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'Kony 2012' backlash: Don't squelch young activists [Blowback]

March 16, 2012 |  8:00 am

Kony Merch
Mary Strickler, a high school teacher in Harrisonburg, Va., addresses the media backlash over the viral video “Kony 2012.”
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A few days ago the 29-minute video “Kony 2012” went viral with more than 80 million views. Since then members of the free press and bloggers have done their best to blacken the name of three filmmakers and I want to brood about the affair.

As a teacher, I thought it was refreshing to view student activism at the grass roots level this week. In history class, teens were brought to tears after viewing the “Kony” documentary. All week long, young people flooded my room to discuss their reaction to the film. They ordered $30 Kony kits, planned to plaster the city with Kony posters on April 20, the designated day slated in the film, and filled up Facebook sites with poignant discussions of child abuse in Third World countries. The power of the film moved kids to put down their cellphones or video controllers and take up collections to help others in need. It was gratifying to see young people excited and motivated to get involved.

Then, along came the naysayers as cited in the March 10 article by James Rainey. Prominent journalists criticized the Kony movement, especially a photograph of the filmmakers holding guns with the LRA and questioned the amount of donations that actually went toward the cause, ultimately dissuading people from contributing.

Now, it’s only human nature to complain about the state of worldly affairs. I get that and if it happens to sell a few extra papers, so much the better. However, to criticize something so important as saving the lives of children is unconscionable. These three men from San Diego have left the safety of their own homes, fought tirelessly for five years living halfway around the world in unsavory places to bring us the truth. How can anyone have the nerve to question their propriety? Really. Moving films that get airtime on all major networks cost real money to make…or haven’t you heard?

TyincuraMy son, Ty Strickler (USC alum ’10), is currently in a remote village called Cura in Kenya shooting a documentary about the needs of children who live in an orphanage because they have lost their parents to AIDS. It took Ty almost a year to raise the money to go. Rather than simply making a charitable donation, Ty took it upon himself to travel halfway around the world to film in a dangerous area because he knows that his documentary might move others to action. I seriously hope you don’t accuse him of misappropriation of funds because he took his first trip abroad on someone else’s dime. Rather than criticizing people who want to make a difference, you should commend those who get off the couch and do something to make the world a little better for people they don’t even know.

If you want a story about corruption, look no further than our own government. The interest alone on Ty’s college loans are more than he makes in a month. The government consolidation agency, which charges 8% interest, informed Ty that after he makes 30 years of regular monthly payments that will not even touch the principle, the IRS will "step in" and he could see real jail time. Now there’s a travesty of justice; write about that but leave the filmmakers alone.

We all agree that a journalist has an obligation to tell the truth; however, a journalist also has an obligation to cover all sides of the story. Travel with the filmmakers to Uganda, read my son’s blog while he’s in Kenya at tystrickler.blogspot.com, see the good works of people who work tirelessly in the trenches at curaorphanage.org before you put pen to paper next time. 

Don’t squelch young activists like my son or my student, Thomas Abebe, who took it upon himself to raise money for famine relief around the Horn of Africa by selling rubber bracelets to his fellow classmates. Did I ask him for an accounting of funds? No, I just thanked God that someone cared enough to get involved. He gets an A+ in my book!

Just remember -- journalists have the power to inspire too. More people need to be inspired like these young filmmakers, who have the crazy notion that they can change the world by using film, social media and most importantly, their talents.

There are two types of people in the world, ones who are the doers and the ones who sit around and criticize them for it. Which one are you?


To catch a Kony, cash won't cut it

PHOTOS: The cruelty of Kony's army

VIDEO:Kony 2012 targets Uganda militia leader

 --Mary Strickler

Top photo: The Invisible Children Movement office in San Diego. Credit: John Mone / AP Photo

Bottom photo: Ty Strickler in Kenya. Credit: Photo provided by Mary Strickler

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