Category Archives: Activism

Posts on being an activist

Whose Violence Matters?

There is unrest in Baltimore, and police violence is the root of it. After Freddie Gray’s spine was inexplicably severed while in the back of a police van, protests in Baltimore – which began peacefully – have boiled over. As police deployed themselves out to Gray’s funeral and armed themselves in riot gear in the face of a student walk-out protest, things have escalated rapidly. You all know where I stand on this, and after dozens of dead black bodies and dozens of free police officers, I don’t know what else to say. Read these instead.

In September of last year the Baltimore Sun published “Undue Force,” the product of a long investigation into the Baltimore Police Department’s misuse of force and the consequent fallout as the city was forced to pay out millions of dollars and the relationship between residents and their city was further frayed. The investigation found that:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

The department didn’t track the lawsuits leveled against officers – leading to one officer still having his job despite being the target of five different lawsuits. The list of violent abuse of power goes on and on. The Violent Crimes Impact Unit alone has been subject to numerous charges, in addition to such horrific anecdotes as “Three other members were charged in 2010 with kidnapping two city teens and leaving one in a Howard County state park without shoes, socks or his cellphone,” and “a detective threw Anthony Anderson, 46, to the ground during a drug arrest. Anderson’s spleen ruptured, and he died a short time later.” The article is filled with in-depth, personal accounts of victims of police violence. As Conor Friedersdorf said of the report, in an article that includes numerous other instances of BPD abuse: “There are so many good reasons for locals to be outraged.”

If that is who the BPD is, then what about Freddie Gray and the other people of color in his community? If we can hypothesize that the answer to “why did the police arrest and murder him?” is that they are part of a militarized force bent on abuse and built on state violence, then we can also guess as to why Freddie Gray ran from them in the first place. Because he had nothing to gain by staying put. People run from cops because they are scared of them.

In a Baltimore Sun editorial, Gray’s predicament in Baltimore is described as “all too typical in a neighborhood where generations of crushing poverty and the war on drugs combine to rob countless young people like him of meaningful opportunities.” The neighborhood that he lived in is emblematic of the type of circumstances many are finding themselves in. Even just compared to the rest of Baltimore, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood had twice the unemployment and poverty and higher levels of crime. The neighborhood is home to more inmates than any other part of the state, and 1 in 4 juveniles was arrested between 2005 and 2009. This level of mass incarceration and poverty has eviscerated the livelihoods of people like Gray. With no money and no jobs, facing police bent on abusing and arresting you and a system in which the odds are forever stacked against you, how should one respond when the police claim yet another youth?

And so they protested. And those protests achieved little. And there was property damage. And suddenly everyone came to denounce protesters for lashing out in rage. But, as said in a poignant post in defense of Baltimore protester’s actions:

As a nation, we fail to comprehend Black political strategy in much the same way we fail to recognize the value of Black life.

We see ghettos and crime and absent parents where we should see communities actively struggling against mental health crises and premeditated economic exploitation. And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.

And on the narrative of non-violence as the only acceptable form of protest belies the fact that the forces many face are far beyond “respectable” protest, and instead demand resistance against such forces:

When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.

And on the subject of property damage and looting, a reminder to read Ta-Nehisi Coates back when liberals decried looting in Ferguson. At that time, Coates noted that “property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining. ‘Property damage and looting’—perhaps more than nonviolence—has also been a significant tool in black ‘social progress.'”

In the shadow of more property damage and looting in Baltimore, Coates doubled down against those who demand non-violence from protesters but make no such demand of an inherently violent state:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

Today the police deployed in riot gear to face off with demonstrators at Freddie Gray’s funeral and a student walk-out. And violence erupted as those who have been under the thumb of a broken system tried to fight back. In light of these actions, and looking back and past confrontations:

Tuesday update: As Baltimore continues to struggle and parts of the city smolder, it’s becoming more clear that – regardless of how long it lasts – there’s an uprising in Baltimore. Why?

Partially because of rampant inequality.

Partially because property is seen as more valuable than black bodies:

At the corner of Pratt and Light Street a few dozen people held up traffic and staged a spontaneous die-in, sprawling themselves on the asphalt in poses straight from crime-scene photos. There was a comparatively light police presence along the route, but dozens of officers in riot gear blocked the crowd from getting near the stadium, which seemed to confirm the protesters’ most damning suspicions. A man near the front shouted, “They only care about the Orioles!”

