On orphans and hipsters

I haven't branched out much in my blog-writing. Today, I do.

Most of you have heard about the Kony2012 campaign. If you haven't, watch this.

It's pretty compelling, isn't it? Of course, as with anything else big these days, people quickly started coming out bashing the video. I needed to figure out where I stood. So, this is a long post to help others see as many sides as possible of this campaign without spending hours on the internet. I'm not a professional researcher. I'm just a former student, now teacher, who likes accurate information. Feel free to contact me if you think any of this is inaccurate, but, please, do so politely. 

First, the problems people have with the video:
1. Kony is no longer as dangerous as the video makes him sound. He was once this dangerous and deserves to be tried for his crimes, but these crimes are largely in the past. 

2. Finding Kony is not as simple as making him known. He's been on the world radar for a long time. America already has troops dedicated to this cause, and there has been no talk of pulling them. Part of this problem is that we're looking for him on his turf. And his turf, being the Congo, is a tricky turf for outsiders. Another huge issue is that he uses child soldiers as his bodyguards, and our forces would likely have to kill those children to get to Kony. Obviously, this presents a problem for our forces. I imagine even the most seasoned of assassins would hesitate before killing a child.

3. There's also the whole premise of White Man's Burden. What are our motives for going over there? Is it to "help the savage" find redemption? Or is it a gut reaction to seeing children abused in a way we can't fathom?

4. Lastly, Invisible Children seeks to give the Ugandan government more control. This government, like many African governments, is corrupt. They are raping and kidnapping also. Some suggest that they are not fully trying to apprehend Kony because when he's around, it gives them an excuse to have a presence in Northern Uganda. With this presence, they are sending the Acholi people to concentration camps, killing them, and basically trying to eradicate their people and history.

Then, there are problems with Invisible Children, the non--profit:
5. Charity Navigator only gives the 3 out of 4 overall stars, with various rankings of 2-4 stars in different areas. Go here for that full report. 

6. The filmmakers are young guys who went looking for a problem in order to make a film. Now that Kony is on the run, they are still looking to "cash in" on an already-solved problem.

7. They've made mistakes in the past, such as taking a group of people to Uganda, without a plan of what they could actually do. Some of these mistakes could have caused more harm than good. 

8. Their salaries are too high - about $88,000. 

Here's my take about each of these issues, in order. 

In order to understand my response to #1 (Kony is not dangerous), you have to look at #2 (Finding him is not simple). Notice that Kony is still using child bodyguards. That means he is still terrorizing children, even if it is on a much smaller scale. Even the criticisms that pointed out #2, also listed #1. I don't see how you can believe both of those facts to be true. I've seen several criticisms saying that the film is awful because it makes it sound as if the war in Uganda is still going on, and Kony isn't even in Uganda anymore. But he still has child bodyguards. It doesn't matter to me in the least where the man is terrorizing children, just that he is. See this New York Times Opinion article by Lisa Shannon for more. 

Also, it could be argued that, even if his crimes are in the past, justice still needs to be served for all those killed, enslaved, kidnapped, raped or harmed in any way. One blogger said several different things that Christians should be aware of regarding this campaign, one being that Christians are not supposed to be out for revenge, we are called to love. This is true, so personally, I'm not saying Kony should be tortured/hanged/treated the way he's treated children. But, since it seems that he is still harming children, I don't think it's wrong to pursue capturing him. I don't see that as revenge. I see that as loving those kids. I also think that blogger's point of praying for these kids is completely necessary as well. 

For #3 (is this White Man's Burden, or a desire to help kids?), I think it's the latter, plain and simple. People want to help kids. No one is trying to convert them. No one is trying to make all the children come to America, be adopted, and become good little Americans. I truly believe that most, if not all, people reacting to this video are reacting to the heart-wrenching story of these kids. 

Moving on to #4 (Invisible Children's partnership with the shady Ugandan government): in this Washington Post article by Elizabeth Flock, Invisible Children defends their partnership with the Ugandan government by saying, "There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa. If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn't partner with anyone." The article goes on to point out,"Human rights activists agree, however, that the abuses of the LRA are far worse than those of Uganda's security forces." To me, that answer is not only good enough, it's incredibly transparent and honest. Sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. 

