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KONY2012’s ‘Cover The Night’ One Year Later: Remember Joseph Kony?

20 Apr

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.

The ‘Story’

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)….

Well…

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.

http://rt.com/news/kony-warlord-reward-uganda-294/

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.

Critical Response and Clarification

26 Nov

After my last post I got an email from a reader with a number of very legitimate questions about my last post, mainly concerning social media during the Arab Spring and asking how our latest innovation in communications technology are any different from those in the past.  Here was my response, I hope this clarifies some of my ambiguities in this far flung experiment I’ve got going on here:

_______________________

Hi *****,

I agree with you about the Arab Spring.  It’s highly contested academic territory and perhaps not the best direction for me to head in.  Besides, there are other things going on in the world right now that may make even more useful case studies, like the Icelandic revolution or the massive protests seen most heavily on the peripheries of ‘modern’ Europe (Spain, Greece, etc.).
The thing I guess I didn’t quite get across was that it isn’t the fact of social media but the speed and power of it that make it unique and astonishing.  Think about how long it took for the movements you mentioned to gain traction, and think of how physically slow it was to plan, disseminate information, and so on.  The fact that I can write anything I want and send it to anyone on the planet with internet  instantly astounds me and screams for wildly new potential for the dissemination knowledge as well as alternative types of social organization.  Admittedly internet usage is fairly low in most areas but generally not among those (the upper classes) who would typically assume leadership roles in their societies, if you believe that the idea of praxis exists or that movements come largely from those in the upper echelons of society.
It’s not that I believe social media simply gives people revolutionary potential, only that for the first time in the history of humankind can we deliver information instantly and do so globally.  Riots in Portugal, for example, are filmed and up for everyone to see, if not streaming, then within hours of the event.  THAT is revolutionary.  That is the type of thing I believe can lead to changes in people’s everyday understanding of the world and a sense of solidarity for those trying to resist the status quo for one reason or another.  One could argue that the printing press was more revolutionary…but for hundreds of years it was used mostly to produce a single book with a single point of view to the very few who were actually literate.  We had to catch up with the technology of the printing press to make it a truly transformative means of communication.  The same, I think holds true for the internet, but we caught up with it after twenty years or so.  However I believe we’ve intersected with social media at just the right time in history for it to be of incredible use to an exponentially larger number of people (even if adjusted to the population of the medieval era).
Further, social media for the first time makes every person on the planet an author.  It gives each of us a global voice that costs have until now made practically impossible.  It enables so much more dialogue and makes the planet feel so much smaller, so much more like a community instead of disparate nation-states.  My blog has had hits from almost ever nation on the planet over the past six months.  Could you imagine publishing in 150 or so countries in the 70s? or even the 80s or 90s?
Thanks for the website, it has really come in handy.  Feel free to get back to me if you’d like, and again I apologize for not responding a month sooner.
Take care,
Julian

Also, here is an Infographic about the history of social media starting with email in 1971 that she gave me and is pretty awesome: http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/history-of-social-media_b30226

 

Aside

Expansion

20 Oct

The focus of this project is no longer solely, or even largely KONY2012.  While it was and continues to be an impressive phenomenon it has become, in my mind at least, part of a larger trend of which it is only a single case study.  The past two years have seen entire segments of various nations rise up, some in protest, some through elections leading to dramatic shifts in government, and others by means of the strike.

Or, perhaps, events such as these are not so atypical as they appear, but only coming to light in far greater numbers due to the transparency and immediacy of the internet and the rise of alternative media.

I would like to argue that many social movements in general are due to the growing ease with which information can be disseminated (and do so on a global scale, connecting disparate groups and causes) and the digital media that is now widespread.

In the US for example, inequality was barely addressed as an issue of public concern outside of progressive and academic circles.  Today we see the New York Times Online “Front Page” publishing roundtable talks and discussions about the issue. A year ago Occupy was just a small group working against Wall St.  Now we find the nomenclature of their movement being referenced in popular culture (TV etc.) as well as the mainstream press.  With growing rapidity, it seems, the ‘dirty little secrets’ of many societies are being put in the spotlight, arousing public discontent.

Granted, this shift may never have occurred had the economy not tanked four years ago.  Were hundreds of millions or more not directly affected by the depression through job loss, government austerity measures, or huge losses in capital, it is entirely possible that many of the most pressing issues of this year would never have occurred.

But that is not what is of importance here.

What is of importance is that largely youth and worker driven movements around the world have been making headlines, assembling huge crowds, and gaining access to a broader audience in ways that, I argue, have not existed–or at least have not existed at a time when social pressures were high enough to lead to different forms of collective action–and that timeless, spaceless dissemination of information has now become a critical part of the politics of social change.  In other words, organizers have taken advantage of new digital technologies to circumvent traditional channels for knowledge (i.e. mainstream media), and that this has been a positive development for both democracy and supranational humanistic self-identification among younger people.

The other argument in my mind, and the one I really hope to find support for in my research is a little less straight forward but in the vein with much of the research already done on the Arab Spring.  Put simply, I would like to demonstrate a causal relationship between the rise of digital and social media, and the changes described above in which the latter may not have come to be without the former, and that movements did not simply pick up digital tools and turn them to their advantage but actually spawned from the organic growth of spreading ideas via digital media.  In terms of the youth this applies especially to social media.

So that is sort of where my head is at.  I no longer intend to focus my efforts on analyzing the circumstances surrounding Uganda and Kony that led to the Invisible Children video.  I do not think that it will aid me in making sense of Kony2012 AS PART OF A THE LARGER TREND that is really at the core of my questions about what I am seeing take place in the world and on my own computer.