The scene seemed like a neat summation of much that animated the protests in Baltimore and beyond. In Ferguson, on the night that the grand-jury decision declining to charge the officer who shot Brown was released, police were deployed largely on the main commercial strips. In the triage logic of municipal governance, it makes perfect sense to protect valuable real estate and businesses. But to people already infuriated by the self-protecting reflexes of bureaucracy, this was an additional insult—not because businesses don’t warrant police protection but because they could scarcely imagine the police deeming their own communities as worthy of protecting that way.

Partially because capital has eaten away at Baltimore’s people:

But of the entire scene [in Baltimore yesterday], the most salient thing wasn’t the destruction wrought by protestors — the cop car demolished, the payday loan store smashed up — but by capital: the decrepit, boarded-up row houses, hovels, and vacants in a city full of them.

These are the streets in which Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has now declared a state of emergency, the same streets that would suffer fromhis austerity. They are the streets that have endured astronomic unemployment rates for decades, even as Democrats have run the city unrivaled. And they are the streets where police folded up Freddie Gray’s body “like origami,” then restrained him with leg irons in the back of a police van and delayed calling for an ambulance.

Partially because of desperation and resistance. Riots are a grasp for control under a state that leaves you impoverished and incarcerated:

If the sustained psychological terror of being reared in an economically disenfranchised neighborhood, babysat by a failing school, and abused by aggressive police didn’t leave you with the tools to effectively organize against state sanctioned terrorism in a way that society finds “respectable”—in other words, voting and being polite enough to say, “Please, suh, don’t kill us no mo’!”—then far be it from me to mourn the loss of Nike socks and Remy bundles and exaggerated reports of violence against police that leave out this week’s violence at the hands of police, and of White counter-protestors who attacked and berated people for the past three days on the city’s streets.

[…]

Continuing to perpetuate the myth of “act good, get treated that way” does nothing to protect us from the reality of police terror and mass incarceration, which work hand-in-hand. This is not a case for riots, but acknowledgment that they aren’t the work of thugs and ne’er-do-wells, but an SOS call. The question is, are we willing to listen? We should, because our people have finally changed their mind.

Partially its that they must be tired of non-violence’s failure to convince the state to back up.

The Right Kind of Victim

Earlier today a friend and colleague argued that, although police violence and race were important issues that deserved a public conversation a la Ferguson, Mike Brown wasn’t the “right” kind of person to be the locus of this conversation. This person cited some stuff about Darren Wilson’s innocence – stuff I disagreed with, but which is not what I want to talk about here. Instead, he referenced the case of Tamir Rice – the boy who was shot for carrying a toy gun literally the moment that police arrived on the scene, and was subsequently refused care by the officers and was later pronounced dead. There is video of the police misconduct. The victim clearly wasn’t charging the officers. This is where to organize protests.

Hours later, I saw news that Eric Garner’s murderer was also cleared by a grand jury. There is video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Garner in an illegal chokehold. There is proof of police misconduct. The coroner ruled it a homicide. And the police officer won’t even stand trial.

Earlier today, I argued that – regardless of what one thought about Mike Brown’s death – the organizing and protests should continue. If you believe that police violence is a problem and black lives matter, you should be in the streets no matter what. Because the problem of police violence is a national crisis.

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When protesters tried to shut down New York City two weeks ago, it was as much about the injustice of the Ferguson grand jury as it was about the impending Staten Island one. It was also about Tamir Rice. And Akai Gurley. And numerous other men of color killed by police who are sworn to protect.

When we look for the right kind of victim, we will always be waiting. The anger at racist police violence has reached its breaking point, and there shouldn’t be any discussion about the right kind of victim. Victims are victims, and we need to organize now – before there are more.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting on a bus, she galvanized a movement against segregated buses. But Claudette Colvin should have galvanized the same movement, but she wasn’t the “right kind of victim.”

When the bus driver told Rosa Parks that he would have to call the police if she didn’t get up, Parks replied, with extraordinary self-possession, “You may do that.” When the police arrived, she went without resistance. When the cops came for Claudette Colvin, she yelled at them that they were violating her rights, and refused to move. They dragged her from the bus. When they kicked her, she kicked them back.

