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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joseph Kony doesn't rhyme with PHONY!

Before reading this post, please watch this 27 minute video FIRST (close all other windows; don't text or email; No multi-tasking...JUST WATCH IT!)

DISCLAIMER: Invisible Children is real! It is not a phony nor a selfish, greedy organization. No, I cannot prove how they use their funds. One thing I do know, however, is that Jospeh Kony HAS NOT BEEN CAPTURED. He is still at large and therefore, the lives of children, in Central Africa, are still in very REAL danger. For the haters: get a life, get a clue! Don't participate, fine (also don't send me bogus links to denial and lies..denial ain't just a river in Egypt). But don't hate on a viscerally altruistic organization with ambitious goals and positive energy/morals! Together, we can change tomorrow; we can change the world!

I don't really understand the haters out there. IC and their mission is real and they are making positive changes. Some people don't think Joseph Kony is still at large. Some are trying to accuse Invisible Children of hoarding their donations for salaries and frivolous expenses. Others are disgusted at white privelage coming to the aid of victimized Africans. The bigger picture here is helping to protect the children growing up in Central Africa. I CANNOT imagine (and it tears me up to do so) my 2 year old son being kidnapped in the middle of the night and trained/brainwashed into being a merciless killing machine.

Now, I don't know who started the trending attack against IC. It could have been a disgruntled employee who was fired or someone who actually is threatened by this work. Whatever the case is, now many people are doubtful and critical of this amazing organization. How many college students travel abroad? How many come home to the US and actually take action on what they learned? Many college aged students go abroad and vomit all over foreign streets with their binge drinking and partying escapades. This organization started when a group of friends went to Uganda and met children like Tony and Jacob; they were forever changed at hearing stories from child soldiers.

Invisible Children encourages everyone (no matter how young or old) to gain knowledge, act on that knowledge, and not ONLY give money but call and write to government officials and educate others on this issue. It is a true grassroots organizaton that espouses global leadership and positive ideals. Together we make better fighters against the evils and negativity of the world!

I do not work for or represent Invisible Children in any way shape or form. I am someone who got into doing work for and supporting Invisible Children purely by accident. Though, as you may know, in life, THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS!

Here is the story of how I got involved:
Last year, during my work at Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, LREI, I taught eighth grade Core (English and Social Studies) in an integrated curriculum that espoused social justice as a main component. I was lucky to teach this precocious and amazingly dynamic group of 40 students. Starting in October, these students began a journey on their annual Social Justice Project, a capstone of the eighth grade experience at LREI. The students worked with many organizations and causes. What is impressive is that they chose their own topic based on their passions and interests. Some choice malaria, others chose gun violence. They built websites, visited organizations, and led workshops during a teach-in for the entire middle school.

However, it was my work with four students (Gisele, Andrew, Marcelo, and Sage) through Invisible Children that meant the most to me and changed my life FOREVER. In January 2011, we visited the United Nations, as child soldiers is apart of the UN Millennium Goals, eight goals including gender equality and environmental stability. All of the goals have a vision to be met by the year 2015 and all are an effort to bring peace to the world and make it a better place to live for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE! UN Millennium Goals 2015

In April, the students brought the road crew of Invisible Children to LREI, at the high school, to show a video and spread the word about child soldiers and the organization's cause. The road crew, or 'roadies' of IC are made up of teams of young American (usually) twenty-somethings and a two or three people from Uganda or Congo. The teams travel acoss different areas of the US and talk about the history and personal stories regarding Kony and the LRA.

This is how I met Babra, a courageous young woman who shared her story about her experiences growing up in Uganda having the evil influence of Joseph Kony always under foot. Following this event at LREI, we took part in the 25 campaign, where we were quiet for 25 hours to represent the 25 years of violence and terror in Central Africa. For 25 hours, starting April 24th to the 25th, me and the students and teachers, who participated in this event, did not talk. It was somewhat humorous to watch the three eighth grade teachers talk to each other on notebook paper. Monday night, on the 24th, me and the students went to a local event in Brooklyn, where we wrote letters expressing our concern on this issue and then broke our silence with a live musical performance by the band, Spirit Family Reunion. It was a hootenanny, truly! At this event, I met Babra again, and gave her one of my 'famous' hemp necklaces.

