Effectiveness of Non-traditional Direct Action Kony Campaign

New Orleans    In organizing, even in the smallest space of a neighborhood, we have always argued that you have to “create a happening” where the coming new organization seems to be everywhere on the tip of tongues, laundromat posters, telephone poles, mailings, and whatever tools could be assembled.  The same is true of a political campaign where immersion and momentum are essential in creating a sense of urgency, momentum, and even inevitability.

In the new world of modern communications and emerging campaign tools, I’ve kept an eye on the Kony Campaign being mounted by the young, upstart Invisible Children organization with an open mind to learning whatever is possible.  I knew it was something serious not when it got millions of hits on YouTube because with all respect so do some cat pictures, but when established international NGOs started criticizing them.  Then I saw a Kony 2012 campaign packet on the dining room table of some friends in Madison.  I started noticing that there were different posters and exhortations on all of the community bulletin boards at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse.  Something was happening here.  This guy, Joseph Kony and his ragtag 300 person Lord’s Resistance Army,  had to be “dead man walking!”

Now with a hundred American military advisors on the ground helping, the effectiveness of the campaign seems verifiable.   And, truth to tell, this could not have been about the video piece.  That’s sizzle.  This group had to have had steak to leverage a bill through Congress – how many groups can make that happen these days – and trigger the authority of military involvement, which is almost impossible to achieve.  The video was from 2012.  But, Invisible Children managed to pass the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Action in 2010.  The US has spent almost a half-billion in this area of Uganda now!  They may be one-hit wonders, but they are teaching here, and I’m ready to be a student.

Here’s a quote from a story in the Times:

Yet no other American military project in sub-Saharan Africa has generated the attention — and the high expectations — as the pursuit of Mr. Kony, partly thanks to a wildly popular video on Mr. Kony’s notorious elusiveness and brutality, “Kony 2012,” that set YouTube records with tens of millions of hits in a matter of days. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the overall commander of American forces in Africa, has a “Kony 2012” poster tacked to his office door. As one American official put it: “Let’s be honest, there was some constituent pressure here. Did ‘Kony 2012’ have something to do with this? Absolutely.”

To me that sounds like an endorsement of campaigning strategy AND tactics.


Is Head Start Obama’s “No Child Left Behind?”

New Orleans   HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced that about 132 Head Start agencies charged with providing pre-school education for the poor will go through “redesignation.”  Redesignation really means that they will lose their contracts and go through a rebidding process because they have been found deficient in some respect.  Many of the deficiencies seem trivial, but the impacts are large since agencies in parts of Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis, and Houston are among the large districts impacted in this rebidding “auction.”

The Administration is spinning this as a push to make sure the poor are getting the best in Head Start services and support, and I hope so.  Unfortunately, the federal free-for-all on $7 billion in funding also seems somewhat political because Head Start though largely protected by funding cuts under Obama is under fire from different directions on how much impact the preparation for poor children in preschool has on long term performance.  I worry that Obama’s Head Start initiative here could become to Obama what Bush’s No Child Left Behind has been:  a critique without a program or solution!

Local 100 represents Head Start teachers and staff in Houston, Little Rock, and Shreveport, so we see the daily sweat, blood, and tears in good times and bad that dedicated workers give to educating these very young children to prepare them for the future.  When studies question whether or not the advantages of Head Start last past the 1st grade, we wonder whether Head Start is the problem or what happens in the increasingly beleaguered public school systems, where we also represent workers in Texas.  There are more and more expectations with less support and resources.

I wouldn’t say that Head Start should be a sacred cow, but attacking the programs after years of defunding and funding freezes under Bush and as one of the few remaining programs that seeks to give the poor a break early in their lives, seems risky politics and bad policy in these polarized times where the right is looking for more scapegoats.