Ze Frank, Kony 2012 and Don Quixote

When I was a little girl, my bed was tall enough for me to sit under. My sister and I had gotten on our own rooms for the first time in our lives. Our dad had cut in half the bunk bed he had made for us to share. Kerry got the bottom half, and I got the top half. It was my space, under my bed. I had pillows, a lamp and a record player. I read, dreamed and listened to music.

It was under my bed that I discovered Man of la Mancha. I was so swept away by Don Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea that I had the words of the story album memorized. To this day, I can still recite most of it from memory. It has been strong in my mind this morning.

In the past few months, I have found myself drawn to people in positions of anguish who are failing to fall prostrate to their despair…choosing instead to not only create hope in the midst of pain, but to share it publicly. I am inspired by the vulnerability in it. I am inspired by the strength in it. I am drawn to the humanity and imperfection of them. Through their bravery, I see the path to my own courage light up before me…and I push forward.

In every instance, however, I find encounters with another character in Man of la Mancha, the Great Enchanter. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Great Enchanter defeats Don Quixote in battle by presenting him with his own reflection in a circle of mirrors. Don Quixote’s faith in his mission is overcome by the “reality” of his circumstances and limitations. He falls, never to return to the field.

Cynicism is a tempting version of reality. The reality of our fallible humanity is a truth that is hard to argue with. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We break down. We do stupid things. And, as the windows into each other’s worlds increase as our online lives become increasingly visible, becoming the ‘voice of reason” amidst a groundswell of enthusiasm over anything is an addictive position to take. It arms up against the possibility of dashed hopes. It puts us into a position of “see? I told you so.” In the instance that someone’s imperfection shows. We did not fall for it.

The Joseph Kony 2012 campaign drew criticism from the moment it was launched, and then the criticism grew sharper and more pointed after the man who made the video had a very public breakdown as a result of the public scrutiny.

Ze Frank became an online sensation six years ago with his quirky breakthrough video blog. You can see the fear in his latest video as he screws up the courage to launch his next endeavor. He seems to be braced for impact. And, unfortunately, he is likely to get it as people will come out of the woodwork to offer up their commentary, good and bad.

The world is rotten and god doesn’t even know we’re living on it.
Aldonza
Man of la Mancha

I have loved this quote for most of my life and repeated it often. Cynicism has been my “go-to” forever. I wanted to be at the front of the “I-saw-right-through-it” queue. But I find that this kind of thinking has left me wanting. I want to be inspired. I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to find people’s bravery inspiring, especially if they are imperfectly human, like me. It gives me hope that all of us crazy, hot-headed, weepy, impractical, baggage-carrying misfits can do something beautiful. That maybe all our efforts will meld together, in ways we cannot even anticipate, to bring our broken culture into something beyond our ability to imagine alone.

So, to everyone out there who is thinking of putting yourself on the line and bringing your imperfection out for the rest of us to see – remember that what you see in the enchanter’s mirrors is only a very shallow aspect of reality, and that there are always going to be those who can’t see past that. Please don’t let that stop you.

To those of you who feel a little fire kindle whenever you see, hear or read something brave and human…comment, share, follow. Be bold in your hope. Set yourself up to be ridiculed for being naïve or misled. Don’t be afraid to be inspired.

And, to all of you, from a little girl, under her bed with a record player…

xo,
Kimberley

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Kony 2012, Charity Navigator and the Critics

My heart aches today and it has become too heavy for me to not respond to what I am seeing happening online with regard to the 2012 campaign. I have seen the criticisms. I have taken them very seriously. I read the blogs and articles. I read the comments on those blogs and articles. I looked at the financials and at Charity Navigator’s facts figures as well as the reviews posted by others on that site in the comments. I have done my due diligence, and I am continuing to do it.

I have lived as an aid worker in a developing country, which is something many of the people weighing in on this issue have not done. I also have a background in global communications (over 20 years in advertising/marketing and corporate communications). The combination of these two things…along with my emotional connection to the world and the problems in it, has made it impossible for me to sit silent in the face of the criticisms I have read. The critics, while sometimes making strong arguments, are dangerously and irresponsibly incorrect when looking the issue as a whole.

We live in a time where we are all bombarded with wild amounts of information and detail. We, as a culture, have begun to distrust all corporate media and for good reasons. We are aware that their job is to make money and to report things to get us to watch. We are clear that our government is controlled by lobbyists and have seen our elected officials fail, time and again, to live up to the promises made by them as they campaigned for our votes. And we are all keenly aware that injustice in this world is rampant and we feel completely powerless to do anything about it. Which causes are the most important and what can we, as voiceless and powerless citizens, do to change anything at all…anywhere?