No, the focus has shifted. 2012socialexperiment is no longer just about the Kony video, but about broader aspects of the year 2012 itself.

Feedback would be great, all.  Please comment if you have any thoughts.

Coming back around…

24 Sep

Well, after entirely too long (for the sake of this project at least) I have finally emerged from the woods back into the land of cellphones and wireless internet.  I’ve been doing a lot of work on Habermas and the development of the ‘analog’ Western public sphere.  Since KONY we have seen myriad other examples of the growing importance of social media as an element of electronic media (particularly in light of the upcoming US election), and the impact it is having on global consciousness and massive demonstrations around the world.  I’ve much to do, and will be writing more intensely in the coming week, but after a summer of consideration I believe that my work is going to expand beyond KONY2012 to other case studies and a broader theoretical framework, with attempts to reconcile theories on identity and collective action in the analog era with a new form of diffusing information, devoid of the time and space that has historically kept areas around the globe from connecting with and understanding one another.

The site has just under 6,000 hits of which only about 1/3 are American, while visitors have made their way to the site from nearly one hundred other nations.  It now shows up regularly on google, which apparently uses traffic density as a means to determine which sites best fit certain searches.  This hands on research is teaching me a good deal about time/space compression and amazes me as I sit here in Vermont, US knowing that these words will be read all over the world.  In the last week I have had visitors (mainly through searches) from places such as Indonesia, Spain, Kenya, and the Russian Federation, as well as others.

Geographic map of hits for the blog, supporting the idea that the world is growing ever smaller and that this may allow national differences to be set aside in favor of over-arching humanistic ideals:

Density not accounted for

Basic geographic data, please inquire for numeric details though they are likely forthcoming anyways.

An alternative way to view the cyber geography of this project.

Brief thoughts on ‘cover the night’ 4/20

26 Apr

I haven’t had a chance to look into how effective a mobilization of Cover the Night actually turned out to be, here in the US and abroad.

However, I have had the chance to read some news reporting on it and I discovered one very strong trend–in every large city (in the US at least) the event was downplayed as being less than a nuisance and completely ineffective. (I don’t know if that is true yet, but fine NYT I’ll take you on your word on it for now). When you start looking at news outside of the cities, though, the framing changes dramatically. In small cities all across the country the local news almost universally talked about how large the impact of the evening had been and in some places, even put a positive spin on the campaign (even in places you wouldn’t suspect, like Georgia!) Now is this a reflection of cities trying to keep an already gregarious population in the dark about mass actions? Or just small towns making big stories out of little things because, (hell I came from a small town and) there isn’t much to talk about? Or is it actually the case that the event was more highly saturated, publicized and successful in the country than the cities?

I’ve also heard a number of different stories about how the people in Uganda themselves have been reacting the to documentary and mobilization, though a lot of it has been negative and this too can be seen through their news.

Guardian, UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/21/kony-2012-campaign-uganda-warlord

SeattlePi.com: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Kony-2012-s-Cover-the-Night-continues-despite-3499509.php
(despite optimistic title it goes on to describe how only a ‘few dozen activists’ took part in the night)

AM 610 KCSR, Nebraska:http://www.chadrad.com/newsstory.cfm?story=24403

WFLI 18, Delphi, Indiana: http://www.wlfi.com/dpp/news/local/area-teens-cover-the-night-for-kony-2012

WMGT 41, Georgia: http://www.41nbc.com/news/local-news/11786-kony-2012-cover-the-night-campign-moves-into-middle-georgia

Daily Monitor, Uganda:http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/1387926/-/aw2cd3z/-/index.html

Demographics of This Site (and other various and sundry thoughts of the day), 19 April

19 Apr Map of Countries This Blog Has Been To

As of 3PM today I have had 714 visits to my blog from the countries shown above, roughly one quarter of the nations recognized by the UN.  Here is how some of that breaks down:

United States 512
United Kingdom 45
Canada 41
Australia 11
Switzerland 10
Netherlands 8
Mexico 7
Turkey 6
Japan 5
Belgium 5
Portugal 4
Ireland 4
Sweden 4
Hong Kong* 3
Singapore* 3
Denmark 3
France 3
India 2
Finland 2
Lebanon 2
Israel 2
Spain 2
Brazil 2
Romania 2
Argentina 2
Norway 2
Ecuador 1
China 1
Thailand 1
Peru 1
Puerto Rico* 1
New Zealand 1
Philippines 1
Panama 1
Pakistan 1
Honduras 1
Latvia 1
South Africa 1
Austria 1
Egypt 1
Morocco 1
Chile 1
Poland 1
Costa Rica 1

Of the total 714, seventy two percent were American, meaning twenty eight percent came from abroad.

However, if you create a subset for the “Anglo” countries (US, UK, AU, CA–which happen to be the top four on the list), we find that it makes up for eighty five percent of traffic, leaving only fifteen percent (or 105 visits) ‘foreign’ in the broader sense.  Still I am learning a great deal about the inner workings of social media and effective methods for disseminating information.  I haven’t posted much about actual events yet, as I am still waiting a bit to see how things shake out in the next thirty days or so.  I will, however, discuss ‘Cover the Night’ and the facts and opinions that derive from it.

I will also start discussing the geopolitical history and situation in Central Africa with detail, in order to understand exactly what may or may not be going on and who the beneficiaries are.

Tomorrow is ‘Cover the Night’!  Even if you didn’t buy an ‘action kit’ (which infuriates me…something for a later rant)–make a poster, picket for an hour, get attention–do something!  Prove that when 100 million people watch a video about humanitarian justice and corruption they will make some sort of effort to voice their concerns!!!

THOUGHTS, COMMENTS, AND SHARING GREATLY APPRECIATED!