Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One More Makes Four

It is the evening of August 21st. There are just over two weeks left of tour, 51% of our tour is booked, and there is no end of anxiety about the coming future. Nevertheless, we are pushing hard and forcing ourselves to defy the odds. Each new day is exhausting; but each new day is equally rewarding. Every screening booked is another school we will be able to visit on tour. Some only a few short weeks away.

Booking aside, today was a very significant day. For the past three weeks, our teams have been incomplete. With only three Westerners per team, there has always been the knowledge of an unfilled void. An empty chair, so to speak. We have waited patiently for weeks to hear of our Ugandan teammate and, after all the waiting, we finally got the news.

Okello Quinto is the name of our fourth teammate. He will be flying in from Uganda tomorrow and we are planning to greet him at the airport at 6:15. I couldn't be more excited! From what I hear, Quinto is a world-renowned Ugandan dancer and I am looking forward to the energy he will bring to the team. This is going to be a rough tour. There are a lot of enemies to fight against: apathy, negativity, ignorance. But I couldn't have asked for a stronger team.

With Quinto, our team is finally complete and the reality of what is about to happen is beginning to settle in. We are hitting the road. I am going back on tour. Am I ready? You betcha. Let's do this!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Roadies Are Here

Saturday night.

The garage door is open and a cool breeze ventilates the room. I am sitting on a reclaimed van bench that has turned into a make-shift sofa while several friends sit around on their computers and phones. The house is busier than normal. The roadies are here.

The first week is always the craziest, not because of the endless trainings or the constant shuffling between the movement room and the conference room, but because of the sudden urgency of tour. Summer was like a dream. We were booking nine hours out of the day and the work was hard, but it almost seemed like we were working for a far-off goal; for a day that would never come.

That day is quickly approaching.

There are just more than four weeks left until we leave. Just a short month until I am a roadie again. But this time, there will be new responsibilities and new challenges.  I am a team leader now and with that title comes a lot of weight. Who do I turn to in times of trouble or conflict? Who will make the hard decisions? I have to be prepared to lead my team to success during a potentially hostile climate. I have to be able to set the standard for positivity and encouragement and put on a smile even when everything is going wrong. Can I measure up to that?

It didn’t hit me until this week how real this whole thing is. But now the roadies are here, Greater LA is 3/4 of a team, and we are making preparations to hit the road.


That’s as far as I got last weekend. I am continuing this post from a coffee shop in San Diego where I sit with a good handful of other roadies. The wifi isn’t working in the house, so we have come here to catch up on work and plug into the rest of the world. The place is called Lestat’s and it’s got a pretty hip, alternative vibe. Instead of seats, there is a collection of Craigslist sofas, each of varying colors, and studded leather couches that look like they were transplanted from a cigar lounge of another time. The artwork is intriguing. I won’t go into details.

It is only Wednesday but it feels like each day this week has contained within it another week. We are working 11 hours out of every day. Into the office by 7:00 AM. Out by 6:00 PM if we are lucky. The work is hard but our resolve is strong and our team of fall 2012 roadies is growing tighter by the day. Every day, new roadies knock Q and A questions out of the park. We are picking up speed with booking and the reality of tour becomes more cemented with each new training.

And I honestly can’t wait. Despite my fears and insecurities, I know there will be a lot of freedom to make this tour what I want it to be. There is a lot of work to be done now but I know it will pay off in the end. We work hard, but we work for a cause far bigger than any of us. And our mission couldn’t be more just.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Colorado to California

