~ this article was originally published in the Liberty Champion on April 28, 2009 ~
Rain is falling on my notebook as I struggle to document the Invisible Children event in Washington, D.C. I’m surrounded by high school and college students who are ignoring the droplets and cheering on the speaker who is pacing back and forth on the stage before them.
Bobby Bailey, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children, was re-introducing John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project. Prendergast, one of the many speakers that had been featured at the Invisible Children event, had been “rudely interrupted” by the lightning storm that was looming over downtown D.C. Even as the lights shorted out, Prendergast kept talking. Even as the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol mirrored the lightning that shattered the sky into fragments, Prendergast kept talking.
He kept talking, despite the circumstances, because there was something to talk about.
As the rain fell harder and technology began to fail, the IC supporters took matters into their own hands. With only a drum, an acoustic guitar and their voices, the people formed a circle and started chanting, attracting the attention of the few passersby who were trying to find shelter.
“Hey hey! Ho ho! Joseph Kony has got to go!”
“We want justice, we want peace! We want those children released!”
They kept chanting, despite the circumstances, because there was something to chant about.
Invisible Children, Inc. is an organization that was started seven years ago to bring awareness to what is happening to children in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony, the rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is kidnapping, brainwashing and forcing Ugandan children to become a part of his army.
“It’s been going on for 23 years, (but it originally) started as a revolution. The current president, (Yoweri Kaguta) Museveni, was taking over, and Kony was leading a revolt with the people against him, which sparked the war. But after a while, (Kony) lost the support of the people, and started lashing out against them by stealing their children and making them into sex slaves and soldiers. If they didn’t do what he asked, he would mutilate them,” freshman Owen Davenport, the Invisible Children public relations officer for Liberty, said.
Bobby Bailey started the organization with two of his friends by going over to Uganda in 2003 with the sole purpose of documenting the story of northern Ugandan children. “Invisible Children: Rough Cut” was distributed throughout the United States over the next few years, and the vision of the organization broadened to include bringing political awareness to the LRA through peaceful demonstrations and supporting northern Ugandan schools through scholarships and fundraisers.
“As a non-profit (organization) we work to transform apathy into activism. By documenting the lives of those living in regions of conflict and injustice, we hope to educate and inspire individuals in the Western world to use their unique voice for change,” according to the Invisible Children Web site. “But our work extends beyond our borders. In war-affected regions we focus on long-term development, working directly with individuals and institutions that are eager to realize their full potential. Through education and innovative economic opportunities, we partner with affected communities and strive to improve the quality of life for individuals living in conflict and post-conflict regions.”
The most recent demonstration by Invisible Children, “The Rescue,” took place on April 25 in over 10 countries and 100 cities, according to The Rescue Web site.
“The Rescue is an experimental event meant to simulate what life is like for the child soldiers abducted by Joseph Kony … While held hostage at the LRA camp, you will write letters to your political representatives, create art projects and seek out media attention in an effort to petition our governments to make this unseen war a visible priority,” according to The Rescue booklet that was handed out at the demonstration site.
The goal of The Rescue was to attract media attention and be “rescued” by a mogul. A mogul is anyone with influence or power in today’s society, such as a famous celebrity or politician.
Liberty University was represented by 300 individuals at The Rescue. Davenport, Sean Kelly, Bekah Lohr, Randy Carroll, Kailey Spivey, Charlie Evans, Austin O’Connell and Olivia Reyes are in charge of the Liberty chapter of Invisible Children, and were responsible for organizing the event on the Liberty end. Their slogan was “Three for three”: 3,000 Liberty students to represent the rescue of 3,000 child soldiers. A Web site was even built specifically for the event: lu3for3.com.
“We are going to the event to represent our school and our God in the global cause to rescue the 3,000 children who have been kidnapped by the LRA and turned into child soldiers by Joseph Kony,” according to the Liberty Invisible Children Facebook page.
The Invisible Children initiative on campus was 100 percent student led, but the administration approved the group so they could hold meetings on campus and make announcements in convocation.
“Kailey, Randy and I met with Jerry (Falwell, Jr.) at the Q&A session. A few weeks later, we actually got a meeting with Jerry, Jr., and Johnnie Moore was there, too. We briefly explained what was going on, and they were really receptive to it. Johnnie has actually known about it for a while,” Davenport said. “Jerry said that the student body would actually get behind it. Johnnie wanted to keep it student led.”
Campus Pastor Johnnie Moore affirmed the administration’s enthusiasm for supporting the Liberty chapter of Invisible Children while keeping it a 100 percent student led organization.
“At Liberty, we believe in finding out what the Lord is already doing, and then joining in that. So when we heard that hundreds of Liberty students were already activated and concerned for the children of Uganda, we decided to do everything we could to support it, while allowing it to still be student led,” Moore said in a phone interview.
Even though the goal of 3,000 Liberty students was not reached due to schedule conflicts for many potential participants, the leadership team felt like 300 was still a success.
