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Column - Inactive activisim

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

March 14, 2012

I am of the opinion that we, as Americans, tend to be a bit ethnocentric.

While I don't believe we are any more or less than other countries on the planet, one is constantly bombarded about how "we live in the best country on the planet" despite many having never traveled further than Canada. This focus on America being the best, as far as I can surmise, has led us to largely ignore events in the world.

News about protest make it here as do humorous sports shenanigans (anyone remember Zidane?) but there's a lot left in the dark.

Enter Joseph Kony. Kony is a Ugandan warlord active since the mid-1980s whose Lord's Resistance Army is largely composed of children. He obtains these children through viscous kidnappings and, while he uses many as soldiers, also employs them in other horrifying ways - chief the utilities is sex-slaves.

So when a video made by film school graduates went viral last week, naturally social media was a-buzz with startup groups and protest organizers all clamoring for the denouncement of this monster. High School students in our home town of Lake Orion even went so far as to dress up in face-masks and silently deliver small scraps of paper with the words Kony 2012 and a stylized picture of the man, leaving without a word of description or explanation.

"Deep" I guess.

Here is where the problem arises for me: the large majority of the people who are suddenly "activists" are doing little to nothing to actually spread word about this man. Those that are spreading the word are stopping there as if strongly worded letters means anything to a Ugandan warlord. Social media has offered a mean to greater communication the world over and we're treating a monstrous situation in Africa like a fashion statement or a fad.

This really hit home when, while photographing a basketball game, the student section held up a huge sign with the words "Stop #Kony 2012". Ordering aside, how are people meant to know what a Kony is or that # refers to a Twitter hashtag? The joviality of their expressions not matching the content of their sign aside, how does a stranger in the audience have any context as to what a Kony is and why there's a pound sign in front of his name?

It's a kind of inactive activism that irritates me so much. It seems while the situation in Uganda is brutally real all we can muster is a lot of "likes" of Facebook or over 100,000 followers on Twitter. It's the new cool thing to care about - such as annually, when someone decides to care about aids, or breast cancer for a month. These are real, terrible and tragic things and the levity of the situation is lost on the people that treat it like a trend.

Wearing an article of clothing and calling it activism is not only useless to the people actually suffering, it's insulting. There are children suffering at the hands of this religiously-inspired maniac and soon a company in the United States will produce a shirt and donate five percent to a group who will use the money to make another video. Joseph Kony could care less about a video.

This is not just my criticism. The maker of the viral video, Invisible Children Inc., garnered critics, particularly for benefiting off other people's problems by selling merchandise and driving Kony underground now that "the spotlight is on him." Even survivors of Kony's Lord's Resistance Army have spoken out against the movie, saying while they appreciate the sentiment and hope the film end's the warlord's barbarism, they worry bringing this kind of attention to the man will end with a heavy handed response. This would only hurt the kids still "enlisted."

The whole situation reeks of kids playing with matches - a situation presented to naive people who think by simply stopping one aspect of the whole problem they can eradicate the wrongdoing.

The worst part about this movement's status as a fad is that in one month at most, Kony will be a memory one way or another. There are military actions right now to help end this man's campaign (which started before the film's popularity) that may succeed, but even if they don't, youth and these inactive activists will grow bored and forget about the whole thing. All they've done is give a monster his 15 minutes of fame.