By Ariell Allred and Rhett Wilkinson
Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, Inc., directed a 30 minute video that seized the attention of more than 87 million viewers on YouTube. The Stop Kony 2012 campaign spread was an enormous social media torrent, sweeping over Facebook timelines and blowing up hash tags on Twitter. Some might say to reach this large of an audience in such a short amount of time is a dubious feat and a testament to the power of globalized social media.
The campaign’s video received plenty of attention, though not all positive. Critics deride Russell’s video for its oversimplification of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) and the associated poverty and deprivation problems occurring in Uganda. Others harshly critique because Joseph Kony is not a new topic and the numbers of children that are being abducted are on the decline. Many say that if we wanted to help, 2003 would’ve been a far better year—that the U.S. is too late. Then there was that whole ordeal where Russell was found masterbating while drunk after being apprehended by police in San Diego. Russell’s episode included running naked through the streets, pounding his fists on the California pavement and shouting incoherently.
Utah State has its very own Jason Russell. Though he bears no relation to the Invisible Children co-founder, he shares a passion for raising awareness and rallying people together to make a difference. He headed up Kony USU and organized volunteer meetings, along with Aggies for Africa director Ashley Ryan, College of Democrats President Shashank Chauhan and communication studies and political science major Keenan Nuehring. Russell heard about Invisible Children a few years ago but decided to take action after viewing Kony 2012 on YouTube.
Despite the unlikelihood of USU’s Russell sharing his name with the more-notorious newsmaker, the senior still believed in taking initiative. “In my mind, if I’m not going to do something about it, who is?” he asked. Because of all of the black smoke that seems to be surrounding Invisible Children founder Jason Russell, his lewd public display and the commercial side of his video, student Russell would like to keep focus and donations for Week of Kony 2012 separate from Invisible Children, Inc. His center of attention is on relief, education and uniting. He said all donations will go to an organization that rebuilds central Africa. His effort comes out of his love to see USU students take on more social responsibility and research both sides of the issue so they may better judge for themselves. Russell hopes to have a “lasting effect” and continue with STOP Kony 2012 throughout the year. Future plans include generating petitions and furthering awareness, particularly among students.
To end the STEPS week, volunteers will meet at the ‘A’ on Old Main and participate in Cover the Night. This event begins at 11:00 pm on Fri., April 20. To help raise awareness and educate more people about the complexities of the issue, STEPS, Aggies for Africa and USU students put together Week of Kony 2012. It started on Mon., April 16 with a panel consisting of four USU professors: Veronica Ward (political science), Chris Conte (history), Ann Laudati (environmental science) and Matthew LaPlante (journalism and communication). Students Tim Enrico and Patricia Ayaa also attended.
Invisible Children’s slogan “Make Kony Famous” is one among the many issues surrounding Kony 2012. It is viewed as offensive to those that have experienced the horror and brutality of the LRA and its leader, said Ayaa, a native to Uganda. “Making a murderer a celebrity offends because celebrities are looked up to,” she said during the panel. “Kony is not someone to be looked up to and he should not be celebrated.” She also commented that Ugandans are aware that celebrating Kony is done in an effort to assist. However, they would rather the assistance be done in a way that is more sensitive to the Kony victims.
USU students attended the Stop Kony 2012 panel to gain a better understanding of problems in the region and the events surrounding Kony. In hopes of helping, several students participating in the discussion asked how they can help. Laudati enlightened students by informing them that stopping Kony “probably won’t happen” in a continent full of many other crises. “If it does, it will be nothing but a dent in the problems that are occurring in central Africa,” she said. “It is just a small piece.”
LaPlante provided a different perspective following the reality check. “Take action consciously and cautiously…never believe you are the solution,” he said. “None of us have the answers.” He suggested that help can be found on the marginal level and to research before donating to any organization, suggesting to first donate to local grassroots organizations. Laudati provided other alternatives. “Starting a conversation is doing something,” she said, warning of ethnocentrism and the American tendency to want to rush in as the white Savior. Ward noted that individuals must be left to make decisions in their own way and time. “Communities have to take the lead,” she said.