In the past week, the face and name of Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has been plastered all over campus. A student would have to either live under a rock or just not have access to social media to not have heard of the infamous Ugandan terror by now. A video released by the non-profit organization Invisible Children documents the work of Jason Russell, one of the original founders of the highly discussed awareness organization.
He attempts throughout the course of the video to discuss the plight of the Ugandan children with his own son, Gavin by showing him pictures of Russell’s friend, Jacob, a Ugandan boy, and the villain of the film, Kony.
“I couldn’t explain to Gavin the details of what Joseph Kony really does because the truth is, Kony abducts kids just like Gavin,” Russell explains to the viewer.
Unfortunately, over the past 26 years that Kony has been in operation with the LRA, awareness and interest in his acts of treachery have fallen significantly. Kony continues to kidnap innocent children, “turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys in child soldiers.” In order to get him arrested, he must first be known.
This is where University of Illinois students come in to play – specifically Eliana Jaewon and Corinne Ruff, roommates who decided to take the campaign for awareness a step farther on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Jaewon and Ruff are both freshmen in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Jaewon watched the video the day after its release on YouTube. She then urged Ruff, who was about to leave to exercise, to watch it. The emotional response from the video spurred them into action. The two set to the task of researching Joseph Kony, Uganda, and the Invisible Children organization.
“I was literally locked up in my room for an entire week,” Jaewon said.
They combed the Internet for pro-Kony 2012 discussions, criticisms, blog posts, and other videos. In order to get a better feel for the material, they watched opposition videos. When the pair finally felt that they were prepared to get involved, they created the “Cover the Night in Champaign” event on Facebook. Ruff said that they started out by just inviting the people they knew at school, and the numbers spiked from 800 to 2,000 over the course of a few days.
Ruff attributes the movement’s success to social networks.
“Social media is crazy because nothing like that could ever happen 50 years ago,” she said. “It just couldn’t happen because not that many people could be affected because you just can’t reach out to that many people that quickly. So, social media is huge.”
On the Facebook page, Jaewon and Ruff advise participants to make Kony famous by putting up posters all around campus. Participants do not have to spend money to take part as Jaewon and Ruff provide a link to free printable versions of the posters. “Action kits,” which include a Kony 2012 t-shirt, bracelet, action guide, stickers, buttons, and posters are available on the Invisible Children website. Links are also provided in the description for the Facebook event.
Other than running the event and page, the two students have worked to raise awareness for Kony in the community by putting small posters on the doors of their dorm’s floor. Impromptu advertisements can even be seen written on bathroom stalls and on sidewalks all across campus.
A week ago, they met with the Invisible Children RSO on campus to discuss a plan of action. On May 2, the group will be hosting a screening of the film with its creators. Ruff and Jaewon said they have high hopes for a large turnout.
The campaign has been met with some opposition. Both the cause and Jaewon and Rull have been criticized on their Facebook event page. Jaewon said she has been called “ignorant” and “naïve.” Kony 2012 has received negative feedback from a wide variety of people. Ruff said she saw a video of a Ugandan-American girl whose parents claimed that Kony was dead and not a big deal.
Another criticism against the movement is the way Invisible Children’s money is used.
“There’s just so much misinformation out there,” Ruff said.
The organization is not a direct-aid organization but an awareness organization. The fight against Kony must be approached on several different fronts. Direct-aid organizations give refugees the supplies up front, while awareness organizations work to raise interest about the topic and get people talking.
Russell said he made the video with the intention of giving viewers a step-by-step program to helping with the Kony problem. After viewing the film, individuals can either donate or participate in Cover the Night.
On April 20, Jaewon and Ruff will gather together the confirmed guests on the Facebook page to cover the campus with Kony 2012 posters. They will separate into groups and assign areas to cover. While they want to be noticed, the girls are making sure to only cover proper areas, so it will not be considered vandalism. The point is to make a positive impact, they said.
“We have reached a crucial time in history where what we do, or don’t do, right now will affect every generation to come. Arresting Joseph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules, that the technology that has brought our planet together is allowing us to respond to problems of our friends,” said Russell in the video. “We are not just studying human history. We are shaping it.”