Let me open this week’s post by expressing my condolences for the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. A tragedy like this is both terrifying and unifying. It is easy to allow that sly disease called fear to drip from the words of journalists and eye-witness reporters and sliver into our hearts. But it is important to remember that this is not a tragedy faced alone. Like Columbine, like any other unexcused public shooting, our nation grieves as one. We must not let it become a polarizing issue. It is time for us to recognize the common fragility that we all share and to unite with empathy under the banner of our own humanity. If we do this, then James Holmes fails. 
Keep that in mind.
On a slightly warmer note, this has been a fairly significant week for the fall 2012 Invisible Children team leaders. I think it’s safe to say that summer has officially ended and the impending tidal wave of the fall semester has cast its shadow over our assorted crew. 
It started on Monday when we learned for the first time the names of our team members. It’s funny how easy it is to get into the routine of saying “my team” on the phone or in e-mails without having a face or a name to paste over that mental silhouette of our group. But the names have been announced and the first three-fourths of our teams are complete. 
I, for one, couldn’t be happier about my team. Christian Huisman is one of my close friends and our paths have been intertwined for nearly a year. He arrived in San Diego shortly before I left to join my old teammate Maggie on tour to Texas. For the spring semester, he led a team through the deep south, a region that includes my home state of Florida. And now he will be joining me for his third tour to travel the Greater Los Angeles area. I am excited for the experiences and positivity he will bring to the team. 
Claire Shannon, our other teammate, instantly brings energy and fun into any situation. She has been living with us here at the La Mesa house all summer and has been working for Invisible Children as an engagement intern. Her positivity has been essential when speaking on the phone to supporters and dealing with the not-so-supporters. I am excited to have her on my team.
If knowing our teammates wasn’t sufficient to allow the weight of tour to sink in, the team leader retreat this weekend certainly did the job. We ended the week early to drive up to Lake Arrowhead for an intensive, two-day leadership program. At the retreat, the Movement staff laid out their expectations for the team leaders and explained our responsibilities for the read, but also left room for a little bit of fun. We returned yesterday with a nervous energy but also a contagious excitement for the road. 
One week from now, the fall roadies will be arriving. It is time for us to step up and assume the responsibilities that this role entails. Summer is over and the fall tour is inevitable. I, for one, can’t wait.
P.S. I am still accepting donations at https://invisiblechildren.secure.force.com/pmtx/Donations_IC_DirectSupport?id=70170000000k3L6AAI. Please don’t feel obligated to donate, but if you are compelled to give I would really appreciate it. Living in San Diego is expensive. Especially when you work as a full time volunteer. Anything from 5 dollars to 50 dollars will be a huge help.
P.P.S. If anybody wants more current updates on what I am doing, follow me on instagram! My handle is austin_estes

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Letter to Home



When I left San Diego in August of last year I knew I would return one day, but I never realized it would come this soon. You have to be careful to keep your eye on the time because as soon as you look away, days become weeks and months fly by in a whirlwind faster than the blink of an eye. Fall 2012 seemed so far away when I whispered the words “I’ll be back” last August. “I’ll be back some day.” But one year left of college became one semester left. My senior thesis became my first draft, became my final draft. I graduated from college. I said goodbye to my best friends of four years, my girlfriend of eight months, and my family. And I boarded a plane back to sunny San Diego. 

I am in this phase of life where “home” becomes such a flexible term. Where is my home? Is it in Melbourne, Florida? Melbourne is certainly my hometown. It is where I grew up. It is where I learned to love music, developed my faith and identity as a Christian, kissed my first girlfriend. I learned to love, learned to laugh, learned somewhat how to surf (or at least how to stand on a longboard). My family lives there and, if only for this reason, I would consider it home. 

And I think I think of Jupiter and I feel like I have to eat my words. My college years were so defining to my identity and the people I met there are lifelong friends. There were days when we wanted nothing more than to play board games and laugh, or take midnight excursions to fast food restaurants. The young soul is a wanderer’s soul, if only for a burrito grande and a Baja Blast. But then there were nights when we would talk about serious matters; of faith, world politics, of identity and truth. College taught me to think critically and to share my thoughts with my friends, for I believe that conversation is the best way to approach truth.

But isn’t home where your heart is? And isn’t your heart where you feel most alive? If that is the case, San Diego is my home. The community and energy that I have found within the walls of the Invisible Children office are addicting. When I was here last spring, I felt challenged to approach the world in a new light; to experience a more hopeful paradigm. Society is fluid and malleable. It can be changed for the better so long as your hands are well practiced and your intentions are humble. 

Where is my home? Perhaps this is the critical question. Where would I consider myself from? Where are my “headquarters”? Where and what is “family”?

I don’t think I can answer that question, at least not yet. For now, my home is everywhere, and my family is spread out across the country. Perhaps I am the luckiest person alive because I am always surrounded by people I love no matter where I go. 

I have a vision for this blog. I want to us it to connect with family and friends all across the country. For now it will serve to update everyone on the east coast about my adventures and activities. Once tour starts, it will hopefully be a useful way to keep everyone informed on my whereabouts and mischief within Los Angeles. I only hope that it can serve to bridge the gap between the miles.

