Category Archives: Peace in Congo

Learning from Gandhi and Martin Luther King in Response to Kony 2012

Sometimes I keep them close by so I feel less alone in my journey.

This is a follow-up post to my previous thoughts on Kony 2012

It took me a really long time to read through Martin Luther King’s autobiography. I think, all told, it took me two and a half years from start to finish.

The benefit is that I took the long journey of his life into myself, really contemplated and absorbed it, allowing myself the privilege of learning under him as a master teacher of sorts.

I had a similar experience when reading Gandhi’s autobiography. I think it took me about two years to finish his 500-page tome. The effect was a sense of real companionship, of getting to know this strong and honorable man by walking slowly alongside him, observing his choices and his leadership and deeply listening to his philosophy and how he made decisions.

Three things always stand out to me about these two great men and the work of their lives. And over the last few days, as I’ve continued to educate myself and contemplate the events of the Kony 2012 effort, I’m noticing that these three elements can be instructive to us in developing our perspective on the issue the Kony 2012 effort represents and its proposed resolution.

1. The work of both men grew out of their experience and context. 

Pretty early in my nonviolence journey, I heard a story about Mother Teresa. It was shared in the context of how often people sought her permission to come care for the poor in Calcutta alongside her. While she was glad to receive visitors and often told them to “come and see,” she also often told them, “There are Calcuttas everywhere.” The implication I took from that story was to ask myself and God in prayer, “Where is my Calcutta?”

I think about this regarding Gandhi and MLK, too. They were so clearly called to the contexts they served. They knew the people they served and were, in fact, one of them. They had personal knowledge of the plights they served and sought to change. They were fully immersed in and lived among the struggle.

I think resolution to the violence perpetuated by the Lord’s Resistance Army is going to need similar leadership — that it is going to need to come from those just as closely acquainted with it and living among it.

This, in fact, seems to be one of the great messages those living in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and the CAR keep sending in response to the Kony 2012 video — and have, in fact, been sending for quite some time. See, as one example, this 6-minute video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire recorded in response to the Kony 2012 video.

While it may surprise Americans to hear it, the people of Africa — in whatever country or context where suffering may exist or emerge among them — do not want to be rescued as though they have not the strength to help themselves. The care, compassion, and solidarity of the wider world is valuable to them, yes. But they are not helpless people. They are strong. Vibrant. Creative. Resourceful. And they want to be part of their own solution.

Furthermore, they are the ones who best know the situation and its history and its people. They know what solutions will work or not work in response to their struggles. And their personal knowledge of their own context is perhaps their greatest strength.

All this to say that while I am still so glad the wider world has been educated about the existence of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, I’m not so sure that agitating the international community and policymakers to do something to make it stop is the real solution this situation requires. We ought, instead, to be students of those affected by the violence — those who know the situation and its dynamics better than any of us and who can teach us what solutions they believe their situation requires.

2. The efforts of Gandhi and MLK were coordinated and strategic.

When I read Martin Luther King’s autobiography, I was struck over and over again by how organized and carefully planned the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement really were. They had to be.

For instance, when the bus boycott in Montgomery began — which was the first initiative led by MLK in the Civil Rights Movement — they started with 150 volunteers who donated their cars to the effort. Within a few days, the volunteer drivers had swelled to 300 and the group had distributed leaflets to the community that listed 48 dispatch and 42 pickup stations.

That’s pretty impressive and massive coordination in just a few days. Even the white community was impressed by it, Dr. King tells us in his autobiography.

But the oppositional response of the white community to the bus boycott necessitated further strategy and coordinated response on the part of the Negro community. When reading this section of MLK’s autobiography, I noted no less than 10 oppositional efforts the white community undertook to derail the boycott:

  • Opposition #1: Use laws against them.
  • Opposition #2: Negotiate an unsuitable compromise.
  • Opposition #3: Divide the black community against itself.
  • Opposition #4: Spread lies.
  • Opposition #5: Institute a “get tough” policy.
  • Opposition #6: Make threats.
  • Opposition #7: Resort to violence.
  • Opposition #8: Initiate mass arrests.
  • Opposition #9: Refuse car insurance.
  • Opposition #10: Take legal action.
  • Opposition #11: Send in the Ku Klux Klan.

And with each oppositional effort, a savvy and thoughtful response was required and offered in return by the Negro community. Indeed, the full length of MLK’s life and work reflects such coordination and strategy every step of the way. And in learning about Gandhi’s work, we see the same careful planning and execution applied to the particulars of his own time and place.

I believe dismantling the Lord’s Resistance Army will take more than finding, capturing, and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, which is the solution offered by the Kony 2012 video. As I read over and over on blogs by people long acquainted with the situation in the last few days, the issue is greater than just one man. It requires us to consider questions like, “How has a small but vicious group been allowed to thrive for over 25 years?”