So, there are two parts of this Kony 2012 mission…the one that is directly spoken about and the one that is hinted at. And the one that is hinted at is so important to us as a culture that it could change everything forever.

I want to address the overt mission first…the mission to stop Joseph Kony. I have read the academic arguments on why the Kony 2012 campaign is ill-conceived. One at a time:

“It is late/it is more peaceful now/he has moved and lost power already” Yep. This one is true. We should have done something 26 years ago. But we didn’t. And, while it is true that he does not have the power he once wielded and has gone into hiding, I can’t imagine how this is a good argument to just throw up our hands and walk away. His history is so virulent that it MUST be addressed…now. And to the children and families still living in fear in the vicinity of this horrible madman, and the ones who are still captive…it is not too late. If we do not find him now and bring him to justice, what are we saying to the children whose lives have been lost in service to him? What are we saying to the families who have lost children to him? What are we saying to those who would step into his place when he is weakened and gone?

“He is using children as a human shield and they would be in danger.” Yes again. This is true. But they are in danger now. They have been in danger. And, if we do not do something, they will continue to be in danger. Additionally, the Kony 2012 campaign is not advocating a specific military or diplomatic strategy for finding Kony and bringing him to justice. So to argue that because we are hanging up posters, we are telling Obama to send in troops is inaccurate and silly. They are asking us to keep this effort in our consciousness and to continue to advocate with our government.

“This is an African problem, not a US one.’ Not going to spend much time on this one, other than to say…we are a global community now more than we have ever been in the history of the world. The fact that this could happen, did happen, is a crime against humanity. Those children are our children. Those families are our families. Those dead are our dead.

We should be focused on empowering the people with education/jobs/clean water/etc. Oh, I love this one. We absolutely should be doing what we can to give these children a better shot at a healthy, educated and strong future. No question about that. However, that this even comes into the argument demonstrates an incredible “first world” bias. If families are terrified that their children will be abducted in the middle of the night…if children are afraid of going to sleep because they have seen their siblings and friends brutally murdered…education and medical care are an almost laughable approach. Maslow’s hierarchy of need, people. If I don’t feel physically safe, don’t talk to me about recycling. This should not be an either/or situation. And, while it is certainly true that the Ugandan people now need these things desperately, there are organizations already dedicated to this mission…and it is not the mission of Invisible Children, who have been dedicated to the cause of arresting Kony for nine years.

The Invisible Children foundation is spending too much money on film-making and media. As a Communications professional, I am always stunned at how completely clueless people are about what goes in to staging an effective campaign. The organization CLEARLY stated that their goal is to elevate this so solidly in the public eye, and insinuate it into so much of the social media, that those who have the power to impact change…will, if only because they will look bad to their constituencies if they don’t. This requires money and staff…good staff. People who know how to deliver a message in a powerful and compelling way across generations/economic divides/political divides/geography/etc. And those people who have this knowledge and these skills have families and lives to support. If you operate on a shoestring, you get a shoestring response. It is that simple. We would not even be having this discussion on this scale if the people running this campaign did not know what they were doing.

The film is centered on the little blond haired boy. Decades ago, leading international neurologist, Antonio Dimassio proved that it was physiological impossible for humans to make a decision, any decision at all, without engaging the emotion center of the brain. Facts, charts, figures…none of that does it for us. Ever. This horrible atrocity is occurring well outside of our Monkey Sphere (another study done that basically asserts that we can not hold attention for any person or issue that falls too far outside of our local experience of the world). What this means in terms of communication is that the event must be connected to us directly somehow in order for us to maintain the attention span for it. The film does an outstanding job of not only doing this, but also giving us an entry point into a story that most of us have not been following very closely as he explains it to his small child. His child is a perfect bridging element for us.

This is not simple. Nothing is ever as simple as we make it out to be. I realize that the campaign oversimplifies the issue. But 26 years to sit around debating what should be done is too long. It is past time to do something. Anything would have been better than 26 years of what these people had to endure, and endure still.

Tomorrow I will be blogging on the second factor in this Kony 2012 issue that, I believe, is FAR more important than the original objective and, if it succeeds, may change the way everything is done forever.

Here’s the 30 minute movie, if you haven’t seen it yet.

Words Fail Me

“Are these from Africa?

The woman in the frame store jolted me out of my own little world with that question. I had gone back to Haiti and a little tented art shop near the top of the IDP camp. My hands ran over the framed pictures marveling at how different they looked in frames. In the artist’s tent the pictures on raw canvas are pinned to rope and wood wherever there is space. I had chosen the ones I wanted to buy more than a month before I made the purchase. I finally bought two, one folk art painting of kids playing in the camp, and a larger black and white one, a loose interpretation of Fet Gede (a voodoo celebration I had witnessed). I was wondering if I had made a mistake in framing them after all. Did the frames box in the life of them? Did I like them better frayed around the edges and hung with small wires from rope?