Ever since I was first made aware of Colvin’s story and others like it, I’ve been adamant that these stories are worth remembering – these lives are worth remembering. We shouldn’t only rally around the perfect symbols of resistance and victims of injustice. We should rally around every victim of injustice. Every time there’s injustice.

Waiting for the right kind of victim means ignoring the actual victimization of black bodies across this country. Waiting for Tamir Rice means that Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, and other victims of police violence.

We shouldn’t wait any longer.

Protesters staged a die-in at Grand Central tonight immediately after the announcement of Eric Garner’s grand jury. There is a demonstration planned at Foley Square tomorrow afternoon. If you’re against police violence, find a demonstration near you – or start one.

Everybody’s in the Ivory Trade

The Lord’s Resistance Army has been involved in the ivory trade for quite a while now, as have many other groups across Africa. The rural parts of Congo and Central African Republic have been the hunting grounds of poachers and armed groups alike for years, sometimes coming from as far afield as Libya. This summer, the Enough Project published a report [pdf] on the LRA’s involvement in the ivory trade, which caused a lot of news outlets to pick up the story, eventually leading Kristof Titeca to write this piece on the ivory trade beyond the LRA. In it, he describes the typical route of the ivory trade in Congo:

The most common trading scenario is the following:  local poachers (or individual soldiers) based in or near the forest pass on the ivory to local traders based in urban centers such as Dungu and Doruma (to a lesser extent Faradje). From there on, there are two trading routes: The first, and more common trading route, is from Dungu to the Congolese-Ugandan border towns of Ariwara and Arua. Most often, the ivory is sold to well-connected traders in these border towns, who in turn go to Kampala and sell it for export, most often to Asia.

The second trading route is from the north eastern side of Garamba Park, where ivory is traded in Doruma (or Bangadi). From here, the ivory goes to South Sudan, from where it enters Uganda (or also goes to Ariwara). It is difficult to estimate the amount of ivory originating from these areas. In Dungu alone, it is estimated that between 15 to 30 traders are dealing in ivory. Interviewed traders claim to be selling around 90 to 200 kilograms per month. In Arua, fewer ivory traders are active, but they mentioned similar quantities.

Ugandan traders are key in this commodity chain/trade network: they play a prominent role at different levels by using Congolese or South Sudanese traders as middlemen, by buying the ivory in Ariwara, Aru or Kampala. The nature of their involvement consistently points at the implication of Ugandan politico-military elites.

While the LRA are rumored to have traded ivory with Sudanese armed forces in exchange for supplies and arms, this segment, and especially that last sentence, is crucial. There is also a large amount of ivory funneling through Ugandan elite circles. This is part of a long-time trend in which a network of Ugandan political and military elites (often one and the same) profit from Uganda’s military exploits abroad, from livestock and coffee to diamonds and now ivory. In a 2012 article on the UPDF’s presence in the Congo, Vlassenroot, Perrot, and Cuvelier explore this network, explaining that much of it – and probably much of what Titeca identifies as “politico-military elites” – is made up of members of the First Family, long-time NRM party leaders, and leading military figures as well as Congolese local elites, armed groups, and businessmen. Vlassenroot et al refer to these actors as “entrepreneurs of insecurity,” as they capitalized on and even facilitated war in the Congo in the late 1990s and early 2000s in order to reap rewards from mines.

There have been allegations of UPDF involvement in the ivory trade for some time now. There was evidencethat a UPDF helicopter was spotted near the site of multiple elephant killings last year, and an incident before that in which poachers actually attacked the UPDF in CAR to deter them from infringing on the poachers’ territory. That the military, or at least the military and political elite back in Kampala, are involved in the business is of no surprise.

Which makes the goal of melding anti-poaching and anti-LRA efforts a bit difficult to envision. In the weeks after Enough Project’s report was published, there were several calls for action against the LRA, both for their human rights abuses and their animal rights abuses, to help bring the rebel group to an end. Take, for example, Mark Quarterman’s piece highlighting the report for CNN:

Only effective local, national, and transnational action can stop this horror. Anti-atrocity groups such as the Enough Project can advocate for actions to shut off the demand for ivory in Asia. Conservation groups could broaden their focus to include efforts to end wars that have created a symbiotic relationship between ivory poaching and civilian suffering. Both types of organizations should emphasize the longer-term requirement for effective governance to lessen the likelihood of war and ivory poaching.