For those of you who don’t know, I am working for the non-profit organization Invisible Children this fall. I am going on tour as a team leader in the Greater Los Angeles region on a campaign to educate and update students on the LRA conflict in central Africa (Africa’s longest running armed conflict). I will be leading an international team of four on a ten-week tour through Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and the surrounding region of southern California.

As you can imagine, this is a very taxing experience. Before I go, I have one simple ask.

As it stands, I am a poor college graduate working at a non-profit for a meagre stipend. I have enough to live off of, but not comfortably. I hate to ask for money, but I could really use some support and assistance from my friends and family back home. I want this blog to be a blessing to everyone and I don’t want anybody to feel obligated to donate. But if you have a spare 5 or 10 bucks, I  would really appreciate some financial help. Consider it an early birthday present. 

I have a page set up through Invisible Children where I can accept donations for support. Here is the link:

Again, I know a lot of you are in the same position as I am and I would hate to see you give out of your own scarcity. But if you could do me just a small, favor, share this blog. It could make a world of difference.

Thanks to all of you who are supporting me in your thoughts and prayers. I couldn’t do this without you. I miss you all and I think about you constantly.

Here’s to home. Here’s to adventure, and to redefining family.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

On Rand: Integrity and Ego

So here’s the setting: I am sitting outside of La Mesa Village’s favorite local coffee shop, Cosmos. My coffee is long since finished and I am listening to Yellow Ostrich through headphones. It is a beautiful Saturday morning and, with the day empty before me, I can think of no better time to dwell on my most recently completed specimen of literature.

Those who I live with have seen me sprawled out on a couch or relaxing on the porch often over the past weeks, book in hand. I have been reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a book famous for its revolutionary ideas and theories. And I have to say, Rand has forced me to think. Her position is one worthy of a paradigm shift. She can make you see the world in an entirely new way or at least bring you to question what you believe about it. There is danger, though, in subscribing entirely to her system of belief. It is certainly important to take lessons from her words and digest her theories, but I would suggest doing so with a grain of salt.

Overall, I think Rand has a very pessimistic view of human nature. She sees the average man as incapable of taking ownership over his thoughts and opinions. To her, the masses merely exist to have their heads filled by the few in power. She calls these people second-handers because they are incapable of being truly original. Her character Ellsworth Toohey is a popular columnist in the New York paper The Banner who uses his influence to mold popular opinion. He praises mediocrity and elevates people of no talent to be worshipped by the masses. He creates authors, playwrights, and architects by manufacturing opinions that can be digested by his readers. In the same vein, he uses his words to destroy for the public eye the only character of true integrity that Ayn Rand develops in her novel: Howard Roark.

Roark is everything that man should be. He is unwavering in his beliefs, a true egotist who refuses to compromise or be swayed by public opinion. He swims against the current and makes decisions not because they are popular but because they are true to his beliefs. In spite of popular opinion, legal battles, and slander by the press, he stands strong and true. And because of this, Toohey finds it necessary to destroy him, lest the public recognize his true talent and integrity.

Rand believes that the ideal man seeks to serve only himself. He is indifferent to the needs or thoughts of others and behaves strictly out of a motive to benefit himself. She ridicules the thought of altruism and believes that the self takes precedence over the masses. This is evident in the character of Howard Roark.

I think there are two important lessons to take away from The Fountainhead. First and foremost, know what you stand for. It is true that humans, as social creatures, often put weight to the opinions and beliefs of those with the loudest voices. It is sometimes easier to let those around us make our decisions and dictate our identity. I, myself, am guilty of this. It takes a strong level of self-knowledge and scrutiny to lay the cement for your personal foundation. But it is so important to find your roots and stay planted. The human identity is like clay; you can take ownership over yours and mold it to your satisfaction. But it is also easily shifted by the pressures and temperatures of the world. Protect your clay because it is the essence of who you are.

The second lesson to take away is, contrary to Rand’s philosophy, that individualism is not beneficial to society. She believes that people should only be motivated by their own benefit. This is such a narrow lens with which to view the world. Rand is focused on the individual, on only his or her success. But in order to make real progress, we have to widen our view and take into account the millions of faces and voices that surround us. We can do so much more collectively by standing on the shoulders of giants than one man can accomplish on his own. Despite Roark’s absolute integrity and individuality as an architect, he still relies on the mathematics and structural theories of those who came before. He needs people to lay the bricks and raise the walls of his buildings. And when he seeks only his own good, he leaves destruction in his wake. As a society, we can accomplish much more by working together and lifting one another up than we can ever do alone.

