invisible children responds
Last week's guest post from Dustyn Winder and Erin Bernstein on Invisible Children provoked quite a dialogue on what makes for effective advocacy and humanitarian aid. What follows is a response to that post from Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children:
We at Invisible Children are appreciative of this blog and the criticism made about the organization. It fuels us to listen more and do a better job moving forward. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
When I spoke to Dustyn and Erin (hi guys) on the phone a few months ago, I expressed my sincere appreciation for their voices and told them I would continue to take their criticisms into account while moving forward. We are already strategizing ways to include ideas like the ones they’ve suggested into out future campaigns.
I have also personally asked if either of them would like to come to Lobby Days, without paying $60 fees (the total of which will not meet the overall budget of the event) and accompany others and myself in our efforts to help end this war. Furthermore, I have invited them to see the powerful work Invisible Children is doing in northern Uganda. I understand they are both busy and traveling but I would love to sit down someday with them and others to brainstorm more ways Invisible Children can be a better brand and company.
I just want to be as transparent as possible as I clear up a few misunderstandings:
1. The Rough Cut was filmed in 2003 and premiered in June 2004, not in 2006. The Global Night Commute was in April 2006 and on that very same night, my own mother called as she was night commuting with the children in Gulu, Uganda. Also, it should be said that the film Hotel Rwanda is still relevant and important to tell 15 years after the genocide.
2. Invisible Children doesn’t fit inside the standard non-profit box, and I think that is where some individuals get confused – and the confusion often turns into frustration. The only thing consistent about us is our unpredictability. We do not consider ourselves solely a non-profit, a humanitarian organization, a mission’s ministry, an advertising firm, or an educational outlet- if any of these at all. We are a hybrid of many things simply because we believe that the current cultural and global paradigm that exists is broken, and we are purposefully breaking stereotypes and rules in order to engage in meaningful dialogue (like this one) as we find a new way forward – with good, powerful, transformative life change being the central focus – and end goal. We are very aware of and purposeful about our aggressive messaging and acknowledge that we are not going to be able to please everyone all the time. However, it should be noted that we always get local input from those we trust in Uganda – both employees and local leadership - when launching any new media or advocacy messaging.
3. The Norbert Mao muckraking is not only unfair and untrue- it simply won’t work. Mao and Invisible Children, along with Archbishop Odama, Bishop Ochola, Betty Bigombe, and the Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, are long-standing friends over several years. We’ve worked together in the past and continue to do so, personally and professionally. Of all the things written in this blog post, this one is the most hurtful and upsetting. You can criticize Invisible Children and myself all you want, but please don’t spread untruths about phone conversations. “Norbert Mao is a politician” is what I said, and it is true. He is a politician – an incredibly wise, generous and inspiring politician. Your interpretation, “Mao’s word cannot be trusted” is offensive. More than that, it is harmful. I don’t believe it is your intention to drive a wedge between Invisible Children and the leaders we rely on in Uganda, but at times it feels like that.
4. To clear up any misunderstanding as to our involvement in policy change, I will simply state the facts: we at Invisible Children have met with members of Parliament in Britain, The Pentagon Staff, The White House Staff, the President of Uganda, and members of the Lords Resistance Army numerous times. We desire this war to end, justice brought to Kony, and healing brought to the innocent people more than I can express in words. It has been our utter obsession since the day we met members of this beautiful community six years ago. We, like many others, consider Northern Uganda our second home, and the community our family. All the celebrities, hipster-antics, pop-flashy-media tools we use are an attempt to captivate a youth culture saturated by meaningless distractions. The end goal is of course to see our friends and their friends experience freedom.
I will leave you with one of my favorite excerpts from the genius author/designer Dave Eggers, taken from an interview conducted for YSKOV(Sacrement):
“What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who's up and who's down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a lot work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but that is what matters.”
The Journey is the Destination.
From the bottom of my heart, I look forward to meeting you in person someday soon.
I know Dustyn will have a response to Russell's comments, so I'll stay out of this one for now. Comments are welcome, but please continue to keep the debate civil, everyone.