Joint and parallel action could tap activist organizations, increase the pressure on policymakers for action and broaden the knowledge about both of these problems among those who previously had focused on only one.

The combined efforts of conservation and human rights groups could spur the efforts of governments and international organizations to slow the destruction of the African elephant and free the people of east and central Africa from the threat of Joseph Kony and his ilk. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, one that could help stop the massacre of both humans and animals in Africa.

If you read this article and Enough’s report, this would sound like a great solution. And it still might be. With combined efforts of conservation groups and human rights groups, effective advocacy may succeed in putting forth new tools to stop the LRA’s abuses of civilians and elephants. But it wouldn’t succeed in stopping the abuse of civilians and elephants. The LRA is only one part of the complex situation of abuses and poaching in the region, some of which is perpetrated by the actors that will be empowered by anti-LRA efforts.

If the abduction of civilians and poaching of elephants by the LRA can be stopped, it will be of tremendous good to those that live in LRA-affected regions. But we shouldn’t expect that this will solve the problem of insecurity that people and elephants frequently encounter in the region. If using militaries (who poach and abuse civilians) to stop armed groups (who poach and abuse civilians) works, we’ll still be left with poachers and human rights abusers.

What Invisible Children is Doing Right: Protection and Knowledge

In case you haven’t read my last dozen posts about Invisible Children, we’ve been having a very back-and-forth relationship for the last few years. On Saturday, I joked that, if we were on Facebook, our relationship status would be “it’s complicated.” That’s because, at the time, I was waxing nostalgic about how much of an impact Invisible Children has had, both in my life and in the lives of the Acholi people that benefit from their development programs, while I was simultaneously typing up this recent post on how Invisible Children and Samantha Power both advocated for military intervention that might be making things worse.

This love-hate thing I’ve got going on runs deep, and it’s because Invisible Children does a lot of work. Like, a lot of work. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s bad. And in the past seven years I’ve seen a lot of their work first hand. As you know, my thesis is on radio’s role in the LRA, but while I was in the DRC I also caught a glimpse at some other aspects of IC’s work in LRA-affected areas that I’m still digesting. Here are some roughly hewn thoughts on Invisible Children’s work in the region:

The LRA Crisis Tracker, a joint operation run by Invisible Children and the Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, tracks LRA incidents and is just one part of a network that includes the radio stations I studied, local military attaches in villages, and aid organizations operating in the area. This network is part of a broad effort to track LRA movements, coordinate military responses to the LRA presence, and facilitate aid to those in need. Whether or not it works is a whole other story, as several aid agencies have closed up their Dungu offices, the FRDC military attaches frequently choose not to engage with LRA forces, but do choose to intimidate, rob from, and attack the civilians they’re supposed to protect, and LRA tactics have rendered some of the advantages of the HF radio network obsolete.

But the effort to better understand the LRA has increased our knowledge of what the rebel group is doing by leaps and bounds. The Resolve’s most recent report [pdf] has included really essential research findings including the existence of intense divisions within the LRA leadership and identifying groups that want to defect. It also includes estimates of current LRA numbers, including composition of combatants versus non-combatants.

Some of my research on the HF radio network included some questions about the defection process. For a member of the LRA trying to surrender and come home, the process has traditionally included a debriefing with the UPDF [pdf, section 3.2]. This served to give the military up-to-date information about LRA activities from those with insider knowledge, but it also served as a tool for the UPDF to hold returnees longer than they were supposed to, sometimes in an attempt to forcibly recruit former LRA.

In the network that Invisible Children has helped create, debriefings have also occurred (although I don’t know how involved the military is, nor the type of support returnees have during their transition from LRA to home). The information gleaned from these interviews with recent returnees has shaped IC’s actions on the ground, directing flier drops and influencing the programming of radio messages. In the coming months IC is planning a large-scale defection messaging effort (funded through their current #ZeroLRA campaign)  including dropping leaflets about defection, flying helicopters with messages on speakers, and broadcasting messages over FM radio, all in targeted areas where LRA are known to be living, along with establishing safe reporting sites for defectors and providing comprehensive rehabilitation for them upon return. A lot of this has the potential to bring more LRA abductees home, and (hopefully) without relying too much on the military, a group historically responsible for more bad than good.

