I decided if there was one word to describe the event I attend last night it was: Cool. I mean cool in the trendy sort of way too, but I realized maybe that’s okay, at least for now. I drove out with some house mates to a field in Hendersonville, TN to participate in an event called Displace Me, put on by Invisible Children.
Here is a summary of the event: 500 people showed up at a field (60,000+ total in 15 cities across the USA), we bring cardboard to make a home with, a box of crackers and a water bottle. Throughout the night we hear video testimonies of people from the camps and we ourselves build homes to sleep in for the night, get our food from ration stations and write letters to political leaders asking them to respond to the situation in Uganda. A video was also shot to be shown on the Senate floor this week to encourage them to action. It was a protest of sorts, a stand of solidarity and a trendy event (this last part made me uncomfortable).
The folks at Invisible Children are doing good things. They are marketing an end to a war in a way that has never been done. It’s catch and cool and it makes you want to be involved, and the end results are that people are fed, educated, and violence is ended; that’s a beautiful thing. I wonder though, how long our attention spans will be, and how serious we are about fixing the problems and willing to change our lives to do so. The event I went to was full of college kids, fired up about making a difference, may that passion carry them through adulthood and the rest of their lives.
I have hope that some will, but cynicism that it will be too few to even notice. I wonder if all our fanfare is really just for us, because it’s more fresh then boy bands and football games. There’s a tension in me. I went to the event to support others in their statements, rather then give way to my cynical attitude, but I still wonder whose right. I feel a tension between joining the folks at Invisible Children, and joining the folks at Geez Magazine:
At that point in history doing good rose dramatically in popularity. It was cool to care. Hollywood strode awkwardly off the red carpet into a one-US-dollar-a-day village. Rock ‘n roll walked streets that had no names. Smart stars drove smart cars. It was a good era for smooth-talking doomsday sayers and drop-dead gorgeous do-gooders.
Benevolence became a brand. It was marketable. It sold. It increased one’s cultural stock value. It went well with sunglasses by . . . whoever made the hot shit sunglasses in those days. It flowed seamlessly into the show script of Entertainment Tonight. You weren’t a star if you didn’t have a cause. It was a new era.
Philanthropy practically became a sport. Gates dropped $30 billion on good causes, and Warren Buffet put in $31 billion. The big boys bought race horses, or football teams and set up charitable foundations. Goodwill was in the air.
Every corporation on earth adopted sustainable development practices – triple/quadruple/quintuple bottom lines. They all won green awards from each other’s foundations and associations, and added “environmental responsibility” sections to their websites. Click.
Both hope and cynicism could hardly have wished for ground more fertile. But neither seemed like satisfying responses. Eventually, weary of salvation, Africa said no thanks.
And we started looking for a less popular way to care.