For some, it was a depressing example of how debased humanitarian causes had become in the age of social media; for others, it was a sincere call to arms against a foreign tyrant. Either way, the Kony 2012 movement will be remembered as the most successful online campaign in the history of the Internet. With Angelina Jolie and George Clooney among the millions of people who "supported" the cause on Facebook, the Kony 2012 campaign caught on in a way that groups like PETA or Amnesty International could only dream of.
Still, even before the confusing, mediarific clips of Jason Russell having his nude breakdown on the streets of San Diego became its own sensation, media commentators like Charlie Brooker were calling Russell's group, Invisible Children, "expert propagandists with a covert religious agenda," and saying its thirty-minute video -- which has been seen by more than 100 million people -- was possibly doing more harm than good.
Javie Ssozi, an influential Ugandan blogger, recently wrote that "making Kony 'famous' could make him stronger. Arguing for more US troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive." His article in the Telegraph also pointed out that Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army have not been in Uganda for six years, and that the intervention Invisible Children recommends could harm the stability of the area. "Now we have peace, people are back in their homes, they are planting their fields, they are starting their businesses. That is what people should help us with," Beatrice Mpora, director of a community health organization in a Ugandan city once ravaged by Kony, told him. "What that video says is totally wrong."
While the controversy has clamped down on mainstream coverage of Kony 2012, the upcoming Cover the Night -- a national event for which Invisible Children has encouraged its followers to paper their cities with Kony 2012 posters -- still has steam with Colorado youth.
"I've always wanted to make a difference," says sixteen-year-old Max Minne, "but it's really hard when no one supports you." Minne and eighteen-year-old Tommy Neenan -- who learned of Invisible Children two years ago, when representatives visited Mullen Catholic High School -- have designed Colorado-themed Kony 2012 T-shirts and posters, printing them with their own money and sending the proceeds to Invisible Children.
"I was adopted from a third-world country, the Philippines," says Neenan, "so I thought maybe I could help others who come from a similar background."
Even while Minne plays on the lacrosse team and Neenan trains to be a dancer, the two have found time to gear up for Denver's version of Cover the Night: Paint Denver Red, which "is going to be a big act of raising awareness," says Minne.
"People have been critical of us, saying it's just a trend, but I'd rather this be a trend than Uggs," says sixteen-year-old Erin Coughlin, the event organizer for Paint Denver Red. After Coughlin posted the Facebook event notice for PDR, she received 900 "attend" confirmations in the first two days, and as of this morning had gotten over 3,400. "There are other events going on," she notes. "There's a Kony Highlands Ranch and a Kony Littleton. We just want people to be informed; it's been exciting to see people wanting to learn and know how they can help."
Paint Denver Red begins at 5 p.m. today in Commons Park, located at 15th and Little Raven streets. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own Kony 2012 posters, or they can purchase them from Neenan and Minne. Click here to visit the Kony 2012 Colorado Facebook page.
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Though for some, the awareness raised by Cover the Night doesn't rouse the same humanitarian empathy as it does for US teens.