In addition, IC (and Resolve) are pushing for research to help piece together a clearer understanding of the LRA command structure. For a long time, most people only know the LRA leadership as far as the ICC indictments go. For the most part, many hadn’t heard of Caesar Acellam before he was captured. That’s slowly changing as IC supports efforts to find out who is in charge of the various LRA groups and what they are doing. Ledio Cakaj, one of the co-authors of Resolve’s report mentioned above, has written a paper about the LRA command structure that I’m eager to read in the coming months. IC’s staff in DRC and CAR are working on the same thing: building a clear picture of the LRA. This serves a lot of purposes. It will help in shaping radio programming that can target specific individuals with the potential to cause large-scale defections. It will serve as evidence in the event that those responsible for attacks are brought before courts to face justice. And it will help paint a clearer picture of where Kony and his two remaining ICC-indicted commanders are operating, helping direct efforts to bring them specifically to justice.

You can learn more in this interview with Adam Finck, IC’s International Programs Director. He sat down with a couple of IC staff during the Fourt Estate live stream this weekend, and he shed some light on LRA activity and how IC is responding, including several of the things I mentioned above. Broadly speaking, I think many of these efforts are solid steps towards protecting civilians in LRA-affected regions and hopefully an effective way to get us that much closer to ending this conflict.

Why Samantha Power is Speaking at Fourth Estate

Tonight, newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power will give the keynote address at Invisible Children’s Fourth Estate Summit. The summit is the second or third* such conference hosted by IC to bring together young leaders to learn more about the LRA conflict in particular, but also to learn about and discuss activism, development, justice, and trendy ways to change lives. The keynote will be Power’s first speech since assuming the role of ambassador to the UN.

Some people are a little surprised that this will be Power’s first event. But, regardless of whether it was booked before or after her nomination, her attendance at the conference representing the government is very appropriate. Her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide has been cited by a lot of activists as a call to action and a blueprint for what the U.S. government’s role in preventing and responding to mass atrocities should look like. In the book, citing how the U.S. failed to intervene when genocide occurred in the past, Power advocates for increased humanitarian intervention through engaged diplomatic efforts and military action.

While her call for intervention is not without criticism, Power’s advocacy for U.S. involvement in stemming and preventing mass atrocities has been central to groups like Invisible Children, Enough, and Save Darfur, groups that have led grassroots movements to bring attention to and take action to stop human rights abuses. In addition to making films about the LRA and running education, employment, and sanitation programs in Uganda, IC is also behind the years-long advocacy push for U.S. action to bring leaders of the LRA to justice. This is why it’s no surprise that Invisible Children would want Samantha Power to speak at their summit.

But why would the U.S. Mission to the UN send its highest official to the conference, and for her first official speech at that? Again, while this might seem surprising at first, it actually makes all sorts of sense. Invisible Children has been the central figure in the campaign to get the U.S. government to take action on the LRA conflict. There are several groups trying to shed light on the LRA’s actions, but IC has pretty much been in the driver’s seat of the effort to urge U.S. action since around 2007 or 2009. The May 2010 passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was the most widely co-sponsored Africa-related bill in modern U.S. legislative history. And in October of 2011 President Obama sent 100 military advisers to help track down Kony.

This is all to say that Invisible Children is a powerful player in helping advocate for policy decisions. But IC has also played into the broader U.S. policy in the region. President Museveni of Uganda has been a pretty bad leader recently, but the War on Terror gave both Presidents Bush and Obama reason to lend him financial support and military assistance as part of the trend in which we support autocrats for being tough on terrorists. Uganda is one of the main contributors to the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where they are fighting al Shabaab. Museveni has been a long-time opponent of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir. And this is on top of Museveni’s fight against the LRA, whom were labeled terrorists by both the U.S. and Ugandan governments in the early 2000s. Because of all of this, Museveni needs U.S. support – rigged elections and brutal crackdowns on protests be damned. And so, by mustering a grassroots movement of thousands of millenials to call for the U.S. to commit to helping stop the LRA, IC helps the Obama administration explain why Museveni deserves millions of dollars of military aid.

