We talked a little bit last class about the motivation behind volunteerism in America. Various explanations were offered from Fellows and attaches alike: We do it because we care about others; we do it to give back to society; we do it because we feel obligated; we do it to make ourselves feel better. While I personally believe the answer to the question comes on an individual basis and there are many people who volunteer out of a love to serve, I want to focus on the darker side of volunteerism and activism in light of the recent phenomenon of KONY 2012.
The KONY 2012 movement started on Monday. A mere three days later, I think it’s safe to say there are few people in the U.S. who haven’t heard about it. At the time I’m posting this, the campaign video has gotten 37 million hits. 37 million hits in three days is nothing to sneeze at. This movement is powerful.
The organization behind KONY 2012 is called Invisible Children. The goal of the movement (and of the organization in general for many years) is to shed light on the crimes of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda who has committed heinous humanitarian crimes such as abducting children and forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The mission of KONY 2012 is to spread the word about Kony so that governments around the world will take notice and work to bring this man to justice. In a few short days, social media has allowed it to spread like wildfire.
I support the movement. I think it’s a great way to spread awareness, and I’ve worked alongside Invisible Children in the past. It’s a wonderful organization, and I think it means well with the KONY 2012 campaign. But there’s a huge caveat in those 37 million views and the scores of shares I’ve been seeing on Facebook.
The word “activism” should be interpreted literally. Frankly, KONY 2012 has become a bandwagon for many. How many people who tweet with the #stopkony hashtag or click “share” on Facebook have actually donated money to Invisible Children? How many have pledged to help in whatever way they can? What does simply spreading awareness do, exactly?
On the one hand, we’ve seen (and I’ve posted about) how social media is most definitely a driving force to enact social change. It can happen. But in most cases, it happens within the country or region that it’s being discussed in (the Occupy movement, the Egyptian revolution, etc.). Does sending a video to your friends on Facebook do anything for the activists and organizations in Uganda fighting to bring this man to justice?
I’m not saying don’t participate. I’m not saying don’t spread the word, because I think it’s a noble cause, and social media is a wonderful way to rally the troops, so to speak. But please, let’s be careful about jumping on the bandwagon without making an attempt to enact change.
Write a letter to a government official. Sign the pledge on the KONY 2012 website. Donate money, time or both to the cause. Let’s put the “active” back in “activism.”