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Invisible Children gets more visible

A recent action of the Kony 2012 campaign led to the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture being vandalized.

You may have already read about the outrage in a variety of media outlets — someone defaced our beloved “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” an iconic sculptural landmark in Minneapolis, with the name of African war criminal Joseph Kony. People are mad.

And if you didn’t already know what the deal was with Kony, you probably looked up his name after seeing photos of the vandalism, and you were probably linked to the website for a campaign called Invisible Children. And you may or may not have watched one of their viral videos that explain who this man is, what the tactics of the Lord’s Resistance Army are and what Invisible Children urges you to do about it.

Specifically, the organization urged folks to rally last Friday and plaster their cities with posters and other paraphernalia to get the word out about Kony in a national call to action called “Cover the Night.” While their website specified that the activities of the participants should be kept legal, residents of Minneapolis, Portland, Lewisville, Texas, and Worcester, Mass., among others woke Saturday to find that their towns weren’t just covered in posters, stickers and sidewalk chalk — homes and major landmarks had been painted, vandalized with the name of a war thousands of miles away.

That’s not to say that the atrocities being committed in central Africa are not important, nor does it mean that Americans shouldn’t be concerned and doing what they can to help the cause. If you ask me, stopping these war crimes is a cause we should be organizing around. But I find Invisible Children’s tactics a little suspect.

While Kony and his counterparts are stealing African children from their beds and recruiting them to be sex slaves and soldiers, Russell and his organization are telling American youth to get out of bed and resist. And it makes sense to employ energetic and generally well-to-do American youth for the cause.

But here’s the thing about organizing youth: They’re not always going to follow every instruction you post to the Internet. If you can get high school and college students riled up enough about something to spend a Friday night campaigning for it, you can bet that some of them are going to get a little overzealous.

You can’t use a purely social media outreach platform and expect older adults to join the fight — Twitter and YouTube are still predominantly the domain of younger generations, after all — and you can’t send a bunch of youth out onto the streets in the middle of the night without anticipating a few less-than-legal actions that will probably spur some critical press and a drop in positive public opinion.

The youth energy in the Kony 2012 campaign is nothing to scoff at, and the fact that a single campaign regarding events outside of the American border has recruited so many of the previously apathetic youth populace is wonderful and astounding. But why stop there?

Recruit some participants that are 25 and older. Reach out to businesses and have them organize their workforce around the issue. Engage American parents who can connect on a parental level with those whose children have been stolen by Kony. Make this a family affair. A larger adult presence could only add additional credibility and person-power to the cause, and having more people with a sense of consequences could set an example to youth who might otherwise be out tagging a war criminal’s name.


Melanie Williams welcomes comments at [email protected].

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