It has been over a year since the Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign went viral on March 5, 2012 and left many all across the world, including those at the University of South Dakota, with the feeling of contempt and motivation to advocate against violence imposed by war criminals such as Joseph Kony.
In order to bring the Kony movement to USD, the Criminal Justice Club organized a variety of events to raise awareness amongst students and contributed to the change the Invisible Children organization advocated for.
“It was brought to our attention that we could get involved with this,” said senior Ashleigh Giese, current president of the Criminal Justice Club. “A lot of action was taken nationally because of the campaign’s overall efforts, and so it was effective for us to do what we did.”
From a national standpoint, the Kony movement sparked a resolution in Congress to condemn Joseph Kony, which was backed by U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Chris Coons.
Just one year later, the Kony campaign has all but disappeared. There are no more posters pinned to every public entrance on campus, conversations of Kony’s crimes are less widespread and the viral video that demanded the attention of more than 100 million people has faded out of the limelight.
“We are excited about (the Kony 2012 campaign), and we still look at its progress, but it’s not something that everyone in our club is necessarily enthused about (anymore),” Giese said.
Throughout the years, activism at USD has remained a prevalent concept, with over 100 student organizations on campus but what students define activism to be and how to go about promoting it is changing, as the digital age continues to influence the current “Lost Generation.”
The Digital Age of Activism
Corey Wannamaker, Chandler Hunt and
Jennifer Assam, who are involved in some sort of activism movement, all said the use of social media has played an important role in informing and advocating others of the causes they support, but each have varying thoughts on its relevance in contributing to their cause.
“It’s one of those things that it all depends on how you are using it,” said Hunt. “Just sharing something (via the Internet) once isn’t always the most beneficial tool, but it is a good way to persistently show people you’re serious about what you’re doing.”
Sharing similar viewpoints, Wannamaker said her biggest draw to using social media to promote her event is the greater reach of audience.
“Internet activism can have the same effect as traditional activism,” said Wannamaker. “We’re in such an Internet-based age, that a lot of people have access to it and it becomes easier to reach a greater amount of people.”
Assam admitted to the usefulness of social media, but said Internet activism lacks some of the key components of “traditional activism.”
“Internet activism is secluded and it lacks the emotional drive,” said Assam. “I feel like you need other people around to gain that enthusiasm of changing something.”
Activism – Now and Then
It was 1973 when Frank Pommersheim moved to South Dakota. Beforehand he worked in New York City at a law firm in east Harlem while also protesting the Vietnam War with numerous other demonstrators.
“There was a substantial amount of emotions against the war,” Pommersheim, who is currently a professor of law at USD, said. “As a general proposition, it’s important for people to resist what they consider injustice and in many situations that requires activism.”
Pommersheim described his experience as a protestor in the 1970s very different from the activism he has observed today, and said much of this can be contributed to the lack of factors seen in the Vietnam time frame. He also said he believes social media has changed the perception of what most consider activism to be.
“I understand how (social media) can be an effective way for rapid and widespread communication, but I’m not sure it leads to more activism,” Pommersheim said. “Activism comes from people — from their norms and values, not from communication.”
Instructor of Communication Studies Aimee Sorensen described the progressive shift from face-to-face communication to the social media platform as a transition between two different generations.
Sorensen said the current generation is made up of digital natives, whereas hers is made of digital immigrants.
“In our use of technology, we see a plethora of issues put out there,” Sorensen said. “People need to be critically aware of how their voice matters in this puzzle and activism is something that we need to individually think about.”
Sorensen said the time students spend at USD is an opportune chance to find this “voice,” and ultimately, different communication platforms create a constant buzz of conversation and ideas, and social media is just another platform.
Pommersheim said he acknowledges the age difference between him and those who grew up with so much technology, but said he feels Internet activism is not as effective as what he believes activism to be.
“Sustained activism requires an ongoing commitment, and I’m not sure social media can facilitate commitment,” said Pommersheim. “Internet activism has a bit of a downside because it can’t bring people together like real people can in a traditional setting.”
Activism at USD
For Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning (AWOL) member Assam, activism is about supporting something one firmly believes in and standing up against forces that say otherwise.
Traditionally considered a more “hands-on” organization, Assam said while so many groups focus on raising awareness, she appreciates AWOL because it is more about “actively being involved” and it “evokes emotion” in a way raising awareness cannot.
“It’s really important to have that (physical) perspective to know what you’re doing is making an impact,” said Assam. “It’s just a step further after awareness.”
Chandler Hunt, a member of the Golden Key International Honors Society, has been one of the driving forces in organizing and promoting a fundraiser for the March of Dimes; an organization she said saved the lives of her twin brothers, who were born three months premature.
“Even if you are just raising awareness, it can possibly affect someone’s life,” said Hunt, who would like to see more activism-driven groups on campus. “There are a lot of organizations on campus, but activism isn’t always at the core of why they do what they do.”
Recognizing activism and awareness as two separate entities, junior Corey Wannamaker, who is organizing the Toms’ One Day Without Shoes campaign at USD, said it is the situation that defines activism.
“In some cases, activism and awareness are the same thing, and other times they aren’t,” said Wannamaker. “The effect of raising awareness can vary, as sometimes it will motivate people to go actively do something, and for others it won’t, which can sometimes depend on moral values and time management.”