Since you’re reading this blog, the odds are good that you semi-regularly use one or more forms of social media. That also means in the last few days you have come into at least passing contact with the slick new video from Invisible Children, a U.S.-based organization seeking the arrest and prosecution of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan guerrilla group. The video has gone viral (as of this writing it has 67,106,844 views on YouTube), but just in case you’ve have somehow missed the bazillion tweets, Facebook posts, and such, here it is:
Since its posting, the video has garnered a great deal of support (Oprah’s on board, and where Oprah goes people follow) and a great deal of criticism (the Huffington Post has a nice summary of the critiques). While it’s tempting to wade into the waters of debate surrounding the immediate intentions and impacts of the video and the campaign, I’ll refrain from doing so here because I keep finding myself thinking much farther down the line.
The big call to action in the video asks viewers to donate to Invisible Children and to order a Kony 2012 Action Kit. The kit includes stickers, posters, buttons, two bracelets (one for you and one for someone you get to join the effort with you) and details about the plan to spread the word about Kony. It comes in a tidy little paper box emblazoned with the campaign logo (skip to the 26 minute mark of the video for details on the kit). On seeing this, I could not help but think “Wow… it’s a Happy Meal for activists.” It’s inexpensive, easy to get, and easy to
For the purposes of the campaign, this tactical approach might be great. The idea is to provide a very simple way for geographically dispersed people to engage in coordinated action. The approach clearly has appeal; the kits have already sold out. We’ll see on the morning of April 21st how well it works (in theory, you should wake up to Kony 2012 posters, stickers, etc. all over the place wherever you live). Let’s say the campaign succeeds in all its goals. Pressure is applied to governments, more attention and resources are focused on Uganda (and environs, since Kony probably isn’t in Uganda anymore), Kony gets caught, the LRA disbanded, and the world is a safer place.
But then what? What are the long term impacts of this effort? One thing movements have long done is train people how to be organizers and connect people to new social networks that might broaden their thinking about politics and public affairs. In this case, for a brief moment, we’ll have new activists all over the U.S. and the world, suddenly made aware of problems far beyond their homes and motivated to take action on them. But they aren’t put into meaningful local organizations with one another. They’re not developing new skills as organizers. They’re consuming activist boxes with a friend.
So, I wonder, then. Will all those young people, coming together, ready to be part of something bigger, just consume their box, feel good, and move on? And if that happens, will a suddenly successful movement campaign have missed its real civic opportunity?