In other words, there are bigger issues at play here than the efforts of one single man leading a brutal war — issues like governance in the countries affected by the violence, for one — and smart and careful planning and strategy needs to be applied to the larger issues that get at the root of things here.

Again, as happy as I am that the video has raised awareness in the wider world about this issue, I have come to believe the solution it offers is just altogether too simplistic.

3. Both men were convinced of the efficacy of nonviolent resolution. 

Of all the insights I’ve gained in the last few days as I’ve read and continued to learn about the history and scope of the issue presented by the Kony 2012 campaign, I am most thankful for the perspective that “brought me back to myself,” so to speak.

My nonviolence journey began with a single question: Is it really true that the only truly transformative force in the world to overcome violence is love?

It was a question I asked with no little amount of dubiousness. Though I had observed the transformative power of love in my own life experience, I didn’t see how this could possibly translate on a broader social scale. But the possibility of it gripped me, and that’s why I eventually began my long journey into the study and practice of nonviolence.

Throughout this journey, I’ve continued to learn that the great nonviolent leaders of history insist on the premise that love is the only way to disrupt, uproot, and transform violence. It sows something new, rather than repeating a cycle with switched-up players as victims and perpetrators.

I have this article by Mark Kersten to thank for bringing me back to the perspective that peaceful solutions are the ones that I support. But beyond just “bringing me back to myself,” Mark’s article helped me view the particular conflict raised by the Kony 2012 campaign in a different light.

Invisible Children, the creators of the Kony 2012 video, uphold a military solution to the conflict. They want the US to maintain its existing 100 troops on the ground to provide tactical support and to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony so that he can be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court. As much as this effort is devoted to capturing, rather than killing, Joseph Kony in order to bring him to justice, the reality is that this is a military solution. It involves armies, and gunfire and loss of life will be involved in the process.

Invisible Children proposes this is the only feasible solution since peace talks have failed in the past.

But Mark Kersten says this:

There is much to be learned from the previous talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA in Juba, from 2006-08. . . . In taking the lessons of past experience , energy can be harnessed to get back to the negotiating table.

I love that Mark asks us not to be so quick to discount the possibility of renewed peace talks. And I’ve decided that, by virtue of the nonviolent path that I have committed to walk, peace talks must be the solution I support in this situation as well.

Lastly, I’ll share that in the process of learning more about the proposed peace talks solution, I have been wholeheartedly heartened by the discovery of a woman living today who has been an integral actor in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Her name is Betty Bigombe, and you can read about her selfless, savvy, and incredibly brave work here, here, and here. She helps demonstrate to me what nonviolent peacemaking really looks like and has become one of my new modern-day heroes.

UPDATED TO ADD: This morning I found this article by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA who now rehabilitates orphans in Uganda affected by the war. It is a beautiful and honest article that also speaks to how Ugandans would like to see this issue resolved and the value of resuming peace talks toward that end. I also forgot to mention in the original post that Betty Bigombe, one of the key actors in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA, is a native Ugandan.

A Response to the Criticism of Kony 2012

Most likely, you have heard about Kony 2012 by now. Yesterday this video link made the rounds on Twitter, and today I’ve seen it posted all day long on Facebook. News organizations and blogs have lit up with it, too, by now drawing attention to not only the video and the issue it presents, but also to a critical response the video and its organization, Invisible Children, have garnered.

Here is the place I’d recommend you start for an orientation to the critical response, which includes a lot of helpful links that you can follow for further orientation. Also, here is a point-by-point response to that critical response, written by a staff member of Invisible Children.

UPDATE: Invisible Children has released an official response to the criticism.

I am not affiliated with Invisible Children, nor do I support them financially. But those familiar with this space and my personal journey into nonviolence know that I have been concerned about the conflict in the Congo for some time, and I am personally thankful for the attention this issue has gained in the last 24-48 hours.

And really, I think that is the point.

I think about activism a lot because I maintain this space. I suppose when people learn that I care about, think about, pray about, and write about nonviolence, they think that means I’m an activist.

But I’ve realized over the last year or so that I’m not. At least, not at this point in time. I’m not going to be joining an international aid or humanitarian organization any time soon. I’m not going to move to a third-world or war-torn country. I’m not actively engaged in peacemaking activism in my hometown. And I very rarely write about global or current events in this space here.

Someday that all may change. But for the time being, that is the way it is.

And that’s because I’ve learned — slowly, slowly — over the last few years who I am and what I’m created to do. I am a spiritual director with a pastor’s heart and a priestly calling. I am still learning some of the practical realities of what that means, but in the bigger scope of things, it means I am concerned with the heart and with formation. That is my background. That is my training. That is my own story of healing and redemption. That is what I do with my life’s work.