And that brings us to today, when an advocate of U.S. humanitarian intervention and a person who has been in the center of Obama’s foreign policy decision-making will speak to 1500 youth that helped call for intervention in central Africa that supported an autocrat. There are good and bad things that arise from such parallel work between an advocacy group and the government, from effectively getting aid money to development agencies and raising awareness of the effects of displacement to further militarizing an already dangerous region. But, as IC’s activism in the U.S. and their protection programs in DRC and CAR continue to support and shape U.S. policy, the relationship between the two will remain like that.


* This is the second Fourth Estate conference – the first was in 2011. I attended a conference in 2007 that was a sort of precursor to Fourth Estate, in which 200 IC supporters also learned about the LRA, discussed activism, justice, world-changing, etc.

On Animal Rights Activism

Earlier this year I saw a talk about armed conservancy. The talk centered on nature reserves in northeastern Central African Republic where conservancy groups employ armed teams to patrol the grounds for poachers. The act of hunting hunters is really fascinating, and it’s actually not that uncommon. A lot of African countries have shoot-on-sight policies regarding poachers in order to protect the wildlife (and therefore the tourism industry). But what was interesting was that some of the anti-poaching men Lombard talked about were not from Africa. There was a Frenchman and a couple of Russians who were active in these groups either for ideology or for the money. It reminded me Battleground: Rhino Wars .

Battleground: Rhino Wars is a mini-series that follows four U.S. ex-military as they work to stop poachers. I haven’t seen it, I’ve only seen commercials and that video linked above. But it’s not hard to see what happens on the show. They wander the preserves looking for snares and other traps, they go into markets looking for ivory, and they try to arrest poachers. Animal Planet is documenting the horrors of poaching and showing the more extreme ways to fight it, with a heavy dose of neo-colonialism throughout (like in this video, for example, but that will have to be another post). It’s not too different from a more popular Animal Planet show, also about the more militant types of halting illegal animal trade: Whale Wars.

Whale Wars is a program that’s been around for a few years now. The show follows the crew of several ships that are part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental and animal rights group that the U.S. had designated as eco-terrorists, as they work to interrupt Japanese whaling vessels. The group has done a lot in its history, but the series concentrates on its action against Japanese whalers. On the show, I’ve seen them lobbing jars of butyric acid at ships (to taint the deck with odor so they can’t work) and try to break the propellers of ships while at sea. The Japanese ships usually respond with water cannons, sound cannons, or flash-bang grenades. It’s direct action, as to whether it’s violent – judge how you want. It might be worth noting that these shows don’t cover violence against people, but rather attacks on the infrastructure and ability to make the animal trade financially nonviable.

But whenever I think about environmental activists and their extreme actions, I wonder where the line is. Raiding a poachers’ camp and boarding a whaling vessel are disputed, but they’re at least accepted enough to serve as entertainment on a television program.  But when animal rights activists firebomb a research clinic or environmentalists burn down construction sites in new, expensive neighborhoods, people are quick to label them terrorists (again, your call). These acts also attack property and infrastructure, trying to make it more difficult to abuse animals and more expensive to clear forests for the rich. What changes our understanding of these acts? Is it the escalation of the attack, from stink- and smoke-bombs that render a ship’s deck unfit for whales to fires that actually destroy? Are people less likely to object to Whale Wars and Rhino Wars because they take place outside the U.S., and so it has less to do with us? Is it merely because it’s on television, so it seems somehow less real? Better question: how would people react if activists sabotaged the Keystone XL pipeline?

One Year After Kony2012: Resources for the Lord’s Resistance Army

Today marks a year since Kony 2012 was released, which means a year minus a couple of hours since it went viral. In the aftermath of the controversy, I threw together a link roundup about the video. To mark the occasion, I wanted to try my hand at a definitive reading list on the conflict and its many facets. I’ve broken this into categories to help anyone looking for specific aspects of the LRA conflict. A lot of the links are open access, but there are a lot of journals too. If you have trouble opening any articles, drop me a line. Please let me know in the comments if you know of other works I should include.

For a broad overview, there are two big things you should read. The e-book, Beyond Kony 2012, edited by Amanda Taub, is available at whatever price you’d like to pay. It includes everything from the history of the conflict to advocacy responses to Invisible Children, all from great people in various fields. The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality,  edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot, is a good primer and tackles some of the myths around the conflict.

