The conventional wisdom surrounding young people’s involvement in politics is that it is abysmal. Young people are not very active in politics, and the statistics show it. The 2008 presidential election saw unprecedented youth involvement, but still only 49 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, the lowest of any age demographic. Most campaign managers of political campaigns will admit that it is more worth their time and money courting 80-year-olds than 18-year-olds, and they would be right.
This is why it is especially ironic and disappointing that the recent KONY 2012 campaign has received such a negative response by so many of the same people who complain about the lack of political involvement from young people.
The KONY 2012 campaign, started by the nonprofit organization Invisible Children, aims to bring justice to a man who has enslaved many young Ugandan children for his terrorist group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The 30-minute video made by Invisible Children to summarize the KONY 2012 campaign was seen by tens of millions of young people, and expressed an immediate desire to take some action. Many of these young people are not those who regularly attend political rallies, give money to nonprofits or share articles on atrocities around the world. Ideally, it would then make sense for those who are already involved to celebrate the fact that a bunch of people who were previously ignorant of worldwide atrocities are now aware and ready to take action.
But instead of celebrating and encouraging these people, many of the news junkies, intellectuals and people who perceive themselves as worldly, shot down the KONY 2012 campaign and voiced their opposition. It is as if these political elite — as I will call them for lack of a better term — believe they have a monopoly on activism and political knowledge.
These knowledgeable people have surely spent a vast amount of time reading and learning about complicated geopolitical issues around the world. But it seems they now feel threatened by the very sudden mainstream popularity of an issue that had gone unnoticed for decades. It is comparable to how someone who bashes mainstream music feels when a musical group they have been listening to for years suddenly gains mainstream recognition. It can be a difficult and confusing time.
When the mainstream gets into a political issue, the political elite will only look at it through the same lens they always view the mainstream. That lens views the mainstream as uneducated materialistic people who do not know and do not care about how the world works.
If I am being completely honest with myself, I know all this because I am one of these political elites. I am a political science major, I try to stay up on domestic and international news and I even write columns about those issues for this newspaper. The same thought processes that I accuse other political elite of having also went through my own head as I experienced the KONY phenomenon.
I am in complete agreement that those who are educated on a particular subject have a responsibility to teach those who are not as educated on that subject. It is important for people to do their research before hopping on a bandwagon, but any teacher will tell you that when teaching students it is vital for their future learning to avoid discouragement.
As the many articles against KONY 2012 have pointed out, the video made by Invisible Children does simplify the issue. Kony is not in Uganda anymore, he is not as active as he was in the past and there are certainly more pressing issues going on in the world today.
However, I fail to see the drawback in spotlighting a particular issue and potentially putting to justice a man who has enslaved tens of thousands of children and forced them to kill.
What I do see are the potential benefits.
Certainly there is the direct benefit of holding a dangerous man accountable for his past crimes, but there is also the potential of this issue being a “gateway issue” — a political issue that serves as an introductory lesson on the ills of the world and how best to cure them.
It is very much in the realm of possibility that some 18-year-old who has never been involved in political activism views the KONY 2012 video, participates in the campaign, sees some results and decides to get more involved in other important issues like the currently ongoing massacre in Syria. That person might start voting, encouraging friends to vote, and maybe even runs for elected office someday. Before we discourage someone, it is important to remember that everyone has to learn addition and subtraction before they learn calculus.