So when it comes to nonviolence, at least for the time being, I’m asking questions about the heart. I’m engaging people in the interiorities of their own hearts. I’m learning about the violence within and how it is overcome.

That is my contribution.

I accord Invisible Children the same respect. I say this because the main criticism I’ve heard about Invisible Children today is that they primarily make videos and raise awareness and advocacy, rather than help solve the actual problem. I’ve heard they don’t know what it really will take to tackle this issue in Uganda, the Congo, and Sudan.

But I wouldn’t want them to solve the actual problem. That’s not what they’re equipped to do. That’s not who they are. They are communicators to a society of people who watch movies and care about global justice and who will use their voices to speak on behalf of it primarily through social media.

If Invisible Children succeeds in raising awareness about Joseph Kony (which it has) and provokes a democratic nation to speak up about their concern for this issue (which it has) so that those who do know the realities and complexities of this situation will hear that the issue has support and take appropriate steps in response (which only time will tell if it will), then I think they have done what they exist to do.

They are raising awareness to provoke a response that will impact policy. I’m reminded how necessary that awareness was in the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras — when Americans saw the realities of Birmingham and Vietnam, they agitated.

Let us agitate now.

Whistleblowers for Peace, Unite!

I came home from work on Monday night to discover my whistle had arrived!

I was giddy with excitement and immediately loped the chain around my neck, where it stayed until I changed into pajamas for the night. (I may or may not have delayed changing into pajamas a bit longer than usual, simply to keep wearing the whistle . . . )

And then I discovered a second gift for the day.

Mallory, one of the staff members from Falling Whistles, had discovered the whistle post from last week and all the encouraging comments you left in response.

She left a comment for us that reads:

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All of this totally blissed me out!

So then, of course, I went straight to social media. :-)

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First, Twitter:

And:

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And then, of course, Facebook:

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To top off all the excitement, I then discovered others of you had also received your whistles that very same day!

A few comments came out of the woodwork on Facebook:

Another friend tweeted in response that she’d also received hers:

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Is this exciting, or what?!

So this makes me wonder:

What kind of stories are emerging out there as we wear our whistles for peace?

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Yesterday, I wore mine to work in a snazzy justice-themed ensemble: dark blue jeans, black Seek Justice tee that supports International Justice Mission, charcoal gray blazer, and shiny black Mary Jane heels.

And, of course, the whistle.

I had a chance to share the story once with a co-worker who admired it when I stepped inside her office.

I admit, I was a little clumsy in my first telling.

But still, the story can’t help but shock and educate.

This is a symbol of protest, I said.

It’s a symbol of activism.

And 100 percent of the proceeds helps rehabilitate those young boys who are lucky enough to be rescued from the front lines of war.

It felt surreal to cup the whistle in my hand, tell the story, and know that right in that moment young boys were dying at the sound of their falling whistles, one by one by one.

This cannot — and should not — be.

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If you haven’t bought your whistle yet, you can buy yours here today.

And if you have received yours:

Have you shared any whistleblowing conversations yet? What were they like?

Become a Whistleblower for Peace in Congo

Several months ago — I can’t recall the specific circumstances that led me there now — I landed on a website called Falling Whistles that completely undid me.

Perhaps it will undo you too.

Here is the video that greets you (in full-screen mode) upon arrival at their website:

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I can’t tell you how many times I watched this video that first day. I watched it over and over again and just cried and cried.

Young boys.

Their bodies used as disposable buffers of war.

A shrill whistle cry their saving grace or single death knell.

How can this be?

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I scoured the website, hungry for more information.

There, I found the journal entry referenced in the intro video above — the one Sean Carasso wrote the day he met those boys.

Busco.

Bahati.

Serungendo.

Claude.

Sadiki.

The boys who changed his life.

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I learned about the devastating war in the Congo that day.

I also learned about this remarkable band of impassioned activists at Falling Whistles that are spreading the word and asking for our help in doing the same.

Here is how we can help.

We can become whistleblowers for peace in Congo by purchasing a whistle on their website.

  • We can wear the symbolic whistle as a symbol of our protest.
  • We can wear it to raise awareness for the cause.
  • We can wear it to be reminded of those boys and the countless others who need our voices, our help, and our prayers.
  • We can wear it and know that 100 percent of the proceeds benefits the rehabilitation and advocacy of war-affected children in the Congo.

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Today, thanks to the boon of an unexpected tax return, I finally purchased my whistle. I can hardly wait for it to arrive!

I will wear it proudly.

I will eagerly await the conversations it inspires with complete strangers.

And I will be reminded on an ongoing basis to pray for peace in Congo.

Will you?