April 20: Reflecting on an Infamous Day

by: Becca Gee

On Friday, 4/20, I worked.  Other folks toked up, partied, went out like any other Friday night, celebrated birthdays, ran around naked, or whatever folks usually do to kick off the weekend.  I spent it at a register with a stack of menus, clutching a dirty dishrag.  Welcome to my Friday nights.  This 4/20 I wanted nothing different.  Born and raised in Colorado, to me 4/20 will always be the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.  I’m rarely festive.  I also no longer go to vigils.  From year to year, all I see is the decline in attendance, the missing faces and empty spaces, the flagrant reminder of all who have forgotten.  I want nothing to do with any of it.  I like my 4/20s bland and uneventful.

On Saturday, the 21st, I worked again.  This paradoxically usual activity radically changed my 4/20.  (After all, when you’re in a static sea, the smallest ripple is a radical change.)  You see, 4/20/2012 was the date selected by the Kony 2012 campaign for their “Cover the Night: Make Kony Famous” promotional event.  Think back only a few weeks ago, when your Facebook feeds and inboxes were sardined with Kony videos and comments.  It probably started with a friend of a friend who couldn’t spell Uganda let alone point to Africa on a map.  Then it was shared by your friend.

Within 24 hours you couldn’t look at a screen without seeing Kony’s name.  Perhaps you shared the message yourself.  Perhaps you went on the offensive, explaining the folly of the white man’s burden.  Perhaps you uploaded cat videos in the midst of the debate.  Regardless, oh-internet-frequenters, I’m assuming the vast majority of you are familiar with the campaign.  (If not, Google is a wonderful resource.  Use it.)

Fascinated, in the weeks leading up to 4/20, I watched the digital Kony 2012 arguments between my friends but neglected to intervene myself.  I saw both points of view (or let’s break the binary here and say a multitude of points of view), and they all made sense to me.  Yes, the Kony campaign has the potential of becoming neocolonialistic.  Yes, we should also be in solidarity with people internationally and speak out against injustices.   I had my opinions but being more proactive and engaging digitally blatantly contravened my do-nothing-on-4/20 vow as all this planning was to come into actualization on 4/20.  So I did nothing.  But I remembered.

– – –

4/20:  Clutching my dishrag and listening to customers’ plans to share a bowl, drink until they pass out, or simply celebrate being alive, I found my mind wandering.  It was near close, and no one had mentioned Kony yet.  (Or Columbine, of course, but that’s a given.)  I felt a twinge in my gut that I haven’t felt on 4/20 in more than a decade.  (Feelings strictly aren’t allowed on 4/20.)  I hoped.  I hoped to wake up the next morning and see the city plastered with Kony posters.  I hoped to see a common good intent bring people together and spur them to action.  I hoped to see folks wandering in the next morning, feet sore, bags under their eyes not from dancing, drinking, and passing out, but from doing something. From being passionate.  From trying to change the world.

This realization of hope struck me so fast, I smiled, then, overwhelmed, had to sit down.  (Authentic smiling is also not allowed on 4/20).  Yet, on the train ride home, I found myself smiling yet again.  I was high on possibility, on potential, on hope.  Eager to see the evidence of a process completed not the results themself, I fell asleep thinking of the morning.

4/21:  I was lucky.  Walking to work at 6am on a Saturday morning when it’s too cold for joggers means the world is just you, the birds, and the rabbits.  (I’m not sure why there are rabbits in Wicker Park, but there must be at least a dozen of them.)  Six in the morning is too early for most walks of shame/pride and too late for most late-nighters to be getting in.  It’s beautiful.  It also means I got to see what most of the city did not: The Kony posters.  There were 29 in all on my Wicker Park route.  I admit; I hoped for more.  Still, 29 mattered.  One mattered.  Each is a testament that folks believed in something.  Each is a symbol of action.  Each fluttering page is a marker of hope, an affirmation that someone feels connected to the plight of someone else whom they’ve probably never met half a world away.  The connections matter.  Intent matters.

By closing time, over half the posters were gone.  The next day, less than a third remained.  However, that day I brought my camera.  The photos below are a mere few of what I took.  I want to share with you what you may have missed.  I want to give you a glimpse of a series of interactions culminating in a day most folks forgot and the work of the passionate few who remembered.

Now that the sappy, yammering part is over, let’s talk about Kony.  It’s no secret or controversy.  Kony is a murdering, pillaging, raping, war-crime-committing autocrat.  He’s been perpetuating his cycle of violence for roughly two and a half decades.  We brought him to the forefront of our consciousness for roughly six weeks.   Why did we do that?  Did we decide we disagreed with the Kony 2012 campaign so we allowed Kony slip out of our thoughts with it?

Like many of you, I also do have some concerns about the Kony 2012 campaign.  Coming from a nonprofit business background, I worry about their bookkeeping and overhead costs.   I worry that they started a new 501(c)3 and immediately rode a wave of pathos-driven donations before their “new” organization was ever analyzed for efficiency or reliability.  I worry that the Evangelical-backed organization won’t stay secular.  I worry that they’ll start being self-propelled and forget who they represent.  I worry that a “youth movement” won’t do well in an election year as youth are either too young to vote or have traditionally such abominable turn-out rates at the polls their voices don’t matter.  I worry what this says about our society.

I do not worry that the Kony 2012 campaign is neocolonialistic.  I did at first.   However, the campaign just encourages a lot of noise without a specific end.  I’m okay with that.  If the campaign stays true to its mission (which I doubt), Kony 2012 is not pushing for military intervention or even direct U.S. involvement.  It’s simply pushing for something.  Currently, the campaign does not pretend to have the wisdom to know the “right” course of action.  I appreciate that.

There’s value in pushing for an undefined something.  When we speak out for attention, we’re educating those around us and our policy-makers about the existence of situation.  We’re also respecting the autonomy of those immediately involved in the situation by not speaking for them.  This is true solidarity.  We speak what we’ve learned, take the action we can, and listen for what else we can do.

So, though the six weeks of Konymonium as it were, have ended, I hope we don’t fall out of solidarity with people directly affected by Kony, the Ugandan government, and the LRA.  I include myself in this “we” as I’ve done absolutely nothing in reaction.  I’m ashamed.  Kony 2012 campaign or not, I should have done something, and I should do something.  We should all do something.  We should speak out and more importantly continue to listen.  We should encourage others (friends, family, neighbors, and yes, our representatives) to listen.  Though the apparent six weeks of Kony’s infamy have ended, campaign or not, let’s not forget him.  Let’s not silence those affected by him, the LRA, or the Ugandan government.  Let’s continue to care.  Let’s be in solidarity.  Let’s do what we can, listen, and be involved.

Becca Gee is a dreamer, an idealist, a writer, a reader, a roadtripper, a creator, a listener, a talker, a logician, a laugher, a thinker, and an all-around life-lover.  They graduated from The Evergreen State College with a degree in Nonprofit Management in 2011 and currently work in a Chicago diner while looking for other volunteer and job opportunities.  Becca has an unrelenting love for avocados.

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One response to “April 20: Reflecting on an Infamous Day

  1. Thank you for mentioning the controversy surrounding Invisible Children’s bookkeeping. I did the research, watched the video, and chose not to share. It isn’t a campaign I believe in, though of course I do the cause.

    On 4/20/12, a dear friend died. Obviously it is not the same as Columbine, but I will be hurting on that day too for now on. Be strong, and hang in there.

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