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Let’s Talk About Kony 2012

Posted by Carey McDonald // March 14th 2012 // soundings, Stories and Voices // 3 comments

Have you seen the Kony 2012 video? If not, you’re missing a perfect example of a vibrant social justice effort that stops unfortunately short of Unitarian Universalist principles. Produced by an advocacy group targeting Joseph Kony, the violent rebel leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for arrest and prosecution, the 30 minute video does a great job creating awareness about a compelling social justice issue and making us feel there’s something we can do about it (which is to join their media campaign).  So what’s the problem?

Well, this powerful story is laced with questionable assumptions, inaccurate information and troubling racial stereotypes. Plenty of folks have already waded into the debate, but what I want to point out is how this discussion highlights the need for partnership and accountability in social justice efforts. This is key to the UU approach to social justice. Being an ally for those who are suffering, instead of acting without listening and learning, is one way we affirm the inherent worth, dignity, wisdom and strength of victims like the Ugandans who have been displaced by the LRA violence. It’s no accident that the film oversimplifies the situation, because it’s easy to make mistakes when you act alone and out of your own sense of righteousness without connecting with the folks you are trying to help.

Youth and young adults are the prime audience for the video, which makes it a great topic for discussion among youth groups in UU churches. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What did the video make you feel when you watched it? How can we be careful viewers of emotional media pitches?
  • Do you agree that putting up posters and wearing bracelets will solve the problem? Could there be unintended consequences?
  • Where can we learn more about the issues raised in the video?
  • What would it mean to truly address injustice in that part of the world?

We should be glad that Americans who watch the video may learn something about a terrible tragedy, but awareness by itself is not enough. Our UU values and theologies teach us that working for justice is a lifelong commitment – incredibly unjust and complex situations, like the one going on in East and Central Africa, don’t change overnight because we want them to. Change usually requires sustained energy and resources from broad coalitions. Here are some resources that illustrate this type of relationship:

By contrast, the Kony 2012 video seems to be more about the American narrator and his campaign than about the truth of the situation in Uganda. The filmmakers would do well to consider the parable of the rabbi who, while walking with a student on the way to the temple, gives a dollar to a homeless man who is asking for spare change. On the way back, the rabbi gives him another dollar. The student asks the rabbi why he gave to the same man twice, and the rabbi answers “The first time I gave for myself, but the second time I gave to help the man.”

This is about us and how we approach social justice, but it can’t be just about us and what we think. It also has to be about other folks, the folks we care about and are trying to help, and the hopes and needs they articulate for themselves. As allies and justice workers we have to be willing to listen, to learn, and to risk having our assumptions questioned or our approaches transformed if we want to practice our Unitarian Universalist values and have an impact in the world.


About the Author

Carey is the Chief Operating Officer for the UUA.
3 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Kony 2012”
  1. Mike says:

    Unfortunately, I feel like so much of the support for Kony 2012 is a joke.
    People will buy a bracelet, put up a poster, and they think they have changed the world, while hard working people work through real problems to find tangible results. It was shown so vividly in the Arab Spring – it wasn’t about the people actually fighting the injustices in the Middle East, it was about us, and how we were blogging and tweeting it. People gave more respect to someone willing to click a button to make themselves feel better, than to those out in the field taking bullets and beatings for their children’s future.

    Like you mentioned about the Rabbi, such a big portion of those doing it don’t do it for the good of the actual cause, they do it to make themselves feel better. “If I tell someone about Kony, my own shortcomings will be vindicated.”

  2. Sambro says:

    Regardless of whether or not the movie “oversimplified” the problem (to which I respond that you can’t get a million people to watch a 5 hour movie…or longer…given how extensive and multi-faceted this problem is) the fact remains that THIS MOVIE is why this article was written. It is why all of these criticisms are being written and why many statements of support are being written. It is why millions of new people are thinking about this issue and engaging in debates and discussions about it that ARE (becoming more and more) comprehensive, in partnership with one another, and enabling real sustainable change in Africa and around the world for child soldiers. A few weeks ago, I would bet that the average teenager in the US did not even know that there was such a thing as a child soldier. Before we solve a problem we must first understand it. In order to understand it, we simply need to realize that it exists. The Kony2012 took a HUGE first step, and demeaning their efforts is in itself oversimplified, not to mention too-often inaccurate and ignorant. Kony2012 is one aspect of an organization that has truly been standing on the side of love for a very long time; as UUs we should stand beside them, and, together, make an impact on the world and stop the use of child soldiers everywhere.

    • Carey McDonald says:


      Clearly, the Kony video has had an impact in creating discussion about these important international issues, discussion that wasn’t there. And I don’t question their motives of trying to make the world a better place, or demean their efforts.

      I do think that as people of faith we need to make sure that our actions reflect our values, and that good intentions aren’t enough. Standing on the Side of Love means to me that I’m always asking how I can better live my faith and religious values. So yes, understanding first (although I think the Kony video gets some things wrong), but action must also come with relationship and accountability to avoid the patronizing and ineffective pitfalls that so often await do-gooderism in the world.

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