Some pics of the 25 event in Brooklyn:

Here is a picture of Spirit Family Reunion gettin' down:

Here is a picture of Babra speaking at the event:

I must explain about my hemp necklaces. For almost ten years, I have been making hemp jewelry. My wife, Clair, taught me how to make them in college during a power outage. Funny, I know. At first, I made them for friends. Soon, I started selling them at music festivals (ie. Bonnaroo) and giving them to heroes of mine (mainly musicians). Examples of such people are: Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Tim DeLaughter (of Polyphonic Spree), Matisyahu. Then, I thought to sell my hemp wares on ArtFire. Not many people buy, but each year for the past three years, I have donated my proceeds toward a charity. In 2009, it was for the Breast Cancer Coalition. In 2010, it was for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Then, in 2011 it was for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year, in 2012, proceeds will be raised for Invisible Children. Back when I was teaching at a boarding school, I made red hemp necklaces and raised several hundred dollars for AIDS research. Art for a purpose is very crucial!
lovelight09 - ArtFire Seller Shop

Back to the start of this story. Why did I give a necklace to Babra? I barely knew her! Also, what is the connection? Well, I was inspired by her story. I cannot requote it here because this event was over a year ago and I did not plan to write a blog on this topic. However, she discussed her experiences living under the thumb of Kony and the LRA. She had family members killed and knew many people who became child soldiers, victims at the evil hands of Kony and his crones. I like to think of my necklaces as a way to espouse my views on activism and people being united around the world.

I believe that my hemp necklaces connect people all over the world, whether they know it or not. I've given out necklaces to friends all over the world. My hope is that two of these people meet, have the hemp necklace in common, and then form a bridge, a commonality. I also like the idea that my hemp artistry inspires positivity. Whenever I hand out a necklace, I tell the wearer that they must go out and do their best and inspire others to also do so. When I give a necklace to one of my students, the deal is always that they make me art (of any kind) so that we are exchanging art to art, hence the name on my business card 'Art to Heart'. So, I gave a necklace to Barbara because: I will always remain connected to her, her work inspires positivity in the world, and her work reminds me that nothing is ever in vain.

I got sidetracked.

So, after the 25 event, two of the students, Andrew and Marcelo, signed up for the opportunity to fly to San Diego for the first ever leadership summit with Invisible Children. They were accepted to attend this conference/summit (in August), The Fourth Estate, in San Diego (becoming the youngest members to attend). Back in September of 2011, Marcelo, e-mailed me asking for help in the most recent fundraising campaign, to raise over a million dollars. The fact that the students, as freshmen, continue their work, is inspiring. They didn't just get involved for the sake of a grade and then move on. So, I am not quitting or moving on either! These students INSPIRE me to keep on being an activist for this cause and the organization, Invisible Children. Thank you Marcelo, Andrew, Sage, and Gisele. You ARE the reason I teach, and with students like you, I can rest assured that the future is in safe hands.

You might ask, why this is so important? What can donating money do? I can't really do much as one person? Can we really stop Joseph Kony when we're so far away? Why is this issue all of a suddenly the 'topic du jour'? Why now if it has been going on for over 20 years?

A short history on the conflict:
It started as a resistance movement in Uganda led by Alice Lakwema, who felt that higher powers of a Godly nature were telling her to overthrow the Ugandan government. She, however, felt that the government was being unjust to the Acholi people, and her Holy Spirit Movement gained a foothold. However, she was soon exiled, and Joseph Kony stepped into her shoes. He did not receive the support of Lakwema's followers. Kony then began kidnapping children to recruit them in his army, the LRA. It is thought that at least 90% of the LRA have been made up by child soldiers largely from The Central Republic of Congo and Uganda.*


It is in 1987, that Joseph Kony stepped into power. He wanted Uganda to become a Christian country, so he formed the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in an effort to usurp and revolt against the Ugandan government. Joseph Kony has made a promise that under his rule, the government would become a theocracy (where basically church is the state). He would make laws based on the Ten Commandments, or so he says. So how can a 'Christian' man be so evil? I don't see the connection either. Joseph Kony has kidnapped over 20,000 children in Central Africa and uses the boys as soldiers and girls as sexual concubines/slaves. It is disgusting! These children are kidnapped in the middle of the night. The boys are given guns and trained to shoot on command; sometimes they are forced to kill their own parents. They are sent to the front lines when the LRA fights with official state military forces of Uganda. The child soldiers also carry heavy loads (arms and supplies). If they collapse, the child is often left for dead or shot on the spot. Does this sound familiar? It reminds me of history from the time of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. Joseph Kony is an EVIL man, and he needs to be stopped!


Today was a big launch day for the 2012 project to bring Joseph Kony to justice. There is a lot of negativity being flung out around the blogosphere, so I am here to stand by Invisible Children and defend the work they do! A lot of people out there are saying this whole thing is a 'scam' and that Joseph Kony has already been captured. WHAT? Not true!
Read more on Invisible Children and how they tactfully, loquaciously speak out to the false accusations and criticism:
Invisible Children- answering criticism

Invisible Children IS the reason I decided to become an activist. Back in the fall of 2001, as a Sophomore at Kenyon College, I remember listening to Patricia Ireland, former head of NOW speak about her experiences with the organization. I also heard speakers like Bobby Seal, former leader of the Black Panthers, and Wade Davis, whose photography has become prolific in connecting us as a global society. I have always been passionate about issues, and if you ask my friends, I have always had an opinion on various political and social issues.