At the end of the day, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a fantastic book and I have to say she has challenged a lot of the ways that I view the world. Nevertheless, it is necessary to carefully process and sort through her ideas and understand which ones to learn from and which ones are inflated to suit the purposes of her book. Man is not set in stone and Rand’s caricatures of human nature are insightful but not often true. I do recommend the book and encourage anyone who finishes it to talk to me and let me know their thoughts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Complexity of Individuality

The success of the high school social experiment (and to some extent, college) depends on the ability to identify and conform to a type. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it often seems that the most critical developmental years of childhood are spent stripping down individuality in order to fit in. And even if you manage, to some extent, to maintain a strong foundation of who you are in spite of the pressure from classmates, people will inevitably try to fit you into a box; to label you, or use their knowledge of others in order to understand you. 

This is how we come to understand the world. When a baby is learning how to speak, it first learns the names of the objects in its surrounding environment. The family pet is called a “dog.” The parent is called either “Mom” or “Dad.” But each of these objects can be referred to by other names. The pet can be “animal,” “puppy,” “canine,” “Boston Terrier,” or its own name (“Fido,” if you will). But this complexity is confusing to an infant. It is much easier to first identify things by one label. Only with maturity does the child come to understand that a Boston Terrier is a breed of dog which is also an animal, and that this particular Boston Terrier is named Fido. 

Let’s expand this example to people. It is often easier to identify people in our environment based on established categories than it is to attempt to understand the complexity of their personality. I am guilty of this as much as the other person. When I meet someone new, I try to figure out what kind of person they are based on the way they dress, or the kind of music they listen to. Perhaps by asking the right questions I can hit some kind of gold that unlocks the truth of their personality (as if there were a way to unlock a person’s personality). 

This kind of belief is dangerous. It tricks us into thinking that we can know a person, or know ourselves. And it strips away any individuality. As soon as you think you know a person, you reduce them to an image in your head and limit their true identity. 

To put it another way, your behavior towards another person can shape their identity. Human beings are social animals, and we strive to see ourselves the way others see us. So when you treat someone like a criminal, they learn to see themselves that way and absorb that label into their identity. 

But human beings, in reality, are far more complex. It is impossible to really know a person. And in the same vein, I think it is impossible to really know yourself. We can define personality as a set of behaviors that are unique to a person. Yet behavior is easily influenced by situational circumstances. Think, for example, of the classic Milgram experiment in which volunteers at Yale were instructed to deliver lethal shocks to another participant (or so they thought. In reality, the other participant was an actor and was not connected to the shock machine). In a majority of cases, volunteers continued in the experiment until they believed they had killed another person; and all because they were told by the experimenter to do so. This is a classic study in human behavior and provides some horrifying insight into the power of obedience and situational factors. 

My point in bringing up Milgram’s study is that we can’t possibly know how we or anyone else will react in a particular situation. Before the experiment, several prominent psychologists predicted that 1% of all participants would deliver the lethal shock. And yet nearly all of them did! Personality is variable and any attempt to know or understand a person is fruitless.

Rather, I think it is important to embrace the complexity of individuals; to love them because we cannot ever know them. To treat every conversation and every interaction as if it is a gift that allows us entry into another person’s limitless and indefinable life. Only then can we begin to appreciate people for who they are. 

Identity is valuable. Once we start to reduce a person to a label or stereotype, we strip away their individuality and put them into a box. We reduce them to a fraction of what they could be. But think of how much more valuable our relationships become when we realize how important and unique we all are. Perhaps the secret to loving someone is to realize that we can never truly understand them and that every day with them is a mystery. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kony 2012: The Making of a Viral Phenomenon

Last Halloween, I helped organize a group of FAU students on a door-to-door fund raiser to benefit the non-profit organization Invisible Children. The idea itself was simple enough: groups like UNICEF have been capitalizing on the Halloween market for years. We would get dressed up in costumes, travel around the community, and ask for spare change rather than tricks or treats. What could go wrong?

Nearly an hour later, we found the answer ourselves. We reconvened with the main group to count our earnings and were dismayed to find that we were hardly ten dollars richer for all of our troubles. With almost fifteen students going door-to-door on Halloween, we had raised the equivalent of one movie ticket. We would have raised more money by each donating a dollar. What happened? Why did our message fall deaf on the ears of our south Jupiter, Fl. community?