If you’re looking for other broad resources, International Crisis Group (ICG) has a report on understanding the conflict. The Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) has a number of field reports explaining and analyzing various events in the conflict’s history, all of which are worth perusing. For specific aspects of the conflict, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Tulane’s Payson Center for International Development have a report on LRA abductions. In additon, the LRA Crisis Tracker has just issued its annual security review on LRA activity.

There are quite a few decent articles on motivations and politics of the LRA: Frank van Acker and Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot have written good analyses of the LRA; Adam Branch situates the conflict around Acholi  peasants; Paul Jackson views the conflict from the greed vs. grievance perspective.

Patrick Wegner wrote a great piece on the Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Uganda. Chris Dolan has written a whole book (Google Books preview here) on the camps, in which he details their damaging effect on the entire northern Ugandan society in a case of what he terms “social torture.” He was also the first to break the conflict into phases, pointing out the trends in the conflict which Branch and Atkinson would later pick up on. The Refugee Law Project has a paper [pdf] on effects of violence on displaced communities.

Adam Branch has written a book (preview) about the consequences of humanitarian involvement that is absolutely imperative – his analysis of IDP camps, of the ICC, and of AFRICOM are all vital, and his history of the war is probably the most comprehensive. Sverker Finnström‘s book examines living in northern Uganda during the conflict, and sheds light on the political motivations behind the LRA.

Regarding the ICC, Allen’s short book on the subject is best, but you can also settle for his DFID report [pdf]. Branch has written this short piece [pdf] and a longer one [pdf] on ICC involvement. My professor in undergrad, Victor Peskin, wrote this analysis of the ICC’s approach to both Uganda and Sudan. The Refugee Law Project has working papers on the ICC and traditional justice. Also worth perusing is a series of blog posts at Justice in Conflict about LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo’s trial in Gulu.

On the flip side, regarding Uganda’s amnesty process, Louise Mallinder analyzes the amnesty process and Linda M. Keller looks at alternatives to the ICC. The first issue of JRP’s magazine, Voices [pdf], was about the amnesty process, and the Refugee Law Project has a working paper [pdf] on it as well. ICTJ and Berkeley’s Human Rights Center have a report on popular attitudes towards the ICC and amnesty, and ICTJ, Berkeley, and Tulane later published a joint report [pdf] on attitudes towards these ideas and reconstruction.

ICTJ and JRP have a joint report [pdf] on memorials and memory in LRA-affected regions. There’s also this piece on young adult perceptions of the LRA, which is an interesting perspective. Accord has a great report [pdf] on the long history of peace negotiations between the LRA and Uganda. They also put out this addendum [pdf] by Chris Dolan about the Juba peace process.

Looking at the military side of things, Mareike Schomerus has a look at the UPDF’s actions in Sudan, Sverker Finnström wrote about Kony 2012 and military humanitarianism; a group of authors wrote this article shedding light on what a military solution to the conflict would actually require. The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative released this report right before Kony 2012, outlining what U.S. involvement should look like. More recently, Resolve helped release this report [pdf] on problems with the UN’s response. ICG has a report spelling out what else is needed beyond Kony’s capture/death.

This is my no means an exhaustive list of readings, merely the ones I think are the most important or ones with interesting perspectives, in addition to some reports with lots of information. Again, if you know of other things that are missing that you think are important, leave a comment.

Update (9/1/2013): I’m editing this post to add some things I’ve come across recently. Firstly, Ron Atkinson’s The Roots of Ethnicity: Origins of the Acholi of Uganda is about precolonial Acholiland, but the second addition includes a very thorough history of post-colonial Uganda, including analysis of the LRA conflict. In 2009 he also wrote two good essays about Operation Lightning Thunder. Also, Chris Blattman has linked to the data from the Survey for War-Affected Youth (SWAY) that includes tons of information. In the year since I initially wrote this post, Resolve has published two important reports [both pdfs]: one reveals that Sudan is supporting the LRA again, another is the most recent in-depth look at who makes up the LRA and outlines effective defection strategies.

What Can We Do?

Yesterday, in light of recent events, my friend Adam and I engaged in a thorough conversation over what the next step is in changing the national discourse on gun control. The truth is that I have no idea. I figured I’d lead with that before writing this post. I’ve never worked on any gun control issue, and I’m not even that well-read on the issue. But I have a lot of thoughts on it, because it’s something that enters my thoughts pretty often.