However, I am focusing most of my activist energies on Invisible Children. Why? They walk the walk and talk the talk. They are being criticized for being phony or not giving enough/any proceeds to what they talk about. That is all bulls#$@! It makes me angry to hear people criticize this organization. I don't think anyone would disagree that the topic is one that CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be ignored.

I think a lot of people mistrust this organization from San Diego. My answer, however, to the negativity is that every courageous leader for the greater good faces obstacles. Revered Martin Luther King Jr. was put in jail. So was Rosa Parks and many other Civil Rights leaders. Some leaders face execution or assassination for their work. Others are called names and have their names dragged through the media sludge. Why? Being a leader for the greater good of humanity isn't easy. The very nature of being a leader for positive change makes you succeptable to negative criticism and jeers.

I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS VIEW IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM! What I want to know is where this a-hole gets his stats. How does he know what he knows? Oh, suddenly REDDIT is a valid source? HA! You try to make a shoddy argument, and by the way IC doesn't NEED your money! IC is NOT a cult! This guy had negative experiences, fine. He's one person out of millions, and so am I!

Also, like any other organization, we don't see the money go to use. So if you critique IC, then you need to critique EVERY single charity and non-profit. Unless you work for them, you NEVER see where your money goes. Most people would say (in accordance with Invisible Children), well I am not going to Uganda to see any radio towers or rehabilitation centers being built. Although, IC does give away trips to Uganda to its participants and fundraisers. In fact, talking about money: 50% of the IC programming budget is used to help spread awareness about the situation in Central Africa and promote international support for a global peace talk initiative. The remaining 50% of the budget provides first-rate programming for affected and victimized children and their families. The money goes toward building radio towers to provide early warning of LRA activity, broadcasting and handing out fliers encouraging children to return home, and establishing rehabilitation center that help council children after being traumatized under the LRA.

Here is an interview with Ben Keesey (the CEO of Invisible Children) addressing the critique:
Yahoo interview with Ben Keesey

I can only say that I completely trust Invisible Children and their goals. I know my money and time is being put to worthwhile use. I am helping to build radio towers so that villages in Central Africa can be warned about Joseph Kony and the LRA whereabouts and help protect the children who are at risk. The money also helps to build schools and rehabilitation centers so that victims can try to move on with their lives and help contribute something positive to society.

I cannot express how enamored I am of Invisible Children, IC. They invite EVERYONE to participate. It isn't just the young or college-aged. I am well beyond being college aged, yet I don't feel too old to add my voice. That's the point. We all can get involved. And, it isn't just giving money. They call for days of action, where you write to and call government officials: mayors, congressmen/women, Senators, etc. There are days encouraging people to not speak or to wear bracelets or t-shirts to advocate the cause of IC.

This year, Invisible Children is dedicated all of its efforts to finally capturing Joseph Kony and putting an end to his evil madness once and for all! You can order action kits that include buttons, stickers, and other paraphernalia that helps to spread the word and answer the question: Who is Joseph Kony? Well, for starters, he is still at large. Yes, really!

IC has a point; if people do not know about him and what he is doing, then the cause dies. By making him 'in-famous', we will make everyone around the US, around the world catch on and know who he is. His name will be synonymous with Stalin and Hitler. His atrocities will be known by all; he will not be able to hide anymore. We, as a collective whole, will uncover his identity and pull him kicking and screaming out of hiding. The coward will be forced to see the light of day and have the entire eyes of the world watch and judge him and his atrocities.

I think Invisible Children is incredible in that they use Social Media to encourage all of us to use our voice. They are espousing the idea to reject shallow consumerist and materialist ideals. We reverse how we use Twitter, Facebook, advertising, television, etc. They ARE making waves in history. I get goosebumps watching the video at the top of this post. I was crying and getting angry. You cannot help emote! We have the power and the voice, and WE MUST USE IT NOW! I am inspired. I hope you are too!

I will leave you with a video just made by Invisible Children to address the critique. In it, you will see a woman from Northern Uganda talking about her victimization as a child soldier and sex slave. She fully supports IC and their mission.

Addendum: Nicholas Kristof a champion for human rights, who wrote 'Half the Sky' (a book on sexual trafficking in India) and who does an annual 'win a trip' contest to less traveled areas of the world, addresses the critique of Invisible Children within his column in the NY Times: Nicholas Kristof on Invisible Children

Follow-up video for Kony 2012:
Follow-up for Kony 2012



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