Kony campaign receives ambivalent responses

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A controversy has arisen among a mass amount of Facebook statuses and Twitter messages containing the phrase “Kony 2012.”

At approximately midnight on Wednesday morning, the phrase went viral through Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, along with a 30-minute video describing the campaign behind it. The video, produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children, is narrated by organization member Jason Russell, who explains his personal experiences in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and urges others around the world to share his concerns. According to the Invisible Children website, Russell and other members of the group are working to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, from kidnapping children in Uganda and turning them into sex slaves or child soldiers. The video’s slogan “Kony 2012,” refers to the effort Invisible Children members hope will make Kony’s name as significant as other political terrors, such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

“We believe Kony is the worst war criminal, and a lot of this campaign is awareness because we want to make it known we don’t want him killed,” said Cassidy Myers, Invisible Children Street Team Coordinator for Austin. “We want him arrested and brought to justice in court. We want people to know this is a human issue, that we care about humans in the most remote corners of the world.”

Myers said the organization has targeted Austin, along with five other strategic cities, for expanding the efforts of the Kony 2012 campaign. She said members of the UT student chapter of Invisible Children and other students interested in the issue are crucial in helping raise awareness and eventually stopping Kony. Myers said each Street Team also includes a Ugandan leader, who shares their personal experiences with new members of the group. Myers and the Austin Street Team planned a meeting Saturday at 3 p.m. at Triangle Park to employ student involvement, and has created a Facebook page and Twitter account to reach out to students.

While Invisible Children chapters exist on college campuses across the nation, some believe the organization is not making a significant effort to stop the LRA from the crimes members say it commits. Blog posts sprang up hours after the Kony 2012 video went viral, and several writers opposed Invisible Children for various reasons.

Grant Oyston, sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, has continually updated a post which began March 8 on his blog, Visible Children.

“I do not doubt for a second that those involved in Kony 2012 have great intentions,” Oyston blogged. “But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the Kony 2012 campaign.”

According to the blog, the majority of funds raised by Invisible Children goes to salaries, transport and travel for its staff. Oyston backs these numbers with the organization’s public financial statements available online, and also writes that a “bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking.” Oyston also criticizes the military intervention Invisible Children believes is necessary to disarm Kony, calling it ill-advised.

Myers said she understands how quickly adverse feelings can arise in lieu of the video’s sudden popularity.

“Personally, I’ve given a year and a half of my life to this cause and one of my best friends has lost family because of the LRA,” Myers said. “We have leaders who are Ugandan to make sure we are as effective with our time and resources as possible. There’s no way I would’ve given a year and a half of my life so far if I didn’t believe in this cause.”

Lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman, co-editor of the political blog Wronging Rights, said she has worked in Central Africa and has followed the region’s politics for approximately 10 years. Cronin-Furman said she is concerned the Kony 2012 campaign presents an incredibly simplistic narrative of the problem it seeks to address.

“[It] tells its audience that they are ‘helping’ the victims of the LRA if they purchase bracelets and put up posters,” Cronin-Furman said. “I agree that arresting Kony is a desirable goal, but it’s not clear how raising awareness in America will help accomplish this, and it’s also not clear how removing Kony will end the LRA’s rebellion.”

Cronin-Furman said she understands how young Americans are affected by the atrocities conveyed in the Kony 2012 video and feel the need to help LRA victims, but advises them to look into supporting other organizations involved in relief efforts, such as Oxfam International.

“There are many international organizations that do consistently good work on the ground with civilians who have been victimized by Kony,” Cronin-Furman said.

“Supporting their work would do far more to help LRA-affected populations than purchasing a Kony 2012 wristband.”

Some UT students, such as government sophomore Julia Hudson, are more concerned with helping the people of Uganda than joining an organization. Hudson said she is not a member of Invisible Children, but advocates the effort to stop Kony and believes donating her time to raise awareness will give a voice to the issue. She said she plans to partake in the April 20 Cover the Night event hosted by the Kony 2012 campaign, which aims to cover Austin in posters, pamphlets and stickers highlighting the cause.

“Anyone here is capable to make a difference, hang posters and pass out some buttons,” Hudson said. “And if you are skeptical of giving money to Invisible Children, make these things yourself. The whole point is to shed light on this man and what he has done, so that the LRA can be totally stopped.”