“Even though we didn’t have 3,000 students actually at the event, I definitely think we could have easily had 3,000 students supporting it. When we were promoting this event here on campus we had … a huge response. There were only 2,500 people there total, so 300 LU kids was a great number,” Davenport said.
“Liberty people were everywhere (at the event). You couldn’t walk five feet without running into someone from Liberty,” Evans said.
Washington, D.C. was one of the many places where Invisible Children supporters gathered to bring awareness to the child soldiers in northern Uganda. The event began with a three-mile walk from the Ellipse to an “LRA Camp” in front of the Capitol in 90-degree humid weather.
“(There were) ropes 30 feet long, and they lined up people next to each other and tied them together. It got a lot of people looking, and a lot of people were asking questions. (The volunteers) asked us to be somber and quiet. There were volunteers who walked along with us to answer passerby’s questions,” Kelly said.
“Some people were cheering. One guy that made fun of us was carrying a handbag that said, ‘Feed the Children of Africa,’” Evans said.
“The few miles we traveled from the Ellipse to the front of the Capitol Building had the biggest impact on me during the whole event. As we were walking I began imagining myself in Uganda as a child soldier. I tried to picture myself losing all of my family and (being) forced into bondage. I kept thinking how these young children are forced to walk many miles, more than we had, and do not have water or any sympathy from those around them,” Reyes said. “I am an American who loves my country, but after walking those few miles I realized how spoiled we are living our lives without any knowledge of what is going on in the world. We need to stop being afraid, stand up, and move forward for change. My eyes have been opened, my heart is being changed, and my feet are ready to go and make (a) difference in this cause.”
After laying sleeping bags and blankets out beneath the trees that dotted the LRA camp site, the demonstrators participated in filming clips for a new Invisible Children promotional video, then gathered to hear from a variety of speakers, including Bailey, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a leader from Resolve Uganda, a former cast member from the television show “Survivor” and Prendergast. However, one of the biggest highlights of the event was being “rescued” by moguls Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump, who make up half of the popular rock band Fall Out Boy. Wentz and Stump each spoke about the impact that northern Uganda had made on their lives, and how they featured Ugandan children in their music video, “Me and You.”
“People are the same everywhere across the country, across the globe. We saw the same love, the same interests, the same smiles, the same sadness (in Uganda) that you would see anywhere else, so we decided to do a video. It was kind of a Ugandan love story. I felt a change inside me that I couldn’t explain to anyone that hasn’t been there,” Wentz said. “I think it’s awesome that all you guys showed up here. This is the generation that will actually make the change. ”
“In the narrative that Pete’s talking about, we had the local kids act out getting abducted, and the thing that was horrifying was that we didn’t have to tell them anything. They did it. They knew it. It is something that is a part of the fabric of the community there,” Stump said. “That video is the best thing that we’ve ever done, and I think we are the worst part of it. There is still a lot more work to do, so I think that’s why it’s all the more important to get things going right now.”
Participants in the D.C. Rescue event were greatly encouraged and motivated by the speakers that were featured during the day.
“(Six friends and I) road-tripped 10 hours from Kalamazoo, Mich. to Washington, D.C. for The Rescue. It was great to see Bobby in action and hear what he had to say to us directly. It was amazing to hear cultural leaders like Pete Wentz passionately tell us how incredibly important we are in ending this war. It is more apparent than ever that every single person’s voice counts toward seeing these kids return home. It was the most whirlwind, spontaneous trip of my life, and so very worth it,” a D.C. participant named Alyssa said, according to The Rescue Web site.
“During the event, I got to talk to Bobby Bailey. I introduced myself and told him I was a Liberty student. I explained to him that we would like him to come to our school next semester and speak to our convocation. He was totally cool about this and gave me his e-mail,” Reyes said. “I have a lot of respect for Bobby Bailey. He was so humble and down to earth.”
As the night progressed, the air got cooler, promising that some form of precipitation was going to fall from the sky in the near future. Belongings were hastily thrown under tarps and deflated tents, and the event continued despite the inclement weather. Event volunteers pleaded with participants to move out from underneath the trees to avoid getting struck by lightning.
“We thank you for your dedication, but we care about your lives more!” a volunteer’s bullhorn squawked.
A few people decided to leave as the rain began to pelt down, but most were not that easily deterred. Many forsook the protection of ponchos and hoodies and opted to dance in the rain in their T-shirts and shorts. A drum line was formed and chants were concocted in order to boost the quavering morale due to the storm, and film crews caught the crowd’s enthusiasm on tape to include in the promotional video.
Most of the crowd decided to leave later in the night, but the overall attitude of the participants was one of hope. Hope that, someday, the child soldiers they were bringing awareness to could dance in the rain without fear, too.
At press time, 11 cities in the United States are still waiting in to be rescued by a mogul, including Baltimore, Las Vegas, Chicago and Richmond. The eight locations in Europe and Australia were rescued within the first 24 hours.
They are waiting, despite the absence of a mogul and the uncertainty of the moment, because there is something to wait for.
For more information about Invisible Children or The Rescue, visit invisiblechildren.com or nightof.therescue.invisiblechildren.com.