“Pardon?”

“Your pictures. Are they from Africa?”

“Oh. No. They’re from Haiti. I knew the artists.”

“Why were you in Haiti?” (Always the next question.)

But my mind had stopped again on “I knew the artists.” I did know them. They made me a gift of a third painting before I left as a thank you for always bringing people by to see their shop. It seems my mind is always overloaded when the subject of my past three months comes up. Like every conversation opens a tiny hole through which tidal waves of words push to move through.

“I was working with a nonprofit down there for three months.”

“Wow. I have a friend who just got back from Columbia. She said it is awful down there. Truly awful. I imagine Haiti is the same way, with all the earthquakes and hurricanes they have experienced.” And I start to nod my head in agreement. These are such simple quick conversations, I never really want to go into it with people I meet like this. I never feel able to go into it anyway. Besides, she is actually very sweet and is not really looking for deeper information, just being friendly. But then she says the thing that cuts me so deep I have no idea how to respond.

“What is happening down in Haiti is not the work of our Lord; it is the work of the devil for sure. Makes me wonder what is going on down there for them to deserve that.” And, I know she is not really wondering at all. I know she has decided that this nation has brought this upon themselves with their “ungodly” behavior. I have heard this before, unfortunately.

I stumble through some bits of information about slave debt and the monumental task of financing infrastructure under the burden of those conditions. I tell her that the entire world was appalled by their revolt at the time so finding support was impossible. But this rings as hollow in my ears as it must ring in hers.

The truth is closer to a conversation I had with a well-studied international aid worker and friend in Haiti soon after I arrived. He told me there were so many versions of the “truth” in Haiti that there was no sense in placing much stock in any of them, that all we can do is move forward.  But, when I am in back in the car, I cry. My failure to illuminate even a single aspect of Haiti’s worthiness and beauty to this misguided woman is becoming too familiar. And this time the failure comes too close on heels of seeing the faces of friends in the paintings and the memory of sitting on a small hill above the artist’s makeshift gallery watching them paint. I have failed my artist friends and Haiti. I sink into a funk that has become familiar to me ever since I returned home. I just don’t have the words, and that stings.

I met a woman once while working on a documentary shoot above the camp who told me about the days after the earthquake. She told me story after story. She told them to me as if they came unbidden. Like she had to tell them over and over. As if the telling would bring some sense to the world. As I drove home I remembered her story of the singing.

The dust had not even settled in Port au Prince. Aftershocks and trembles were still so common that people refused to sleep inside the buildings, afraid they too would become trapped or worse. Wails punctuated the shouting of people who were finding bodies. Unstable buildings still crashed along every street and in every neighborhood, keeping people wary of even the slightest crack around them. And there was weeping…always weeping. As she became accustomed to those noises, she began to hear singing. She followed the sound, looking for the source of the music. Eventually, she realized that it surrounded her. The people were singing. They were singing hymns. Pouring love, faith and prayers into valleys and hills surrounding Port au Prince. Thousands of voices, singing together. That moment gave her peace and hope. These people were not overcome. They still loved. They still believed. They still had faith.

Maybe I should have told her that story, instead of bringing up slave debts and old policies from governments long ago. That story does not contain the whole truth of Haiti, not by a long shot, but I have yet to find anything that comes as close as one simple story at a time.

This Post is Empty

Today, the day that I have publicly proclaimed as the first official day of my life as a writer, I do not want to write.

I don’t mean that I cannot think of anything to write about. I don’t mean that I have writer’s block. I don’t even mean that I can’t get exactly what I feel onto the page and that it is frustrating. I have felt all of those things before at one time or another. Today, all I feel is resistance. My jaw is set against it. Yeah, I can feel my jaw tight and determined.

The logical part of my brain is pleading. I can feel that as well.

“It doesn’t have to be good!”

“It doesn’t have to change anyone’s life!”

“It doesn’t even have to be anything about Haiti, Nepal or the fact that you are blowing your life wide open!”

“Just get something down.”

“Just write.”

“Anything.”

But it is almost noon and I have cleaned the kitchen, finished some financial stuff that has been hanging over my head, I have made appointments and filled in more of my to do list. And all this was done with an undeniable air of defiance.

I am not your monkey.

And I don’t even know with whom I am fighting. Whose monkey am I not being exactly? There is no outside pressure on me to perform. I have no deadline pressures. I have no authority figure over me.

I am too new at this to know what to do with myself when I am actively and aggressively resisting something I want to do. How does one talk themselves down? And, seriously, what am I to do with the insolent child of myself, pouting with her ball in her arms, threatening to take it home?

Anyone?

Xo,

Kim