Contemporary Americans appear to place little faith in their current and future leaders these days. This year, citizens have expressed fury regarding the government shutdown and stalemate in political discourse. Additionally, studies and publications have labeled its youth as apathetic, social media-crazed, and unprepared to take on global problems.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that several of my young peers express skepticism or intimidation at the prospect of lobbying Congress. However, the bill averting government shutdown contains a piece of the fruit of intense advocacy of young Americans. Amongst several "special needs" included in the bill, there is specific mention of allocation of funds for U.S. support of the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that has terrorized central Africa for twenty-seven years. This commitment included in legislation of this importance is a milestone for me and for my fellow young activists of Invisible Children, an organization seeking to put an end to the LRA.
Through advocacy, lobbying, and engagement with fellow activists, I have learned that our generation can not only affect international policy, but it is also brooding an era of globally-connected, concerned, and active citizens. For the past ten years, Invisible Children has sought to eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that originated in Uganda in the late 1980's. The LRA, led by indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, has since shifted to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
The group has displaced, maimed and killed thousands of civilians, and is notorious for kidnapping children to use as child soldiers. Invisible Children, therefore, aims to put an end to the LRA by promoting defection of soldiers, installing several rehabilitation programs within the region, and raising awareness through film and events throughout North America and Europe. Invisible Children garnered international attention last March after its release of KONY 2012, a YouTube film viewed over one hundred million times in six days.
I first lobbied on behalf of Resolve, Invisible Children's partner organization, as a junior in high school in the spring of 2011. At seventeen years of age, I was initially intimidated by the prospect of formally addressing the staff of a member of Congress. I was shocked, however, that the staff of former Senator John Kerry was genuinely fascinated by not only the LRA itself, but also by our personal involvement with the issue. The staffer listened intently as we each described how we became involved in the organization. This meeting introduced me to the power of our American democratic system; high school and college students like me could have a strong voice in Congressional matters.
Two years and several lobby meetings later, I attended LOBBY: DC, an event that drew hundreds of Invisible Children activists to the nation's capitol. That day, we lobbied our respective members of Congress to advocate on behalf of legislation in favor of continued counter-LRA programs in central Africa. Again, I lobbied the staff of Senator Kerry. Before we proceeded to discuss the legislation, a handful of us introduced ourselves and expressed our reasons for becoming involved in Invisible Children. A soft-spoken yet eloquent girl to my right shared that she first learned about the organization eight months prior when she watched KONY 2012. Immediately after viewing the film, the eighth grader rallied her school around the cause. Stories like those of that eighth grader give me confidence in the influence of young adults.
Too often, I hear that we live in a generation of youth who are too lazy, self-absorbed, and social media-crazed to care about issues that are not our own. In specific reference to Invisible Children, TIME magazine, in its article titled the "Me Me Me Generation," claimed that our youth "are informed but inactive: They hate Joseph Kony but won't do anything to stop Joseph Kony." This girl, however, was not going through a "phase" in her activism, just as I am not. We are informed and active.
Social media made Joseph Kony famous, but our devoted lobbying and advocacy efforts rallied our powerful leaders around bringing this war criminal to justice.