Friday, March 23, 2012

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

False-flag revolutionaries and the hit on Joseph Kony

First off: I will not tolerate reduction of this statement. By critiquing this movement I don't mean to say that what has been going on in Uganda is at all acceptable. It is just that the methods used to bring Joseph Kony's war crimes to light are very illuminating concerning issues of dissent, mobilization, and media manipulation.

I'm a little too swamped to really think about this right now, but as I reach the end of the KONY 2012 video, with it's faux-revolutionary throwing of banners and donning of masks, I go from thinking of Invisible Children as just one overzealous movement to considering it an attempt to undermine systemic revolution everywhere. Mobilizing youth into activism is an excellent goal, but this movement's rhetoric, as put forward in the KONY 2012 video, misses the point of that mobilization entirely.

The problem is simple: the video calls people to action toward a goal that creates no systemic change. They want Kony arrested, or dead, as they should. He sounds like a terrible person. But simply calling for the deposition of that one bad person is tantamount to the tactics that we used to target Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden: It encourages a reactionary, goldfish mindset that precludes deep accountability and discourages real reform. They equate him visually with Bin Laden and Hitler, a cheap-shot that doesn't take into consideration the 100's of similarly oppressive tyrants and structures around the globe. Even more problematically, they haven't armed their viewers with any background as where Joseph Kony came from, or what systems allowed a person like this to manifest. That's primarily because those causes are incredibly murky and deep, leading to villans with many faces, and have problematic implications of responsibility in profit driven globalized economics.

When I re-read the above sentence, my brain grumbles. "How on earth will we ever combat such deep and systemic things? Shouldn't we start somewhere?" Yes, dear brain. We should start somewhere. We should start everywhere. With anarchist houses and policy think-tanks. Talk shows and twitter campaigns. Lifestyle choices and volunteering. Travel and conversation. Occupy Wall Street and the Better Business Bureau. With raising awareness of global atrocities, and setting precedents of global responsibility.

Wait! That sounds like this campaign. Wrong. If the point was to set a precedent of global responsibility, I applaud the point. But the tactics used did not set that precedent. They set the precedent that a reasonable way to influence policy is to focus MASSIVE mobilization to take out a figurehead. Sound familiar? Sounds like how we got into Afghanistan and Iraq. 10 years and trillions later, and we've done the opposite of solving the problem. Because problems don't die with figureheads. And as even the US war hawks are learning, calls to action are a scarce resource.

That's the real reason this video is annoying. I'm worried it will give its millions of followers a false conclusion about their proper relation to activism. It co-opts all the energy and symbols of unrest in the world right now and mobilizes them towards what is a relatively obscure and specific problem effecting few people at the most urgent, receiving end of social inequity, half the world away. This same injustice would be better served if all the well-intentioned youth jumping aboard the bandwagon would tie the plight of Ugandan children into an interconnected architecture of injustice that we all have our relative roles in fighting, some at home, some abroad. Some through policy, some through action, achieving that same goal while improving the system overall. The folks at Invisible Children are effectively isolating this incident. They do so for clarity, in a bid for mass-palatability and effectiveness, but along the way they co-opt the symbols, tactics, energy and messages of more systemic, nuanced movements, and it irks me.

I'll leave with a quote from the video, an excellent and truthful statement:

"It's always been that the decisions made by the few, with the money, and the power dictated the priorities of their government, and the stories in their media. They determined the lives and the opportunities of their citizens. But now, there is something bigger than that. The people of the world see each other, and can protect each other. It's turning the system upside down. And it changes everything."
I hope you're right. And I hope it doesn't stop with one guy in Uganda.
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