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March 15, 2012 |

Kony Critics & Throwing Rocks

BY Jen Hatmaker

When I was a senior in college in 1996, the administration assigned us all an “email address.” I distinctly remember rolling my eyes, saying: “Who in the world is going to send me a [finger quotes] email? Like anyone is going to use this! How would they even know? If someone wants to talk to me, they’ll just call me, for cripes sake! What a waste of time!”

I got my first real email address in 2005. You read that right.

I am often slightly late to the proverbial party.

So it is today with my response to the Stop Kony campaign last week. (I like to strike when the iron is tepid.) The thing is, the response evoked such strong emotions in me, I decided to let the dust settle so I wouldn’t rip off a hysterical, manic blog while my cooler head was waiting to prevail.

With every new cynical response that hit the interwebs after the Stop Kony campaign was launched, parroting each other, citing the same (sometimes unvalidated) statistics and coining exact phrases, my blood boiled a little more. I wrote scathing rebuttals in my head. I had imaginary confrontations. I dug out my Lamaze breathing techniques and tried to go Zen.

Here is where I’ve landed:

There were plenty of good, solid points made on either side of the issue. (Rachel Held Evans did a great job compiling resources already here, if you’d like a glimpse into the controversy.) I’m always encouraged when a justice issue finds its place in the spotlight. It’s healthy to discuss integrity, empowerment, sustainability, and philanthropy ethics. These are often shoved into a corner, neglected and abused. I deeply appreciate people who address these matters with respect and intelligence. Discussing how to help well, how to serve well, how to live well, how to really, really improve Planet Earth as its citizens…I’m for this. I’m for learning. I’m for educating ourselves. I’m for reforming. I’m for constructive criticism. I’m for evaluating. I’m for reevaluating.

I’m not for throwing rocks at the soldiers from the sidelines.

After sifting through all the rubble, when I dug deep to discover what was upsetting me so deeply, a couple of things rose to the top.

The Invisible Children folks have been at this for almost ten years. They’ve sweat blood and tears over the carnage in Uganda. They’ve rallied students, Senators, soccer moms. They’ve begged policy makers to listen and care. They’ve stood side-by-side Ugandan children and families. This is their mission. It’s very unambiguous. They never claimed to be anything other than exactly what they are. Their records are transparent and available.

In their own words: “Our work in the United States focuses on advocacy and inspiring America’s youth to ‘do more than just watch.’ We believe that by uniting our voices we can use the systems, influence, and resources of the United States to expedite an end to the conflict.” This is what they do. And today, tens of millions of people know who Joseph Kony is and the atrocities he has committed because of IC. They’ve refused to sit silently by, choosing to raise their voices instead, telling victims: We see you. We are not okay with this.

So this aggressive, even brutal attack on them in the aftermath of the campaign explosion has me deeply unsettled. People have lobbed every sort of criticism their way. Why don’t you care about people in America? What about the other issues in Uganda? Why do you spend money on filmmaking? Why are you making a big deal out of something that occurred over 30 years and created fewer victims than other crises?

They’ve been called “self-aggrandizing foreigners”, “attention colonialists”, “slacktivists,” “soft bigots”, “delusional marketing experts out for an adventure,” “miserable frauds.” Then critics galore casually reduced this effort, including every single white American who dared be moved by the horrors in Kony history, as perpetrators of the “white man’s savior complex,” patting the poor Africans on their simple heads as we rush in to save the day.

What if it is just this:

We care so much about their suffering.

We ache for the seven-year-olds who were forced to kill their parents.

We grieve the loss of innocence and life.

We yearn for justice and stability for the people of Uganda.

In the scope of humanity, we consider Ugandans our brothers and sisters.

The critical spirit of this is what has me so down. If we can’t address it all, we shouldn’t address anything. If we can’t explain the complexities of this crisis in one sitting, then we shouldn’t explain anything. If we care, we have white savior complex. If we can’t advocate perfectly, how dare we advocate at all.

What if the IC folks never fancied themselves policy makers or international strategists or war tacticians? What if they simply raised their voices for justice, knowing US rainmakers would not rush in and invade the country or arm the Ugandan army or shoot down child soldiers because some activists suggested this nonsense end?

And this is crazy, but what if they also expected their advocacy to simply be the impetus for further education? They never claimed to be the end all to our knowledge of the Kony reign of terror and the recent history of Uganda. What if their role was to place the basic context in our line of vision – where it has been hidden for thirty years – and expect responsible justice to rise up?

Is that not exactly what has happened? We are not idiots. (Say what you will.) The IC folks have raised a humanitarian issue to global attention, and more people now know the nuances of Ugandan instability for the last half a century than ever in history. We read. We researched. We joined discussions. We asked questions. We listened.

Any injustice this complicated will take a plethora of advocates and revolutionaries and strategists and leaders to address it thoroughly. IC is just one piece here, which is all they ever claimed to be. They are simply working in conjunction with Ugandan leadership and citizens, government allies, and international supporters to bring justice to a people that deserve it. And among all the rhetoric and intricacies and dense data, this remains:

Joseph Kony should indeed be brought to justice.

I believe we can engage a complicated crisis with respect for one another. We need not resort to name calling and slandering and throwing rocks at the soldiers on the frontlines while we write blogs on the couch. The lowest common denominator should not be our benchmark any longer. If you want to take a stab at someone, go for child predators and human traffickers and corrupt officials and complacent, indulged elitists who have made a living out of criticizing while not lifting a finger for their fellow man. Or Joseph Kony.

As for me, I’m going to move with the movers.

When it is all said and done, when my grandchildren read about Joseph Kony and eleven-year-old sex slaves in Haiti and children sleeping on the streets in Ethiopia and foster kids in their fifteen home, and they say, “What did you do about all these tragedies?”

I am not going to say, “Well, I didn’t want to be labeled a white supremacist, so I wrote mean blogs about folks who threw their hat in the ring.”

I am not going to say, “It was complicated. So I didn’t do anything.”

I am not going to say, “People were extremely critical back then. It was PR suicide to engage difficult issues. I remained troubled but silent on the sidelines. I cared in my mind.”

I am not going to say, “I researched and debated and read a lot of books and articles. I was very, very informed. Believe me, I understood the issues. I waxed very poetic about it all.”

I hope to say, “I joined the fight, because justice denied anywhere means justice denied everywhere. I jumped in, imperfectly, even though I knew critics would come out of the woodwork, questioning my motives and methods and ignorance and intentions. I decided to use my voice and my resources, because that could be my daughter and my sister and my community. That mother is me. Those children are you. I didn’t get it perfectly right. I couldn’t address it all. I couldn’t even address the entire scope of one problem. I didn’t change the whole world. But I moved.

May we not move foolishly.

Or arrogantly.

Or rashly.

Or naively.

But may we move.