COHEN: Activism should go beyond Facebook

Over break, a new topic dominated Facebook and Twitter: #KONY2012. The nonprofit Invisible Children launched this mass activism campaign with a viral video protesting the horrific actions of Joseph Kony, the leader of a rebel group in central Africa called the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The LRA is a brutal and destructive force. It abducts children and rapes and kills women and men, often forcing children to kill their own parents. And it’s been doing so for 26 years. Invisible Children is right to publicize Kony’s crimes — there’s no doubt about that. But the group and its “Kony 2012” campaign are not helping the situation in Africa.

I give Invisible Children credit for trying to raise awareness about the LRA and its atrocities. It is no easy task to get thousands of college students sharing photos and videos. And raising awareness is good — if people know about an atrocity, they are more likely to try to do something, whether it is contacting their government or raising money for charities.

But my biggest qualm with Invisible Children — besides its directors who pose for pictures holding enormous guns and get arrested for public masturbation — is that it seems to be raising awareness for awareness’s sake.

While the group claims it spends 80 percent of its money on program expenditures, less than a third of that goes to actual programs on the ground in Africa. The rest goes to travel, salaries and video production.

In fact, Invisible Children’s director of ideology (director of what?) proudly states that “we are an advocacy and awareness organization,” not an aid organization. But Invisible Children doesn’t go on to direct viewers to an aid organization in its video — it asks for donations.

For about a week, my newsfeed was flooded with Kony statuses. As I write this, however, there is not a single Kony-related post on my newsfeed. Not one. By using a viral video, Invisible Children’s campaign went the way of all viral videos: massive interest followed by only occasional mention.

The “Kony 2012” campaign allowed me to feel like I had made a contribution by clicking a button or posting a link, when in reality I did nothing to hasten Kony’s downfall.

Kony is no longer the hot topic. But that’s okay, because all the rich, white kids in America got to feel good for a few days about our kinship with African children, right? That doesn’t exactly seem like lasting awareness.

Invisible Children offers only one solution to the problem: U.S. troops. There are a lot of evil people in the world — and many other warlords in central Africa — but should we send in troops to kill all of them? I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but the group doesn’t even address the implications of its suggestions, and forgive me if I think a cute five-year-old shouldn’t set U.S. policy.

What’s more, the LRA hasn’t actually been in Uganda for about five years, and not because it has expanded to other countries as Invisible Children’s video implies. It has limped to other countries in its weakest state in 26 years. The LRA is still a destabilizing force in central Africa, but the real picture is very different from the one the video paints.

There is also not a single African on Invisible Children’s board of directors. It strikes me as a sort of modern “White Man’s Burden” — those poor, poor Africans obviously need the help of white Americans! The video does not promote African agency in solving an African problem. Most “Kony 2012” fans have watched one video and maybe read some articles; that does not make us experts on Africa.

With any luck, Joseph Kony and the LRA will be captured or killed soon, before more lives are destroyed. My problem with Invisible Children lies not in its finances or board of directors; it lies in its definition of activism.

Activism for any cause cannot just be a fad, a bracelet you wear or a status update you post. It needs to be a sustained effort by people who actually care. I hope I’m wrong, and the awareness Invisible Children raised changes more than a few Facebook statuses. But either way, if you actually want to affect the situation in central Africa, look to charities that actually do work on the ground — unsexy, un-videoed, unceasing work that causes real change, not just passing fads.

Sam Cohen is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact him at


  • The Anti-Yale

    ACTIVISM huh? You’re lecturing the Kony film folk on ACTIVISM?

    Somewhere in the Kent State Collection in Sterling Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division is as 1971 letter I received from the (now late) author James Michener warning me as a Kent State activist ( then protesting the kangaroo court local grand jury which indicted STUDENTS instead of National Guardsmen for the murders of the Kent State students at the hands of NATIONAL GUARDSMEN) not to simply generate news articles but to DO something.

