Invisible Children founder discusses activism

On Monday, Bobby Bailey, co-founder of Invisible Children, a social action group fighting to end the use of child soldiers in Uganda, spoke to students about his roots in activism and engaged them on several controversial issues with his enthusiastic rhetoric.

Bobby Bailey
Bobby Bailey, co-founder of Invisible Children, spoke about his roots in activism on Monday. Photo by Leo Obata.

Bailey spent most of the talk walking students through his personal journey as an activist, focusing on his involvement with Invisible Children. After deciding that Invisible Children was sustainable and under good leadership, Bailey left the non-profit two years ago – before the release of the “KONY 2012” video released on March 5 – and is currently involved in various United Nations health initiatives, focusing specifically on malaria prevention as well as the importance of the arts for children in developing countries. His newest project uses Internet games such as Farmville or Cityville to inspire online users to start projects in the developing world. Like many of Bailey’s projects, the idea is seen as radical, creative and more than a little controversial.

As a filmmaker and a member of what he referred to as “the MTV generation,” Bailey claims to see the world differently than the people behind traditional nonprofit organizations. “You are competing with pop culture, with brands,” he explained. “Make no mistake – at Invisible Children, we are up against [Lady] Gaga.” Bailey and other activists like him seek to redirect some of the attention society focuses on celebrities and pop culture icons and focus it instead on world issues or “normal people.” Invisible Children’s first film, The Rough Cut, coined the tagline “Discover the unseen,” challenging which topics were covered in the media and which were still subject to American ignorance. Bailey sought to reverse this perceived injustice by “making it personal.”

Bailey hoped that if he told the stories of kids in Northern Uganda, if he was able to create some sort of connection between them and American viewers, that he could get America to care. In a way, he wanted to make the kids into celebrities. Some of his ideas were later used in the “KONY 2012” video and its corresponding mantra, “Make him infamous.”

Bailey’s current work in Haiti and Southeast Asia also uses film as a medium for storytelling. He showed a clip from one of his newest films about music schools for children in Haiti, which opens with a Haitian fable highighting  the importance of perception toward the world and the enduring qualities of hope.

The moral of the fable is not unlike what Bailey tries to do in his work. By challenging members of the first world to look at the third world differently, Bailey hopes to change the conversation and question what we should be and could be doing to help.

Bailey stressed to students at College the importance of “finding your own Kony,” cautioning that the issues that most need activist support are not easy fixes, and that in order to be able to ride a movement through to its completion, you need to make sure you’ve found an issue about which you are extremely passionate. Everyone has a unique narrative, he explained, and everyone has a set of unique skills that can be used to fight for a more just world.

Bailey ended his lecture by quoting a “rant” that underlined the importance of innovative thinking.

“You say radical change takes at least a decade, I say radical change happens in one minute. You say we only take Harvard MBAs, I say we only take freaks. You say we only take spotless records, I say it’s the spots that matter most. You say this is just a rant, I say this is reality,” Bailey said.