I'm going to warn you ahead of time, this blog post is not about fashion. It's about something that's been truly bothering me over the past few days. Something that my feelings have overwhelming urged me to betray the genre of this site and share with you.
I first watched the Kony2012 film a day or so after it was launched. After the criticism set in. I read article after article complaining that the Invisible Children group were over-simplifying things, that they were demanding military action that they were lying about the facts. So despite my busy week, I took the the 30 minutes to actually watch the film.
Thirty minutes, and a good few hankies later, I had completed the film. Above everything, what was alarmingly apparent to me, was that the media (and those purporting to be media, with their op-ed blog posts) were lacking, quite dramatically, in one thing. Comprehension.
The initial criticisms stated the following, which I will address one by one:
Invisible Children have oversimplified the situation in Uganda.
Yes they have. Absolutely. However, they don't claim to be doing anything other than oversimplifying. After almost ten years of working in Uganda they recognize that removing Kony is the right step in the right direction of correcting over 30 years of a lot of wrongs.
Invisible Children have lied about the facts.
The facts the media claim to have been misrepresented come down to a case of, to put it politely, "selective hearing". They claim that there are over 30,000 child soldiers. That is not what the film itself claims. The film claims, and I quote, "For 26 years, Kony has been kidnapping children into his rebel group... It's been over 30,000 of them."
Invisible Children want Military Intervention.
I think what needs to be made very clear, and something that, in my opinion, the film made abundantly clear, is that there is a difference between military action (Iraq and Afghanistan) and military advisorship. Invisible Children is not advocating for US Troops to go to war with the L.R.A. What they want is for the US army to advise the Ugandan army in the capturing and arrest of a war criminal. Which is currently the case.
When the Iraq war began, under the guise of a threat to the US, public support was 74% (Source: Pew Research) in favor of war. Not military advisement, but full blown war. Now that we know there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the war has gone on for almost ten years, public support has dropped quite dramatically, but still, according to Pew Research, 48% of Americans believe it was the right decision.
I don't agree with the Iraq war, I'm of the 46% of people who don't think it was the right decision. But what I can't fathom is if 74% of people were in favor of full military intervention, or even 48% that still maintain it was the right decision, why isn't military intervention, in the form of advisement, not full blown military action, appropriate here. We're talking about a man who has documented, atrocities for the past thirty years including heinous crimes against women and children, a man who is number one on the International Criminal Court's Most Wanted. Yeah. That's something I would like to see my tax dollars going towards.
Since the initial criticism, people have begun to dig, dig for anything they can find to undermine the almost ten years of work the Invisible Children group have done to better life for those in Uganda. But before I address those criticisms, let's look at what it is they've achieved.
A merit based scholarship program supporting over 800 students from Northern Uganda
Schools for Schools
A program partnered with 11 secondary schools in Northern Uganda - constructing and renovating schools whilst educating teachers and developing curriculum.
A work program for women formerly abducted by the L.R.A facilitating financial independence and development.
Providing sustainable economic growth and improved living conditions for war-affected northern Ugandans through three programs; Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA); Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH); and Functional Adult Literacy (FAL).
In addition to these programs in Uganda, the organization works in The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, areas still affected by the L.R.A. They have created an Early Warning HF Radio Network to alert and protect the people affected and potentially affected. They have built a site: The LRA Crisis Tracker, providing near-real time updates on L.R.A activity. They've created a flier system encouraging children to defect from the L.R.A, letting them know it is safe to return home and sponsor radio stations which broadcast defection messages.
They have also built a Rehabilitation Center in Dungu, DRC for L.R.A victims. It treats the most severely traumatized children with psychosocial counseling, vocational training, and family-reunification services.
Certainly not the work of a "slack-tivist".
As criticism over the work of Invisible Children, particularly the Kony2012 film has escalated, personal attacks and attacks on the infrastructure of the organization itself have arisen.
Publications have been outraged at the $90,000 salary of Invisible Children's CEO Jason Russell, even though the CEO of Save the Children, Charles MacCormack, takes home $413,822 annually. They've criticized that only 37% of their income goes directly to aid in Africa, with the rest going towards travel expenses, film making, fundraising, salaries and other operational costs. On the one hand they're disgusted by the CEO's salary and on the other they want him to cover out of pocket expenses such as travel to Africa…
These criticisms lack any real critical thinking and just seek to sensationalize the matter further.
Charity Navigator, an unbias site whose aim is to provide a guide to intelligent giving through financial metrics (who incidentally have been used as a source through much of these criticisms) have addressed these concerns fully in this article. The following is taken from it:
"We give the charity 4 out of a possible 4 stars for its Financial Health. It spends upwards of 80% of its budget on its programs and services. As such, Invisible Children is actually outperforming most charities in our database in terms of how it allocates its expenses."
Critics have also questioned where the monies have been appropriated from, highlighting right wing Christian groups who have also funded Pro Life campaigns and campaigns against marriage equality. Personally, I prefer the money from these groups go to organizations like Invisible Children than to their other causes and don't believe that in taking their money the Invisible Children organization inherently supports their other causes. In fact they have, a number of times, spoken in favor of Marriage Equality and campaigned against proposed Ugandan laws to criminalize homosexuality.
Other criticism has been directed to the CEO himself, accusing him of having a "Savior Complex", of "arrogance" and of exploiting his own child. Personally I disagree, but these are merely opinions and irrelevant as to whether the charity is performing it's function.
It's unfortunate that these criticisms have resulted in the actions taken by Jason Russell on Thursday. I cannot imagine the affect of the overwhelming stress of such a sensationally successful viral campaign and the lashings of criticism that followed could have on one individual. I wish him all the best in his recovery and urge you to read the words of 'To Write Love on Her Arms' founder (a charity very close to my heart - I've written about here and here) who is a personal friend of Jason Russell. The following is an excerpt:
"IC exists to end a war in Africa.
TWLOHA exists to say that there are wars inside of all of us.
The goal is peace, in Uganda, in Congo, inside you, inside me.
We are all a people in need.
We are not perfect. We are not machines.
We make mistakes.
We need grace. We need compassion.
We need help at times.
We need other people.
And that's okay. "
I've been so saddened at the turn this campaign has taken this week, but I urge you to brush aside the sensationalism that our tabloid media seek to purport as real news. I urge you to look at both sides, research independently, don't take the media at it's word and without sounding trite, follow what's in your heart, and what you believe. If you no longer want to support Invisible Children, don't, there are other charities that do fantastic work.
I will continue support Invisible Children, now, more than ever.
And with that ends this interruption to your usually scheduled programming. Often I'm ashamed at myself that my life is given over to the world of fashion, and that even if my job in fashion is somewhat altruistic, it remains inherently vapid by it's nature, so it's good once in awhile to take pause and think outside of our industry and our day to day #fashiongirlproblems and see the bigger picture. So here's to hoping you don't mind :)