Ze Frank recently completed a Kickstarter crowdfunding exercise. I helped out responding to his offer of saving one of fifty babies from toy sharks and lions. The photo is here on the blog post, or click on this link to see all of the babies saved.
Is it alright to include this in a discussion about child mortality? Does it present something overly flippant?
In this case, no. I think it is fine. I don’t intend to make light of a serious problem, but only to suggest that all too often our efforts at ‘saving babies’ are not much more involved than with Ze Frank’s stunt. Neither was he addressing this issue of child mortality.
Rather, it is a reminder of what has been referred to as the ‘White Savior Industrial Complex‘ by Teju Cole in an article that is well worth reading (click the title for the link). Addressing complex social need goes beyond the simplicity of the emotionally charged presentations like we see in Kony 2012 or when we are accosted by charity muggers.
If only making change was this easy. It is hard work. That is part of the metaphor involved in the 10 City Bridge Run running stunt: 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month. Much more palatable just to write someone a cheque, but that is not how things get done.
Starting a global conversation around how injustice is defined is entirely worthwhile to my mind.
From one perspective, as it relates to Kony 2012, it really doesn’t matter whether someone is Most Wanted #1 or so far down the list that they don’t get a mention by name. The best thing that might come out of Kony 2012 is seeing that celebrity figures are not always right (and that we should think for ourselves), that policy makers most often act because of an unstated agenda (and that we should be vigilant), and that removing a Kingpin does not stop the rot or end the war (this is an incredibly naive view which is seen tragically too many times. The capture and death of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden spring to mind immediately).
40 million views is a lot of activity. Can we have enough faith in the human condition that people can wake up to themselves when they realise that the assumptions behind the Theory of Change of Kony 2012 is flawed, and that we all must take some responsibility for ending bad things where we can?
The tragedy in Kony 2012 is that it reinforces an unthinking acceptance for supremacy of Western intervention. The great opportunity now for Kony 2012 is for bottom up refinement to a simplistic campaign. There is massive support which can be mobilised – not for the arrest and death of Kony (which could be argued as almost inconsequential given the current situation) – but more for a rethinking of what needs to be done to support Uganda and the region. Would Jason Russell be strong enough to open the conversation by saying: “OK, we got it wrong on this one. I know that there is something to be done in that region, but I am not completely sure of the answer. How can Invisible Children (IC) repurpose itself to make a real difference?”
I suspect that IC is too entrenched in the campaign to make this change, but even so the discussions around the edges, like this one, are what is most important.
The question I would leave you with is this: “what action would you suggest I take in order to make the most difference to alleviating child mortality? Would you be open to working together to making a difference in this area?”
Child mortality is a serious issue. This week I have seen two different approaches, both clever, toward raising awareness and building collaboration which help to save the lives of children.
The first is Kony 2012. Read my previous post Reframing Kony? How to solve the world’s trickiest problems for a critique of that campaign. I think that will continue to emerge as a case study in progress that will divide the activist community as to whether it was the right thing to do.
The second is Ze Frank‘s recent Kickstarter campaign to raise money for his next show. Already well oversubscribed above 250%, it shows the strong following and appeal that he brings to his audience. I subscribed to save plastic babies from the sharks he has inside a toy landscape.
See the video at Kickstarter here or watch below:
Ze Frank is not making a joke out of child mortality, and neither am I.
I am contrasting different methods for creating an effect for positive social change. Is one better than the other, or are they just different? Can one leverage a better result in the long term more than the other? What do you think?
Kony 2012 is a recent campaign uploaded onto YouTube by Invisible Children. It was posted on 5 March 2012, and already has enjoyed a wide circulation. Invisible Children’s mission is stated on their website as ‘using film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity’.
Watch the 29:59 minute documentary explaining the campaign here:
It is a compelling story, and a cause that is troubling. Especially when seen from the normalcy and comfort of a Western household. How can we respond in any way other than to be shocked?
So much sadness and suffering in the world. Must we prioritise our response? Do we have to chose ‘our favoured cause’ above others? What difference does it make anyway…in the long run, will any of it make any difference?
Before looking at some of the criticism to the Kony 2012 campaign, I argue that we can all agree on one thing: taking no action is wrong. It is wrong ethically because we enjoy so much. Action can be small as much as it can be significant.
Here are two thoughtful blog posts which give a considered critique of Kony 2012 and are worth reading. Read them yourselves rather than me summarising them in detail. My friend Cathie McGinn presents The questions we should be asking about the Invisible Children viral in her mUmBRELLA post. Patrick Wegner argues that “the Kony 2012 campaign is a reminder why we should see advocacy campaigns to interfere in conflicts with some scepticism, no matter how good the cause” in his Justice In Conflict post.
Last night, I attended a book launch for Eric Knight’s first book “Reframe: how to solve the world’s trickiest problems.” Eric’s book is a worthwhile read. He argues that often we miss the real cause of a problem, and so are then are unable to create a workable solution. I would suggest that he might respond the the Kony 2012 issue by applauding its action, while at the same time questioning whether the root cause has been addressed. Does dismantling Kony’s authority or freedom guarantee an end to the terror visited on so many African children?
This blog is not a criticism of Kony 2012 in itself. I would encourage people to get involved rather than criticise from the sidelines. I would also suggest that it does not in itself solve the problem. Focusing a social action campaign to mobilise the deployment of 100 military advisors is probably failing to recognise the impotence of our action in such circumstances. Intriguing to see the earlier indifference from the US Senators, and now to find their earnest commitment (cynically one might say timely following recent discovery of oil reserves in Uganda, as well as during a time of withdrawal from two larger campaigns in Iraq and now Afghanistan.)
Through the 10 City Bridge Run, I am asking “how can we use networks to alleviate child mortality?” Importantly, I do not believe that this is a stove-piped issues, nor is it something that can only be addressed at the expense of giving attention to another cause. Developing a more robust collaborative spirit of social action is required to make a difference. The lines of what causes poverty are blurred at the edges. Raising awareness of injustice itself is a good start to making the right choices in more areas than a person might have first intended.
This is the first blog I have written for almost 11 months. It has been a long recess. Writing this blog has been a good start point to come back into the conversation. Please join me as I prepare to start running in September. I am going to ask for your help before then by taking photographs.
In the meantime, we need to get better at working together from the ground up in order to solve the world’s trickiest problems. Kony 2012 is a great example of what is possible. Does it really matter if it is not a silver bullet?