Nearly five months later, Invisible Children Inc. released a 30-minute film called Kony 2012 that offered the same message and then asked for donations. While our efforts fell short of our desired goal, the Kony 2012 video instantly took off. Within its first day, it had over a million views. By the end of the week, the video had been seen 100 million times, breaking records for the fastest video of all time to hit that mark (yes, faster than Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” or “Charlie bit my Finger”). #stopkony was trending on twitter for days, Invisible Children immediately sold out of everything offered on their online store, and the organization was soon flooded with media requests and invitations to sit with anyone from Piers Morgan to Anderson Cooper.

After the initial tidal wave of Kony 2012 crashed, a surge of negative blogs and op-eds hit the mainstream and rumors began to catch fire. With almost the same speed that Kony 2012 went viral, people around the world began to grab and spread these rumors. Within mere weeks, it seemed that everyone knew not only Kony’s name, but Invisible Children’s detailed finances, the names of all their donors, and the history of the LRA conflict. Even today, when I tell people that I used to work with Invisible Children they ask me if I’ve heard rumors that the war is over and that Joseph Kony is dead.

As a psychology student with an avid interest in human behavior and social phenomena, Kony 2012 has brought several questions to mind. Why was Kony 2012 so successful while my Halloween fund raiser flopped? Why did Kony 2012, a half-hour documentary, catch the interest of so many young people? Why did the negativity and rumors spread so quickly afterwards? And more importantly, what is the next step from here? Today, over two months since Kony 2012 was originally released, the dust has settled enough to put together a picture of what happened earlier this spring.

            Before I go on, I want to throw out one little disclaimer. This is neither a support nor a critique of Invisible Children or Kony 2012. What follows is merely an analysis of the effectiveness of the campaign and its subsequent attacks. I propose three explanations for the Kony 2012 phenomenon: the foot-in-the-door method of encouraging commitment, effectively mobilizing a network of dedicated supporters, and bandwagoning.

Foot in the Door

            In social psychology, the foot-in-the-door phenomenon suggests that if you can get someone to agree to a small commitment, they will be more likely to agree to a bigger commitment in the future. According to PsychCentral, if your friend asks you to decorate 200 cupcakes for a PTA bake sale, you will be more likely to agree to help if you first agreed to assist in a smaller task, like shopping for ingredients. Once your foot is in the door, it's easier to ask for a larger commitment.

This translates perfectly to the success of Kony 2012. If you can get someone to hit the play button on a youtube video, you have at least two minutes of their attention. If you can hook them at the beginning (like Kony 2012 does with its quick-paced narrative and flashy filmmaking), then you can get the viewer to commit to the whole 30-minute film. And if you can get them to finish the video, you are in a really good position to make your pitch. In this case, the pitch was as simple as clicking “share.”

            Justifiably, Invisible Children has been criticized for encouraging what some call a culture of slactivists, a term that mocks the internet generation for believing that sharing a video or posting a tweet can lead to social change. The critics argue that sharing a video does nothing to create real or permanent change. It doesn’t bring Joseph Kony out of the bush and it doesn’t bring child soldiers home.

But the real brilliance behind the Kony 2012 movement is that, on a large enough scale, it is just the amount of commitment that is needed. Invisible Children wanted to create a world-wide awareness campaign to highlight a 26-year conflict in central Africa. What better way to spread awareness than to get a large amount of people to make a small commitment? If you can get enough people talking about an issue, then that issue is elevated to the level of public consciousness. If you get the right people to talk about it, you can create real change. The Kony 2012 experiment was brilliant for this reason: it effectively mobilized the internet generation and used their collective voice to put weight behind the issue.

Mobilizing Support

            Contrary to popular belief, Kony 2012 did not happen overnight. Invisible Children has been around for nearly ten years. They have created several films, organized a number of awareness events, and played a critical role in pushing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act through the U.S. Congress. Each semester, they launch a new awareness campaign that brings representatives from the organization and speakers from Uganda to around half a million students across the United States. And their support base is strong.

            Last year, 90,000 people committed to staying silent for 25 hours to recognize each year since the LRA conflict started. Those supporters raised 1.7 million dollars in the spring and came back in the fall to raise another $1.7 million for Invisible Children’s programs in D.R. Congo and C.A.R. These are not slacktivists. These tens of thousands of anonymous supporters make up the backbone of Invisible Children.

