Like many of you, I have been both moved and fascinated by the sudden and rapid growth of the Kony 2012 movement.
This movement was initiated by the YouTube film produced by the group Invisible Children and Jason Russell, to draw attention to the plight of children in northern Uganda who have been abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army. The tactics of the LRA has been to raid villages, kill the children’s parents, and forcibly conscript children into their army. These children are then forced to commit heinous acts. The LRA is led by a despot named Joseph Kony who used to be active in northern Uganda, but is now operating either out of the Central African Republic or the Congo. The hope of Invisible Children is that by making Joseph Kony famous, they can stir up a grassroots movement to put pressure on the powers-that-be to capture Joseph Kony and put a stop to this injustice. As of today, close to a 100 million people, many of them young people, have watched the half hour film, and a grassroots movement towards justice has been born.
I love the conversation starter that this film Invisible Children has become, tapping into the growing movement amongst millenials, those born after 1980, to get involved in social justice issues. So let me start by saying, anything that raises awareness of justice issues and gets the ball rolling is a good thing. Because living out justice is a central tenet of the Kingdom, we should be thrilled at any movement that mobilizes folks to get involved.
Having lived in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, and having grown up in Africa, that continent has a special place in my heart.
Africa is rich in both natural resources and in a beautiful tapestry of people that have much to offer the world. I long to see the corrupt and oppressive systems that abuse the people stopped and changed. Though I am no expert on Africa, I understand that lasting change there will not happen simply by throwing money at the problems of poverty and injustice through large NGOs or through being emotionally stirred by a film, as good as that is. It will happen through faulty worldviews being changed one person at a time. It will come as Africans and their friends devote their lives to finding solutions on the ground level to bring healing between longstanding tribal divisions, to develop easily reproducible ways for Africans to support themselves with dignity, to bring access to clean water, education, and health care to all, and slowly develop good governance and a less corrupt justice system.
The beauty of this latest viral justice movement is that very quickly, masses of people are being made aware of justice issues, and being mobilized to some sort of action to stop this injustice. My question is, how can this “viral justice movement” be sustained and address the long term systemic issues, whether that be in the Arab countries such as Egypt or in Eastern Central Africa?
The breeding grounds for these nefarious individuals like Kony are power structures that are deeply entrenched. For every Kony there are at least 100 others like him. There are power brokers behind these men who gain both politically and economically from keeping age old tribal and political conflicts going. Mixed into that are multi-national companies who want to get a piece of the rich resources of gold, diamonds, timber and such, in Eastern Central Congo. These geo-political and economic issues must be understood and confronted as part of the problem.
As a student of movements, and one who wants to learn to catch the wave of movements that further what the Kingdom of God is all about, I will be doing a three part series on some of my reflections and observations on how movements are started and sustained. I will be referring to the Kony 2012 viral movement and other movements as examples.
How Do Movements Start?
- By a Captivating Message with little Money: Movements start when a big idea or message resonates with people who grab hold of it and make it their own. An example of this is the book The Shack, which presents a different angle on who God is. The ideas explored in the book struck a chord in many people and the book sold like hotcakes. I believe that the Shack was first published in a garage, for only a few hundred dollars.
- By a Messenger with the It factor: What is interesting to me is that many movements are started by young people who dare to dream of a better future and have the audacity to pursue that future in the present. Jason Russell, the fellow portrayed with his young son in the Kony 2012 movie and the one telling the story, is in his early 30’s. The Welsh Revival in 1904 was led by Evan Roberts, who was 26 years old when the revival started. Evan’s sister Mary, who was also a key leader, was only 16 years old. Evan’s brother Dan, and Mary’s future husband, Sydney Evans, were 20 years of age. As one with a greying beard, I just want to cheer on the next generation to “Go for it!”, and tag along for the ride.
- By a Medium that Moves the Message quickly: Movements have a medium through which the message spreads like wildfire, such as social networking systems today.
The Koney 2012 message took off like a brush fire because of the mediums of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. In reflecting back on the Arab spring, we see the footprint of social media as the tool for mobilizing people quickly to gather and protest, such as in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
- By Mobilizing the Masses from the Margins: Movements empower the grassroots and begin to challenge the existing power structures by shifting power from the center to the margins.
Reflection Questions and recommended Reading:
- For understanding some of the historical context for what is going on in Central Africa and the Congo in particular, I suggest the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
- For understanding the nature and characteristics of movements, I recommend The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.
- If you want a short but good read on Christian movements, Steve Addison’s book Movements That Change the World is a helpful resource.
Questions for Reflection:
- What “Big Idea” has so gripped me that I would give up everything to pursue it? Read the parable of the Pearl of Great Value in Matthew 13:44-46.
- Who is a young person I know who I can encourage to make a difference in the world?
- Where am I actively involved in turning the tide of injustice in my neighborhood and in the nations? “A ripple of change starts small with the power of one.” Read and reflect on Micah 6:8.
- Examples: Helping to find affordable housing for the poor, especially single parents, becoming a friend with a Sudanese refugee family who have come from a war torn country and helping them assimilate here, going as a doctor or nurse to Africa to serve one month a year, or if you are a teacher, giving part of a sabbatical year to go teach in Africa, or you and some friends starting a simple movement to address a need in Africa such as orphaned children, the need for clean water, or the need for micro-businesses that train and invest in Africans.
- Go to Africa and let Africa get in your blood! Who knows you may end up moving there.