Monday, March 12, 2012

So You Want to Help Ugandans

In 2009 I added the veil of green to my twitter avatar to "support" the Green Movement protests and promote awareness of election fraud in Iran.  It seemed like a nice thing to do.  Realizing, for reasons financial and other, that I wasn't able to attend any rallies in Tehran, I figured by changing my twitter avatar someone might see it and google "What does a green twitter avatar mean?"  That was the goal - promote awareness.

After stumbling around online for more info on what was going on in Tehran (remember this was before the Arab Spring and daily updates of Bashar al-Assad) I came across a new term: slacktivism.  Used in a sentence, it would go something like this:  People who change their twitter avatars to green monochrome are slacktivists.

Slacktivism is a fascinating portmanteau, meaning, more or less, activism that makes you feel good but has no impact, direct or otherwise.  I didn't like the thought of being dubbed a slacktivist.  After thinking about it more, I allowed myself to appreciate the term slacktivism, and also to realize the fact that BEING aware of the situation, just like any other travesty in other parts of the world, is among the more important things one can do.  No matter how small the impact, learning about, talking about and posting about things like the recent murders in Nigeria or who is responsible for the most recent bombings in Nairobi is better than nothing.  So while I understand the pejorative nature of the word slacktivism, in the end it's really not much different than activism.   Awareness of the masses is one of the most powerful tools available.  And that tool can be wielded by nothing more than a bunch of slacktivists. 

And now the masses learn about Joseph Kony and the atrocities "going on in Uganda" and it suddenly became chic to know about the next iteration of the Kony saga or other third world conflict.

Over the last week you've probably heard one of the following:

"I ordered a KONY2012 bracelet"
"You ordered a KONY2012 bracelet? Don't you know about Invisible Children's poor giving record?"
"Central African Republic is a country?"
"But there was never a threat the US would pull it's troops out"
"I'm concerned about human rights violations by the Ugandan army"
"Something something Idi Amin"
"Check out their IRS form 990"
"Something something Milton Obote"
"Nodding disease"

My point being, the only thing "cooler" than being aware of Kony was knowing he isn't in Uganda. The only thing cooler than that was knowing about the things that are affecting Ugandans now. And so on.

As someone who tries to keep up with current events across Africa (and simply by having an interest is probably better informed than 90% of Americans) I almost got pulled into the arrogance black hole of current events one-upsmanship, but somewhere along the line I realized that no matter how uninformed or misinformed we mass of slacktivists are, the conversations occurring across US media and our social networks are actually important and worthwhile.  Awareness is key.

Even if Kony is never found, the social media, slacktivist, fact-checking palooza that is occurring will have more positive impacts than negative.

Thinking you helped when you didn't doesn't make things worse, it's just unfortunate.

Learning where Uganda is on a map helps.

So while we'll see less and less of Kony over the next few months, all is not lost.
But if you're looking for something else you can do to help some people in Uganda, here's a thought:

Krochet Kids intl: Meet Betty from Krochet Kids intl. on Vimeo.

And you can go ahead and check out their IRS form 990.

The hat I ordered came last week and everything is as promised, even signed by Anena Irene

So you won't find me criticizing anyone who donates to Invisible Children, and I'm glad that you know who Joseph Kony is.

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