Invisible Children also addressed #5 (3/4 stars by Charity Navigator) in the Washington Post article above. I feel like 3 out 4 ain't too shabby, especially when you consider my responses to #6 and #7. 

#6, 7 and 8 (They were looking for a cause, they've made mistakes, and they make too much money)- This comes down to one fact: People don't really like seeing the hipster/indie filmmakers. I get it. They are young white guys who went out looking for a film to make and found one. But, the thing I keep coming back to is, they have talent. They could have used that talent to market soda, video games, or sweaters to teenagers. And instead they chose to market a cause. They chose to tell a story that kids in America can't fathom and ask them to think about something beyond themselves. This, above all else, is why I'm inclined to like these guys. So, they wear cowboy hats and ties. So, they're excited about this thing and make mistakes like mentioned in #7. So, the 3-year old pictured also has a hipster haircut. Does that change their purpose? Does it change the fact that I see, on a daily basis now, 12 and 13 year olds talking about helping - excited about helping - kids hurting in Africa? That fact doesn't change at all. And, judging from their FAQ page (see the first question) they're learning from their mistakes, so that is even a step in the right direction. 

Also, for #7: This may be another misguided attempt to help. But, what does it hurt? 

That brings me to #8 - how do you expect them to afford hipster clothes and haircuts on anything less? No, seriously. $88,000 is not a ridiculous amount of money. Yes, it's more than my husband and I make together. But, again, they could have chosen to do a ton of other things with their time. They could have been home with their kids more. But they chose to do this. I also had the opportunity to look at the blog of a friend of a friend who knows a few of the founders, and see what she had to say. 
"I've seen some criticism that they are taking HUGE salaries of around $80,000.  Seriously?  Ben and Laren graduated at the top of their classes.  They went to major universities that most students cannot even be accepted into.  They could be making 5 times that amount in different careers.  They work around the clock and even recruited their wives to work for Invisible Children.  I think their salaries are more than fair and even very low.  I know assistant pastors who make more than $80,000 at big churches.  No one seems to shout about that being wrong."
Well, *my* assistant pastor isn't making that much! LOL But, really, they chose to spend their time helping others. They're not making 6 figures. That's enough for me.

I feel as though I didn't adequately address #2. To me, that is the only issue not fully resolved. I don't know that doing all these things will actually help the cause. But I don't think it will hurt. As a parent and teacher, if a kid is excited about trying something, I try very hard to not step all over them with my pessimism. Or even realism. Kids need to believe that they can make a change. Even if you and I don't think that putting up posters will do a dang bit of good in capturing an evil man on the other side of the world, it could spark an interest in these kids, and show them that there is so much more to life than playing video games and complaining about homework. That not getting an iPad for Christmas is not such a terrible thing, on the scale of things happening to children in the world. 

So, will I pay $30 for a kit? Probably not. Not because I don't think it's worthwhile. I don't think it's responsible for my family right now. Mainly because I don't see how spending that money will help catch Kony. Will I encourage my kids (students) who are excited about spreading the word? Of course (while also asking them to be law-abiding citizens the night of April 20th). Will I use this opportunity to teach both critical thinking and community awareness? Most definitely. 


AmyWat said...

Awesome writing Kristi! Keep on inspiring those future citizens. Maybe each class would like to raise money to buy kits and share with each other.

K Newman said...

Good idea! My Explorations classes were already doing service-learning this semester. I'm also going to try to pull in a few other organizations that help child refugees and see if that sparks their interest as well.

Andrew Kelley said...

I find your point concerning the use of their talent the most compelling (though I agree with most of what you say). It should be striking to people that a USC graduate who was successful both at school (and clearly in his current endeavors) uses his talent for something like this. Haters gonna hate though.

Secondly, I agree that critiquing their salaries is an absolute joke. Lets, for a second, assume that Jason Russell lives in Torrance, CA (a stone's throw from USC). $88000 is a typical salary for anyone who wants to own a modest two-bedroom there. So in my opinion, people complaining about his salary are totally missing the picture and as much as it makes me look bad to say this, need to just shut up.

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