Social justice requires more than awareness

By Jameson Forshee

The awareness campaigns on Facebook are the FWD:FWD:FWD e-mails of our generation. Except today, if you do not re-post the current push to commercialize compassion, instead of having bad luck, you may be questioned as an uncompelled, uncaring individual.

So now we embrace all movements that cross our path, without checking into the details.

Worse yet, we click the “Share” button, and move on to see who “liked” our status, feeling as though we have done our part, because we have become conditioned to believe awareness is the solution.

Invisible Children is a non-profit that works to end child armies in Africa. Invisible Children was established in 2004, and since then, has stepped into the limelight as a poster child for compassion.

According to, the organization exists for three purposes. The first is to “raise awareness of the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army].” Second, to “channel energy from viewers of IC [Invisible Children] films into large-scale advocacy campaigns.” And finally, to “operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas.”

But only 37 percent of the organization’s funds go to actual projects in Africa, while the rest go toward raising awareness and for administrative purposes.

Perhaps you have heard of the most recently funded awareness project, “KONY 2012.” Invisible Children produced a 30-minute video that went viral on March 5, about Joseph Kony, current leader of the LRA, which employs child soldiers. The film paints the horrors happening to the children in Africa at the hands of Kony. The video starts out by explaining the power of the Internet, and the connectivity we have access to through sharing and posting. The video proved exactly that.

In a matter of two weeks, the “KONY 2012” film garnered over 82 million views on YouTube. Awareness was achieved at the highest level, but at what cost? Concerning how apt we have become to accepting viewpoints based on emotion rather than reason, author Malcolm Gladwell said, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”

I have come to learn over the past year there are always more sides to the story than what you initially hear.

One of the main critiques is that KONY 2012 oversimplifies the issues in Uganda. Not only will Ugandan politics be affected, but the involvement of the United States hints at American international agendas. Sending more American troops to Africa is a political issue that some argue might do more damage than good.

Adam Branch, senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, argued that Invisible Children has finally overstepped its bounds with KONY 2012, according to a March 14 article on

Branch believes the United States is eating up the opportunity to send more troops to Africa and essentially militarize it, which may bring down the LRA for a while but will only hurt Africa in the long run. Branch, along with writer and policy analyst David Rieff, pointed out that America quickly adopted the plight of Invisible Children by sending troops to Africa last October, which coincided with Uganda announcing the discovery of 2.5 million barrels of crude oil.

Branch also stated there are worse problems that need to be addressed in Africa, because they will have a longer lasting impact on African society. Land is being snatched from people by foreign speculators with aid from the Ugandan government, and a deadly illness called the “nodding disease” is sweeping through the internment camps where people are living while their land is being taken, Al Jazeera reported March 12.

Branch said the first step in really combating the issues in Africa is to learn.

Awareness of issues comes to us under the guise of knowledge, but in most cases, especially ones as political and complicated as the situation in Africa, there are many different opinions on how to achieve social justice, or what the solution even looks like.

The problem does not always lie within the organizations that bring awareness or attempt to bring social justice into desperate situations; often, the problem lies in us. We charge into a discussion that has been occurring for years, perhaps decades, before us, and blindly follow whoever is the most emotionally convincing.

“He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice,” Albert Einstein once said.

Therefore, if someone joins a cause after watching an emotional film without reading up on the issue, he is no better for it. He is refusing to use his brain in the situation and is subject to the pathos that society pours on us.

We cannot not settle for awareness, because often we are only fed one view. We must research and learn, listen and hear from the years of discussion that have occurred before us. Once we are truly informed, we must then formulate a plan of action to take.

Liking a status, sharing a video or uploading a link does not make you a person committed to social justice. It only makes you aware.

Jameson Forshee is the Student Body President elect and can be contacted at

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