When looking at the recent history of gun violence and massacres in the United States, it’s hard to parse out a strategy or narrative that’s deals solely with guns. The perceived importance of guns is tied up with our Constitution’s Second Amendment, and any conversation about preventing such tragic events must include talk of access to, funding for, and reduced stigma of mental healthcare and increased support for victims of domestic violence. And when you talk about political or legal solutions to gun proliferation, you involve the political system, the powerful gun lobby, and the ideologues of the Republican Party along with unequal state laws, a Supreme Court that strikes down bans, and a Democratic Party scared to use its strength.

So, eschewing the question of when it’s right to talk about gun control, I ask: what will be done? We can’t really accept that nothing will be done, even though a lot of us have reluctantly muttered the question “how many more times will this have to happen before we do something about it?” at least a few times in the past week, month, year, or decade. But if we refuse the idea that nothing will be done, if we decide that something will be done, what will that something be?

A relative of mine recently tried to take advantage of some gun sales at a hunting store in Arizona, and the guns had all sold out almost immediately. When my dad asked him why, the relative reiterated the fear that Obama will be banning all guns any day now, so a lot of Republicans are getting them while they can. Nevermind the fact that Obama hasn’t had the gumption to do anything when it comes to gun violence, and has actually helped facilitate the militarizing of a host of countries around the world. What do we do about gun control when people are already hoarding weaponry to face both the apocalypse and the specter of a government crackdown on guns, both of which are completely unfounded?

It will be a long and arduous campaign to shift the cultural mindset. The NRA and similar organizations have always had a tight grip on the lawmakers of this country, and they have also fostered a deep love for guns among the citizenry. The recent radical turn of the Republican Party has only exacerbated this as more and more people feel tied to their right to bear arms. There’s no easy way to reverse this trend, but a long and committed campaign could slowly chip away at the power of firearms.

It is, of course, my dream that I could live in an America where there is either a full gun ban or something close.  But that’s all it is. It’s a dream, and it will remain that way. After all, yesterday’s tragedy, and many gun-related tragedies, was carried out by legal weapons. But there has to be some argument that, if killing sprees and this easy while ostensibly following the law, maybe we should change the law. The fight against gun violence and mass killings needs to start locally, and it needs to start with conversation.

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Kony 2012 Panel – A Response

Over the weekend I penned a lengthy recap of Friday’s panel on Kony 2012 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture that was hosted by Congo in Harlem. If you’re interested in the LRA, central Africa, or Invisible Children, it’s worth perusing. I promised to contribute something to the conversation, and this is what I ended up with:

Today I wanted to take a brief look at a particular moment of last week’s panel, when Kate Cronin-Furman gave her opening remarks. She chose to talk about the decision for Invisible Children to concentrate on the International Criminal Court, and to look at what that meant for the campaign specifically as well as the narrative of the conflict as portrayed in the video. She began by looking at the circumstances that resulted in the ICC referral and compared it to Uganda’s justice system today. She also argued that a campaign that only addressed the ICC was either “not thoughtful advocacy” or was “window dressing for an all-military approach.” She ended with the question, why are we treating a complex political situation like a law enforcement problem?

There’s lots to talk about in this discussion. We could hold a whole other panel on the ICC in Uganda (and I’d love to go to that, if any panel organizers are reading this), and there are plenty of papers and several books on just this subject. Kate touched on a number of contentious points about the ICC’s involvement in the conflict and how that involvement has been executed. I want to expand on and respond to a few of these discussion points, because a lot of what Kate said is the stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Continue reading

Kony 2012 Panel – A Recap

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion of the Invisible Children film, Kony 2012. The panel was convened at the New York Society for Ethical Culture as a part of Congo in Harlem, a week-long series of film screenings and other events related to the DRC. It was the best way I could have spent my birthday (I know, right?) and I would like to recap everything covered at the event for all of you who couldn’t be there. (In addition, the Congo in Harlem website should have a full audio podcast up in the near future). Early next week I will also (attempt to) write up my own response to what was said. Below is a run-down of what was said by whom, in a very not-verbatim transcript rendered from my notes.

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