            When Kony 2012 was first made public on March 5th, they were waiting. These dedicated supporters were the ones who first saw the video, first started sharing it, and first started tweeting with the hashtag #stopkony. According to Social Flow, “Invisible Children enlisted the help of their supporters in barraging celebrities to come out in support of the campaign, making it incredibly easy to Tweet at Taylor Swift or Rihanna within two clicks. Once celebrities came on board, the campaign was given multiple boosts.” Ryan Seacrest’s response to this barrage illustrates how effective this campaign was in utilizing thousands of supporters to get celebrities on board: “Was going to sleep last night and saw ur tweets about Kony 2012… Watched in bed, was blown away.”

            Undeniably, the support from celebrities like Oprah, Rhianna, P Diddy, and Justin Bieber provided the tipping point that sent Kony 2012 over the edge. But it was the effort of thousands of Invisible Children supporters that put the video in the right hands. Without them, Kony 2012 would still be inching towards the filmmakers’ original goal of 500,000 views.

The Bandwagon

             Whether you like it or not, Kony 2012’s initial support (and later criticism) was started by only a few people and amplified through mass bandwagonning. In his book TheTipping Point, renowned author Malcolm Gladwell describes the types of people that start fast-spreading social “epidemics” like Kony 2012. He calls these people Mavens, meaning “one who accumulates knowledge” (60), and describes them as people who “have the knowledge and the social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. What sets Mavens apart, though, is not so much what they know but how they pass it along. The fact that Mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention” (67).

The Mavens are the ones driving the bandwagon. They first see the film and start spreading it to their network of friends, who quickly jump on board. Those friends share it with their friends, who pass it along to their friends and before long, the wagon is getting pretty full. Before I offend anyone, I want to add one caveat: bandwagonners are essential for the epidemic spread of a movement like Kony 2012. It is essentially because of their involvement that movements like this become popular. But nevertheless, these are people who often do not do their research before making a donation, or who can be easily swayed by opposing views. Unfortunately, it is just as easy to jump off of a bandwagon as it is to jump on.

This, I would like to propose, is the reason for the rapid rise and fall of the Kony 2012 campaign. Remember those Mavens I mentioned before? Well, those are the people who do their research. They are the ones that start the blogs, who challenge the bandwaggoners, and encourage people to think before they donate. They are the ones who called into question some of the claims that Invisible Children makes in Kony 2012; that started talking about IC’s finances and Charity Navigator rating. They voiced legitimate concerns and showed a respectable longing for a fuller picture before pledging their support or commitment to the cause.

But once the Mavens started driving a different wagon, it didn’t take long for the bandwagonners to jump on board. What started as a challenging opinion was taken as incontrovertible evidence that Invisible Children was a “scam.” Bandwagonners, again without doing their research, jumped on a train heading in a different direction and mistook rumors or misinformation as fact. As rumors spread, theories erupted, and trust in the movement wavered, it suddenly became “cool” not to support Invisible Children. In a stroke of irony, the critical bandwagonners began to criticize other bandwagonners for jumping on the Kony 2012 train. I personally have been challenged in my support for Invisible Children by people who believe that Joseph Kony is dead or that the war is over. Fortunately, I have a strong enough background in the conflict to recognize facts based in evidence as opposed to rumor and myth. But nonetheless, it is scary to witness how quickly and effectively rumor can manipulate public opinion.

I want to take a minute here to make an appeal to the bandwagonners. It is healthy to be critical. I once saw Tom Shadyac speak (director of I Am, Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, etc.) and one thing he suggested stands out clearly in my mind: question everything. When you see a film like Kony 2012, do some research. But at the same time, make sure you research the critics as well. At the end of the day, know what you support and where your loyalties lie. But NEVER be afraid to believe in something.


            So to bring things back home, what did Kony 2012 get right and why did my door-to-door fund raiser pale in comparison? For one, Invisible Children’s video effectively utilized foot-in-the-door tactics to get viewers to commit to the campaign. It is easy for someone to give spare change to a student on Halloween without even knowing what they donated to. But someone who invests a full half hour watching an emotional film is much more prepared to take the next step, especially when that step is as easy as reposting or sending out a tweet.

            Additionally, Invisible Children had a resource that I clearly lack: thousands of dedicated supporters. Without them, Kony 2012 would not have happened. They are the ones who made it work. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that social epidemics aren’t started by the masses, but rather by a special few. I went door-to-door trying to spread awareness and raise money in a brute-force method. But Invisible Children knew better. They knew that, as long as they put the Kony 2012 video in the right hands, those people would get the job done much faster and far more effectively.