    OK Jimmy. So I DID something—-got a majority of the campus,10,800 students, to sign a petition to Nixon to overturn his attorney general’s decision NOT to convene a federal grand jury.


    Your pal, Dick Nixon, ignored the petition for a year, then nixed it.

    When it was resubmitted after the Saturday Night Massacre in which Elliot Richardson resigned as Attorney General, ironically, former Yale law professor Bork (later rejected for the Supreme Court), had the briefest term as Acting Attorney general in US history: THREE DAYS.

    Guess what this ULTRA CONSERVATIVE Herr Yale Law Professsor Mr. Bork did during this three day term—probably to end the Kent state ACTIVISM once and for all ?

    He CONVENED a federal grand jury to investigate the Kent State murders.

    Will WONDERS never cease?

    And then the whole thing was thrown out of court because the prosecution failed to prove their was a CONSPIRACY beforehand to deprive students of the Civil Rights, even though they deprived them of their lives.

    C’mon. Don’t lecture the Kony film people about activism.

    The whole word of politics and justice is a chaotic crap-shoot.

    Paul D Keane

    M. Div. ’80, etc.

    • basho

      I know someone who talks like this – but he had a stroke a couple years back

      • xfxjuice

        PK tends to write a lot of words without really saying anything.

    • theantiantiyale

      I think you might be commenting on the wrong article. This one is about activism specifically in regard to Kony. I think the Kent State article is somewhere else.

    • River_Tam

      > Guess what this ULTRA CONSERVATIVE Herr Yale Law Professsor Mr. Bork did during this three day term—probably to end the Kent state ACTIVISM once and for all ? He CONVENED a federal grand jury to investigate the Kent State murders.

      First, why are you calling Robert Bork “Herr”? As far as I know, he is not German.

      Second, are you really complaining that he actually agreed to investigate the shootings?

  • Jess

    A potentially important distinction here is that Invisible Children is not even about awareness-raising for awareness’s sake, but actually awareness-raising for awareness-raising’s own sake. Which is how you have a 30-minute video with essentially no actual information about anything the LRA has done in the past 5 years.

  • River_Tam

    At least learn to pronounce Kony correctly.

  • The Anti-Yale


    I don’t know. He’s pretty rigid , a German trait I believe (I am allowed to say that since my maternal grandmother was Hulda Bonhau).

    And, I wasn’t COMPLAINING that he agreed to investigate the Kent State shootings, I was ASTONISHED.
    At the time, Arthur Krause, father of slain co-ed Allison Krause, thought the government agreed to reverse Attorney General Mitchell and convene a federal grand jury merely to open the case and then shut it down for good on a procedural issue —-which is exactly what happened.

    Even so, I think Yale Law Professor Bork VASTLY undersold himself when he appeared for ratification as a Supreme Court nominee.

    He should have used his three-day tenure as the Acting Attorney General who re-opened the Kent State investigation as a SELLING POINT TO LIBERALS.

    BTW—I agree with the guy who said I sound like I had a stroke. Everybody I refer to in the post is either dead or a has-been. You know, to a world that worhips youth, and the present, and the future————– the PAST is taboo.

    I should watch myself.

    I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was not au courant (i.e. cool).


    • basho

      I would say that random capitalization, stilted tone, and complete lack of pertinence are more responsible for the subdural hemorrhage feel than loyalty to the bygone.

      That said, I’m not a doctor, so I could be wrong.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Nothing new here.

    As i said two years ago to a poster who accused me of being of-topic:

    “I’ve been off-topic my entire life.”.

    “Delightfully off-topic” could be my epitaph.


    • theantiantiyale

      PK, you just made me laugh. It is good to know that you are very self-aware.

  • The Anti-Yale


    Since you are the anti-PK, I suppose that would make you “Dreadfully on-topic.”

    No offense. lol.


  • theantiantiyale

    None taken.