.”
For those of you currently sporting Joseph Kony bracelets and t-shirts, perhaps this is a good time to consider the message you’re communicating, and how that message is perceived by those whom it is intended to be aiding.
EDIT: For those who aren’t “getting it”, try this fun experiment: make a bracelet that says “HITLER” on it and see how long it takes until someone punches you.
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16 3 / 2012
Invisible Children responds to KONY 2012 filmmaker’s alleged public masturbation
“Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday. Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.”
I would like to wish Jason a speedy recovery.
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13 3 / 2012
Misinformed and naive.
From a Canadian Press interview with a New York PR firm hired by Invisible Children:
“With all due respect, I think [Mr. Oyston’s] criticisms and things he’s written are important but are a little misinformed and naive,” said Jesse Derris of Sunshine, Sachs & Associates.
To which I shrug and say, “This isn’t about me.”
However, I’m keen to know if Jesse and Invisible Children thinks Rosebell Kagumire, an award-winning Ugandan journalist with a Master’s in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies, is naive in her criticisms.
Or if Adam Branch, senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, Uganda, and author of Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda, is naive in his criticisms.
Or if Arthur Larok, Action Aid’s country director for Uganda, with a Master’s Degree in Governance and Development and nine years of service as the Director of Programmes at the Uganda National NGO Forum, is naive in his criticisms.
Or if TMS Ruge, a Ugandan and co-founder of Project Diaspora, a group seeking to involve Africa in its own development, is naive in his criticisms.
And I’d really, really like to know if Invisible Children thinks Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA and director of northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans, is naive in his criticisms.
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11 3 / 2012
Show me the money.
According to Jason Russell’s appearance on the Today show several days ago, over 500,000 action kits have been ordered at $30 a piece, meaning this campaign has brought in a minimum of $15M in revenue this week. This is great news: at least 500,000 people are “advocate[s] of awesome” according to the group’s webstore! So where’s that money going? I’ll leave it to Jedidiah Jenkins, Invisible Children’s Director of Ideology:
“Thirty-seven percent of our budget goes directly to central African-related programs, about 20 percent goes to salaries and overhead, and the remaining 43 percent goes to our awareness programs. […] But aside from that, the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”
Yes, you heard it from Invisible Children: more money goes to awareness than to Africa.
More detailed breakdown from the Guardian’s Julian Borger, John Vidal, and Rosebell Kagumire in Kampala, Uganda:
“Invisible Children’s accounts show it is a cash rich operation, which more than tripled its income to $9m (£5.68m) in 2011, mainly from personal donations. Of this, nearly 25% was spent on travel and film-making. Most of the money raised has been spent in the US. The accounts show $1.7m went on US employee salaries, $850,000 in film production costs, $244,000 in “professional services” – thought to be Washington lobbyists – and $1.07m in travel expenses. Nearly $400,000 was spent on offices in San Diego.”
Information about how they intend to spend their windfall 2012 revenue of a bare minimum of $15M has not been released, but as I wrote earlier, at least $3000 would’ve gone to flying me to both San Diego and Africa had I allowed them to do so. (Story behind that at the bottom of this post.) If I were Invisible Children, I’d start talking about where this new money’s going. I’m emailing Jason and Ben a link to this post to see if they’re willing to post a financial plan for the year ahead - is there yet another film in store?
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09 3 / 2012
What to do?
A lot of people have been asking what form their action should take, but frankly, I don’t feel that it’s my business to tell you what to do about Joseph Kony. I’d suggest finding an NGO you like, whether it’s IC or not, researching them, and supporting them with your time and/or resources. Unless you have specialist skills or expertise, it’s likely that a trip to Africa isn’t the most productive course of action, although it’s an option you can certainly consider.
I am not endorsing any alternative organization for a few reasons. I don’t think a perfect NGO exists, and my message is that you should think critically before making up your mind. Where you choose to give your energy and resources should be an educated, personal decision based on a balanced understanding, not media hype. Some will feel that it’s ironic of me to argue that NGOs aren’t perfect while criticizing one harshly, but all NGOs should be subject to criticism, and both Jason Russell (the filmmaker) and Ben Keesey (the CEO of Invisible Children) have spoken with me and were appreciative of the critical response they are receiving. Although they don’t agree with the majority of the criticisms, they understand that organizations, like people, need criticism to develop and learn from. Whether another organization is “better” than Invisible Children depends on your perspective, and isn’t something I can answer in a straightforward manner.
I will, however, put in a good word for an NGO which takes a radically different approach to peace: CISV International. CISV operates in over 60 countries around the world and is focused on bringing about peace through immersive educational programmes. Founded in 1951, over 200,000 people have participated in CISV programmes, which bring people from around the world together in programs for youth starting at age 11. If you know children or teens hungry to learn more about peace and conflict in an international context, I’d suggest that you check out CISV. It takes a very different, less direct approach to peace, but it’s an organization worthy of your consideration, operated primarily by hundreds of volunteers and a very small group of paid staff. List of national websites here. And before I’m accused, I have never received money from them, although I have volunteered with the organization for several years. Is it better than IC? I don’t think I can answer that. It has completely different goals and a completely different approach. Do your research!
~ Grant Oyston
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