By Megan Petersen '15, Copy Editor
Though Joseph Kony was relatively unknown in the United States about a month ago, thanks to a video and poster campaign by Invisible Children, Inc., his name has become a catch phrase, a slogan, a charged statement and a call to action, and students throughout the 5Cs have responded in both negative and positive ways.
Kony is the leader of the Ugandan guerrilla group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes because his army kidnaps children to be used as soldiers and sex slaves.
Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to bringing international attention to the LRA’s and Kony’s personal atrocities, has made 12 films on the topic. Though the Invisible Children is already relatively well- known, the organization’s eleventh film, “KONY 2012,” was the one to catch the viral spotlight.
The 30-minute film, directed and narrated by Invisible Children’s co-founder Jason Russell, includes the story of how Russell was inspired to found Invisible Children from his interactions with a Ugandan boy named Jacob. The film’s message is largely communicated through Russell attempting to explain the LRA and Kony to his young son, Gavin.
Russell also outlines the campaign’s goal and its methods to make it happen. “Here’s how we’re going to make [Kony] visible,” Russell narrates. “We are going to make Joseph Kony a household name, not to celebrate him but to bring his crimes to the light. And we are starting this year, 2012. We are targeting 20 culture-makers and 12 policymakers to use their power for good.”
Invisible Children’s awareness plan is scheduled to culminate on April 20 when supporters are instructed to “cover the night” with anti-Kony posters and other propaganda, so that the world “go to bed Friday [April 19] and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice on every streetcorner.”
Once the film went viral, people around the world were motivated to buy posters, wristbands and T-shirts. The film also sparked fiery responses from U.S. and Ugandan reporters, scholars and average bloggers who criticized the film’s emotional rather than logical appeal, Invisible Children’s use of its funding, and the flaws in Invisible Children’s proposed solution.
In some cases, the criticisms of the KONY 2012 campaign and Invisible Children went viral almost as quickly as the video itself did. Grant Oyston, the blogger behind the “Visible Children” Tumblr page, got over 2.2 million visitors to his blog; got a personal phone call from Russell asking if Oyston would like to visit Invisible Children’s headquarters in both California and Uganda and turned down media requests from Al Jazeera English, FOX, NBC’s Today show and BBC World service. All within two days of Oyston’s initial post criticizing the film.
Invisible Children responded to that criticism with a second video, “Part II: Beyond Famous,” which is intended to probe the conflict deeper and provide more information than the first film did.
At the 5Cs, students reacted both positively and negatively to the campaign. About 260 students responded “yes” to their invitations to the 5Cs’ KONY 2012 “Cover the Night” Facebook event. Over 1,500 were invited. Vicky Kim (’15) created that event shortly after watching the film. “I was very moved [by the film] because I have known about the Invisible Children group since my freshman year of high school,” Kim said. “In my head I was thinking, ‘Finally! It’s actually happening!’”
Kim said that after collaborating with classmate Sarah Chung (’15) and creat- ing the event, she noticed people were sharing both the Kony video and other articles that had been popping up criticizing the video. The articles and videos shared on the event’s Facebook page highlight Ugandans’ negative reactions to the film, filmmaker Jason Russell’s detainment and hospitalization after a show of public indecency and Invisible Children’s endorsement of the corrupt Ugandan government’s army.
“After reading these discussions, I also became discouraged in holding the event due to the lack of confidence in [Invisible Children],” Kim said. But she was encouraged by the many people still interested in fighting for the cause itself, even if it meant not buying Invisible Children’s “action kit” and posters.
The Student Life’s columnist Wes Haas (PO ’15) wrote in an editorial published in the March 9 edition of TSL that he was saddened by those who have dismissed the video-sharers and bandwagoners as ignorant or as hipster activists. He said that only getting involved after watching the Invisible Children’s film doesn’t somehow invalidate what they’re trying to accomplish. “I say good for them,” Haas wrote. “Good for them for trying to be a part of something bigger than themselves, for trying to bring attention to a cause that really needs it, for provoking everyone they reach to take a moment to think.”
Students are, of course, still incredibly divided on the issue. One reader commented on Haas’ article on TSL’s website, saying that it was “a very misinformed understanding of the criticism,” citing a YouTube commentary by a Ugandan-American woman who critiques both the Invisible Children and insists that Kony is not Uganda’s biggest problem.
Kim said the Claremont “Cover the Night” movement is still disorganized and mostly unofficial, so it is difficult to know how many students will actually be putting up posters on the night of April 20. However, as the discussion con- tinues, students from the Claremont Colleges will likely be very much involved.
A screening of the KONY 2012 film and discussion was held in Balch Au- ditorium at Scripps on March 26 after Invisible Children got in touch with SCORE. SCORE made it clear on that event’s Facebook page that it did not pay Invisible Children to come to Scripps, reimburse them for travel or donate any money to Invisible Children otherwise. SCORE also held a discussion the following day at lunch. A “KONY snackcussion” (snack plus a screening and discussion of the film) was held yesterday April 12 in Hahn 101 at Pomona College.