20 Aug 2014
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What Does Joseph Kony Have to Do With Peekskill-Cortlandt?

Thanks to a viral online campaign, 75 million people learned about the African warlord last week. What this means about who we are and how YOU can now change the world.

What does a rebel warlord in Uganda and central Africa have to do with YOU here in Metro New York?

Once you watch the video to the right, your may have a completely different answer to that question.

And when you answer it at the end of this column, you'll find that the power to change the world may rest with you — simply at the touch of a button.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the “Kony 2012” campaign. Most likely some of your Facebook friends linked to a video about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and the world’s biggest criminal, who’s being sought for capture and prosecution by the International Criminal Court. It’s possible you read about the video in news reports or saw it discussed on TV talk shows over the last week.

“Kony 2012” is a modern kind of campaign designed to harness the power of viral marketing and social media networks. The campaign’s architects want to shine a light of global awareness to make Kony ‘famous’—in an effort to have him located and captured.

The non-profit group that launched the campaign, Invisible Children, has worked since 2003 to raise awareness with individuals and government officials alike about the atrocities Kony and his army have committed. Some of their efforts resulted in about 100 U.S. troops deployed to central Africa to advise local forces in the hunt for Kony.

Because of this, Invisible Children now feels they’ve generated enough heat that Kony is on the run and the clock is ticking to get him stopped. So they’re turning up the volume even higher.

Last week they released the 30-minute video in hopes it would go viral to get as many millions of people talking about Kony as possible—and it seems they’ve succeeded. 

In just a week, they got more than 74 million hits to their  YouTube video, “Kony 2012” and personalities like Justin Bieber, U2’s Bono, Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey have taken up the cause on Twitter, helping the site to generate millions of tweets in the last week alone, with hashtags like #LRAviolence and #KONY.

As someone in the film says, “We are living in a Facebook world, a new world where 750 million people share ideas, not thinking in borders.”

What a futuristic—and brilliant—concept. Using techniques similar to product marketing and celebrity publicity, you can change the global conversation and get people to act. Not to buy Coke, or to watch the Super Bowl—but can you get them to do something humanitarian on a global level?

The word ‘global’ is critical because Invisible Children is trying to get you and me to feel that just by clicking a “share” button we individually can make an impact on the other side of the world and they’re counting on everyone around the world to feel the same way.

For sure this is a story that makes people want to get involved. For the last couple of decades, Kony and his henchmen have been kidnapping young children, forcing the boys to become child soldiers in his army against their will and turning the young girls into sex slaves. The children are made to do atrocious things—the young boys mutilate and kill others, even their own parents. How many children has he done this to? More than 30,000, according to Invisible Children.

The compelling footage has grabbed the attention of people who ordinarily wouldn’t tune in to this kind of story. As someone in the movie says, they want “to prove that a bunch of littles could make a difference.”

People I never would have thought would be so tuned in to world events—or step forward as ‘activists’—have taken up the cause. Here in the United States, where the partisan rift is almost insurmountable, my friends on both the far right and far left shared the link to the Kony video, pleading with everyone they knew by saying, “You MUST watch this.”

During the Winter Carnival at my daughter’s elementary school just this past weekend, I had conversations with four different people about Kony. “Did you watch the video? You have to watch!” is what I was told. The chorus is definitely getting louder.

In this age, getting anyone, especially the Y generation, to commit themselves to watching something for 30 minutes is like asking Sarah Palin to endorse President Obama in 2012—it’s highly unlikely to happen.

But this is a generation that increasingly has focused its humanitarian and issue-driven efforts in a viral way: Look at  when viral protests convinced dozens of advertisers to drop ads on his show after his recent misogynistic comments. Similarly, the  for  showed the success a viral campaign can have in this arena.

With Kony, the effort aimed at getting international government leaders to make this a global priority springs from a grassroots level. The campaign is  not without controversy, as critics have found fault with some of the motives and approach the founders have taken.

All the same, the effort can still speak volumes about what kind of world we want to have and the tools that are now at our disposal to make it happen.

Imagine if this type of instantly spreadable communication had existed in 1940, and someone had made a video saying, “Stop Hitler.” With such graphic images of concentration camps and trains chugging to their horrific destinations, perhaps it could have made a difference in the lives of millions, including those of my ancestors.

The power of the “share” button is now so great, it is larger than simply getting laughs out of watching kittens that play the piano and what we do with it on an individual level defines us on the global one.

The thing many people said in sharing the Kony video was “You have to pay attention.” That is the glimmer of hope broadcasted and shared into a crescendo of possibility and a view on what this kind of sharing can do—getting those who usually don’t pay attention to tune in and make change.

Now that you’ve read this, what will you do? Will you share it and pass it on? The world is listening—and waiting.

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