One year ago today thousands of activists, most quite young, plastered America with posters and the contents of ready made ‘action kits’ in solidarity with an organization called Invisible Children….
If you know what I’m talking about right now, great. If you do not you are helping to prove one of the points I am trying to make.
IC (Invisible Children) makes a thirty minute ‘humanitarian’ film about warlord Joseph Kony and how we (the US military) need to catch him–and goes on to discuss how ‘we the people’ can make that happen…
The video goes ABSOLUTELY VIRAL like nothing of it’s type had before or has since…getting over 200,000,000 views in just a few weeks (perspective: that is a little less than two thirds of America watching this youtube/vimeo video at least once). So, some crazy things happen with IC (I do not want to get into the politics of NGO’s or the particulars of that organization), but the video becomes a ‘cause célèbre’ of sorts, particularly high school aged youth. The whole thing culminates in an advocacy campaign called ‘Cover the Night’. CtN was then intended to be the start of a larger ‘movement’ campaign aimed at Congress, who, it was hoped, would eventually be pressured by concerned constituents (letter writing, legislative/judicial routes, etc.) to send American soldiers to go hunt him down (we already had advisors at the team, but we are talking ground troops)….
The Idea (Dust?)Bin
Perhaps not so slowly, most people seem to have forgotten about the entire endeavor. Even when I get into detail it’s tough to coax it from people’s memories, only 365 days after the event that was sort of the starting point for my whole thesis. The video was the last most people ever heard of any of it while others tagged along a bit longer, but it honestly is almost like it never happened.
The recent trend to display signs of solidarity while the Supreme Court was deciding on gay marriage comes to mind as something similar…Facebook was awash with red and pink for three days, could be seen speckled about various profile pictures a week later, and shortly after that remained largely only for the LBGTQ community and particularly committed Allies. It is amazing (and curious), some the world events that shake us and we never forget, while others of arguably similar or even more importance pass through the mind and current events and wind up (to use a quote from Leon Trotsky) in “the dustbin of history”.
This all, makes me at least, a stronger believer that the leap from advocacy to activism is one that very few people take, and that our collective memory is quite short, considering the unparalleled success of intitial IC campaign. The iconic campaign posters are still found in the odd alley (I saw one last month that had managed to survive the brutal New England winter), occasionally you see a sticker on a lamp post. It also says a few things about social movements structurally, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
A Few Fundamentals
In order to understand the fate of this particular movement one must first break down the idea of a ‘social movement’.
Basically, it can be argued that social movements are groups of people united by a similar cause that has social roots and can (theoretically) be resolved, reversed, slowed down, etc. using social means. The overarching goal of social movements and advocacy work is, essentially, to change the status quo. This change/goal-oriented group behavior is what allows groups like the Black Panthers, Westboro Baptist Church, The (post-Soviet) Communist Party, and Doctors Without Borders to be classified in the same broad group despite the huge differences between them.
However, all social movements are not the same. Most take one one of two forms(or a mix of both, in organizations such as the union UNITE HERE!)
First, there can be a direct challenge to the system, government, institution etc. that people wish to see change. Often their tactics work from outside of the functioning sociopolitical realm (I would characterize this realm as an institutionalized version of Mills’ Power Elite) and therefore they often find themselves far from the ‘appropriate channels’ to get things done in contemporary America. The initial Occupy Wall Street movement is a great example of this.
Invisible Children, and it’s KONY2012 campaign are of the latter kind. Most NGO’s and in fact most activists can be put into this category. These are the groups and individuals that work ‘inside the system’–lobbying, starting petitions, getting ideas turned into bills that make it to the floor of the Senate and House chambers and often using institutional leverage to create impact. The Human Rights Campaign, the NRA, and the Audubon Society represent good examples of this type of movement towards change.
I wonder how baking cookies to donate to breast cancer research would fit into this? I suppose it doesn’t really, and therefore this needs flushed out quite a bit and perhaps qualified the politicized nature of the things I am looking at.
(Please do not get me wrong, I am not trying to say that outside pressure is not an effective means of social progress, though one could argue that the NRA is fairing much better than OWS at the moment. In fact I would argue that in the ‘big picture’ outside pressure is by far the more important of the two types of activism. I also tend to think of the world in terms of grandiose systems, so to me politics are usually subservient to other forces.) This also has a great deal to do with traditional organizational models and resource mobilization…but that is another matter for another time.
So Where Is Kony and Why Does It Matter?
Well, they always say ‘the proof is in the pudding’.
KONY2012 was an incredible moment for organized advocacy…and despite going out with a sputter… recent events have shown that it may have been a partial success after all.Several weeks ago the Central African Republic suspended it’s manhunt for Kony. The next day the United States issued a declaration putting a $5,000,000 bounty out on him. But bear in mind that it is the US that oversaw the forces pulling out…bittersweet? Here is a quick article on the recent developments.
As an organization working within the pluralistic model (i.e. inside the system–I just don’t feel like saying that over and over), it showed how quickly movements of the type can be influential once they have gained some real internal or external clout like the current climate for the marriage equality which has been decades in the making.
After a years worth of reflection, this series of events has turned out to be a great case study in virtual advocacy…and it gives this author some confidence that there is a future for others like it.
OH… and if you were wondering where to find Kony and earn a quick five mil, you can probably find him somewhere in the CAR, South Sudan, or the DRC…but honestly nobody really has any idea.
I tricked you! Ha.
It took ten years to track down Osama Bin Laden…and one can only imagine how much more intense that search was by those in power.
Sorry it’s been so long. Take care y’all.