            And finally, the bandwagonners. Kony 2012’s success hinged on the willingness for people to latch onto an idea. The dedicated supporters and the Mavens helped to drive the movement, but it wouldn’t have been as successful without the masses jumping on board. They are the ones who watched the video 100 million times, who pledged their support online for the campaign, and who caused such a stir that people like President Barack Obama (you might have heard of him) took notice. You can knock on doors and preach to people until they pass out, but all your efforts will be useless if you can’t convince people to jump on board.

            I want to leave you with one thought. At the beginning of the film, Kony 2012 opens with the words “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” When the filmmakers first penned those words, they could not have possibly anticipated what was to follow. But there is truth in those words. Regardless of whether or not you support the organization, it is undeniable that the message of Kony 2012 resonated with people. For a solid week, the voices of the world were united in a chorus for global peace. Social media can be a powerful tool; one that can become dangerous in the wrong hands. But I think there is promise for the future. In March, Invisible Children briefly tapped into the collective empathy of a united humanity. I think that empathy still exists and can be brought forth again. Sometimes we just need the right voice to rally behind. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Christians Have Missed the Boat on Same-Sex Marriage

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden upset political discourse around the nation by claiming on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he is “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of same-sex marriage. Not three days later, President Obama followed suit and became the first U.S. President to publicly support the marriage of same-sex couples. Needless to say, this is monumental for the gay rights movement. Support for same-sex marriage has been rapidly building over past years and national approval of the movement has been climbing, but Obama’s statement last Wednesday shows just how strong support for the issue has become.

Inevitably, the President has been both applauded and criticized for his stance on same-sex marriage. Conservative leaders have accused him of trying to appeal to major LGBT donors or for misusing the biblical Golden Rule in order to support his decision. Some (Fox Nation, I’m talking to you) whipped out some overused war rhetoric and accused the President of declaring “War on Marriage.” Others have commended him for making such a bold and potentially dangerous move in order to defend equal rights for all. It is important to note, however, that these opinions aren’t strictly limited to the President’s statement and are more reflective of the national debate about same sex marriage as a whole; a debate that has a long history in American culture and is woven so tightly into the fabric of both religious doctrine and social activism. 

But as a Christian myself, I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive. I think it is possible to reconcile support for the gay rights movement with an active spiritual life and commitment to faith. Same-sex marriage is a defining issue for our generation and I think it’s high time for both sides to stop pointing fingers and work together on a solution that supports civil rights for all.

As Stephen Colbert so eloquently pointed out, the bible is pretty quiet when it comes to talking about same-sex marriage. Unless I am mistaken, Jesus never mentions the topic of homosexuality in all of his teachings. Yet there is still some text on the topic, and the most vocal anti-gay Christians reference 1 Corinthians 6:9 to attack homosexuality.

In what could seem like a clear condemnation of same-sex relationships, 1 Corinthians 6:9 suggests that “homosexual offenders” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” For a bible-thumper, this could be all the fuel needed to assume the moral high road. But a closer reading gives a clearer picture. Along with “homosexual offenders,” 1 Corinthians also condemns “idolaters,” “thieves,” “the greedy,” “drunkards,” “slanderers,” and “swindlers.” Sounds like a tall order if you ask me. As a young kid growing up in the church, one of the major lessons I took away from the teachings of Jesus is that we are all sinners. If it is impossible to be perfectly righteous, why do Christians spend so much time pointing out the sin in others?

Even still, this reading misses the bigger point of the passage which is this: “that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God.” The whole point of the chapter is that we are all sinners and that we have no right to judge one another. Only the blood of Christ can redeem. Pointing fingers will get you nowhere.

Furthermore, the modern church seems to have entirely misread the point of Christ’s message. The story of Jesus presented in the Bible is not a tale of fire and brimstone but rather of love and human kindness. Jesus does not condemn gays but instead says that we should love our neighbor. As the modern philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West writes, “To be a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ- is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom” (Democracy Matters, 172). As Christians, we should recognize the common humanity we share with our LGBT brothers and sisters, and fight by their side until they can share the same civil liberties that we take for granted. It is not our place to judge a person for their beliefs or practices, but it is our responsibility to fight for equal rights and freedom for all. And that is why I, as a Christian, support same-sex marriage.

I’ll leave you with this:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
‘No one, sir,’ she said.
‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:3-11).