Beyond Kony 2012: On Effective Global Citizenship
I have argued that Kony 2012 reveals Americans’ complicity in U.S. foreign policy and the resulting damage to “the developing world.” I have also argued that we each must claim responsibility for that damage, and protest the aspects of our system that are negligent, self-interested, and destructive.
The conversation cannot stop there. We must ask, as Katherine Yagle ’12 thoughtfully put it, “How do we turn that individual transformation into a national and political transformation?” Of course, the Unites States is not one entity but a web of political and economic interests. Some of these are admirable; others, driven or confounded by different factions. It is difficult to ascribe blame and to determine where our policies stop and where independent, foreign agency begins.
These complexities prevent action, and they also do limit our ability to act simply. Still, we must believe in our ability to make an impact. The overwhelming support for the Kony 2012 campaign transformed previously tentative congressional endorsement of anti-LRA deployment into unequivocal support from the U.S. government. Despite the abundance of problems with the Kony 2012 video, it did demonstrate that public opinion can change our country’s policies.
If “national and political transformation” constitutes the desired end, I believe effective, conscientious global citizenship is the means. Aside from critical, constant thinking and vigilance, I have no prescription for this kind of citizenship. I can merely share steps that I try to take in my own efforts, and hope that elements of them will resonate with you, or that my list will inspire you to create your own.
We must identify U.S. policies that harm others and accept responsibility for that harm, whether intended or accidental, flagrant or subtle. I try to keep track of all the instances I discover in which the United States has significantly harmed foreign nations. Instances, for example, of unfounded intervention and blatant disregard for international law, such as the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, help clarify the extent and execution of injustice in our foreign policy. Today, we increasingly undermine national autonomy in subtler ways, such as with drone strikes and special operations forces. Sometimes, we covertly support repressive armies and dictators, as in many of our 20th century policies towards Latin America. Sometimes we selectively endorse democratic movements according to our interests, as in the Arab Spring. Finally, there is paternalistic neocolonialism, evidenced by food aid, which often cripples fledgling economies, and foreign aid, which according to Zambian author Dambisa Moyo, hurts Africa more than it helps.
We must work to end such harm and perhaps try to reverse it. I watch for patterns in new policy initiatives to identify which ones may do similar harm and to prevent their fruition. I try to use my wallet and behavior to protest detrimental policies already in effect, such as those that uphold conflict mineral industries. I renounce the principles on which harmful policies are premised— namely paternalism, exceptionalism, and self-interest—which all cloud the lens through which Americans typically perceive the world. I firmly believe that eliminating our nation’s hegemonic attitudes will benefit other nations and our own political, economic, and social realms.
We must interrogate the “facts” and contextualize those presented in American media sources. Our polity, government, and media typically view the world through the highly distorted lens I have described. What does a text mean by “terrorism,” “dictator,” or “democracy”? Whose voices are included or excluded? What is the historical and regional context? Generally, I do not accept the “facts” I hear about so-called warlords, insurgencies, or cycles of poverty in any “developing country” without considering how colonization and continued Western intervention may have contributed to the situation. I strive to read multiple perspectives on an issue and its history, ideally from those familiar with the affected area.
Activism should start at home, where—given our participation in American civic life—our intentions to “do good” are most likely to directly and positively impact situations. I seek to combat the rampant racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and intersectional forms of discrimination that prevent us from achieving true progress in civil rights and beyond. We should seek to study and reform systems that discriminate on multiple levels, such as the absurdly ineffective, atrociously inhumane, and flagrantly racist and classist prison system.
All Americans aspiring towards concrete change should consider what steps may help their cause and implement them as best and as soon as they can. Those steps may result in specific actions, like registering to vote, recognizing the potential effects of future jobs, or mobilizing to protest our government’s explicit support of problematic measures. Clearly, the world is not getting any simpler. However, I do believe that if we all work toward becoming effective and conscientious global citizens now, “national and political transformation” is fully within our reach.