Invisible Children club enters transition

The school is host to dozens of clubs, but none of them have experienced controversy and transformation like the Invisible Children club has in recent weeks. The club, which has worked with the nonprofit organization Invisible Children since last year, has decided to part ways with the 501(c)(3) in the wake of national criticisms following the release of the Kony 2012 short film on YouTube and Vimeo.

The club was originally founded as the Care Club by juniors Eliana von Krusenstiern and Yijin Yang as they sought to ease the effects of armed conflict in central Africa and work to provide education to children in that region. After doing research on potential charities to work with, club members settled on Invisible Children, founded in 2004 by three college students who traveled to Africa and wound up creating a documentary about the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militant group led by Joseph Kony. Up until the online premiere of Kony 2012 in the beginning of March, the club supported Invisible Children by holding a raffle, screening films and selling T-shirts.

“It was really easy for us to work with Invisible Children,” junior Sidni Frederick said. “They were really about getting kids in high school to support them. We supported them because they were doing things we agreed with at the time.”

Club members said their transition began in the weeks after Kony 2012’s release when those in the news media and public policy fields barraged Invisible Children for its shady finances, its oversimplification of a complex conflict and its seeming promotion of “slacktivism.” Recent bad press has been fueled by the arrest and hospitalization of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, along with the allegation that the organization is connected with a prominent Ugandan pastor who supports the proposed “kill the gays” bill in his country.

“We didn’t even realize that they were this bad when we were giving money to them,” junior Sarah Fleming said. “That made me feel uncomfortable.”

On March 17, two days after Russell’s naked outburst on a busy street in San Diego, Frederick made the following post on the wall of the club’s Facebook group: “I’m leaning in the direction of giving up in Invisible Children – at least for the rest of the school year. It’s becoming too hard to defend regardless of whether or not any of us agree with what it’s doing.” Club members coalesced around this idea, commenting that they had a “common goal” but wanted to support central Africa in a way that was not so mired in controversy.

The club then turned to its adviser, English teacher Ben Berman, for advice on what to do next. Although Berman has previous experience living abroad and working with non-governmental organizations, he said that he is just acting as a sounding board in guiding the club’s leaders to make a decision on their own.

“My role has been to help them think through some difficult questions and to understand that any organization has messiness, and help them think if its messiness that they’re willing to overlook or if it’s a messiness that cancels their wanting to be involved,” he said. “I’m here to support them as they’re thinking through how to support an organization.”

Although an official decision has not been made yet regarding which charitable organization the club will work with next, members recognize that this has been a valuable learning experience.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t about supporting Invisible Children, it was about supporting the problem,” Frederick said. “We’ll find another way to solve it.”

Colby Bermel can be contacted at [email protected]