Drank The KONY Kool-Aid & Feeling Sick? This One’s For You.

March 15, 2012

If I get an ulcer, I’m sending the bill to Jason Russell. Maybe he can use some of the proceeds from the sale of those pretty shiny bracelets. Much has been critiqued about the Stop Kony movement, and even more is on its way. Most importantly, Ugandan voices have finally penetrated into the mainstream, and quite frankly, they’re doing a better job of deconstructing the issue than I could ever do.

In case the napkin doodle isn’t clear enough, I believe that the Stop Kony video is manipulative and irresponsible – at best (catch me off the record and I’ll tell you how I really feel). But I’m not as willing to write off the millions of youth who lent their support to the campaign. One of my many concerns with the video is how it patronizes young people, suggesting that they can’t possibly understand the complexity of the issue beyond a three syllable catch phrase. Unfortunately, many critics have perpetuated this image by characterizing campaign supporters as HappyMeal Hollywood zombies.

I’ve worked with youth for several years, and I am continually inspired and energized by their intelligence, integrity and zeal for life. However, it is the impulse to act that make young people as vulnerable as they are powerful. I would hate for the campaign backlash to cause concerned young people to retreat into a shell of apathy and inaction. And so, if you’re a young person who initially jumped on the Stop Kony movement and have come to rethink that decision, this post is for you. Hold on to that sensitivity to injustice, but please consider the following before you offer your voice, vote or support to another cause:

1) Think first, act later. Always ask questions and think critically, if it sounds too easy there’s something wrong. Most issues worth fighting for are complex and have been around for centuries. They are not going anywhere anytime soon, so that gives you enough time to read a few articles and engage in a few debates before forming an opinion and rising to action. Don’t trust anyone who suggests that they have done all the thinking for you, consider that an insult to your intelligence. 

2) Always seek local perspectives. Be wary of any person or organization who offers to speak on behalf of entire populations. Even the most marginalized in society have an opinion, and contrary to popular belief, they are often the most informed. Yes, sometimes violence and institutional barriers suppress certain voices, but they are always there if you work diligently enough to find them. If the group offering a solution hasn’t done so in partnership with the people they are supposed to be helping, its likely that they’re actually part of the problem instead.

3) Stay humble. No matter where you come from, how many degrees you have, how well you can write, or who your daddy is, never overestimate your role in any given situation. For every cause that could use your help, there is one that would be better off if you stayed out of the way. If you can remember that service has less to do with you than it does others, then it becomes easier to understand where you’re needed and where you’re not. 

4) Start in your own backyard. Injustice and inequity are global, not confined to the continent of Africa. Of course, the poverty and suffering we see in the developing world is often far worse than that in the West, and so we’re often compelled to want to do something about it. However, you’ll have a hard time understanding global problems if you haven’t worked to address local ones first. Where is the injustice and need in your own community? Is there a group working on these issues that you can support, or is there a need for you to start an initiative of your own? You might just be surprised by how much local issues mirror global ones, and the kind of impact you can have right at home.

5) The ends is determined by the means. No, it is not enough that you’re raising awareness. No, it is not enough that you have raised some money. No, it is not enough that you are doing something. If you are not acting with integrity and giving people the dignity they deserve, then you are not helping. You may be able to put on a bandaid or two, but sustainable change cannot come about if you don’t put as much thought into the process as you do the end goal. If you’re in the business of helping people, please remember that they are people and not projects.



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