Melanie Glass is a member of UCI’s Invisible Children Club.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are an 8-year-old child in Africa. Imagine living in fear of being taken away from your family by a rebel army. Imagine having friends that have disappeared who you know are now child soldiers and sex slaves. Imagine going to bed at night and wondering if you might be next. Imagine if no one knew.
Then imagine if your voice was heard.
On April 25, the non-profit organization Invisible Children was the voice of these abducted children. Twelve people from the UC Irvine Invisible Children Club as well as six from Campus Crusade for Christ stood together in solidarity along with the 2,000 other Orange County participants to represent the plight of these kidnapped children in an event titled The RESCUE.
At 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, in 100 cities in 10 countries, tens of thousands of predominately high school and college-age people gathered at “abduction sites” where they stapled pictures of themselves with family to a board that represented leaving their families and friends behind. They were then led on a three-mile walk in which they were required to carry all of their bags and sleeping amenities while holding onto a rope, representing the abduction process of the children in Africa. This led participants to their “LRA Camp” where they would wait to be rescued. Once there, people were not allowed to leave the camp until two things happened: the site got media coverage and a celebrity (referred to as a mogul) came to free them.
In the months prior to the event, the staff at the Invisible Children headquarters in San Diego held screenings at various locations of their newest film “The Rescue,”including a screening at UCI at the beginning of March.
In preparation for the event, individuals were encouraged to post Youtube videos, send e-mails, make phone calls and send snail mail to various celebrities and media outlets, calling them out to come to the rescue. Trusting the media and moguls to answer, participants in the event prepared to wait, determined not to go home until someone came.
The Orange County Fairgrounds served as the Orange County event location. After the 2,000 participants successfully stopped traffic and stimulated their fair share of “honks for peace” along their three-mile walk, they were marched to their LRA Camp. Here participants were given paper and magazines to write creative letters and make art projects to our California senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, urging them to push for peace in East Africa. While they wrote, politically active actress Melissa Fitzgerald, best known for her appearances on The West Wing and Grey’s Anatomy, gave a speech, as well as a representative of California, U.S. Congressman Ed Royce.
At that time it was announced that there was no confirmed celebrity mogul to rescue Orange County. As the night progressed, announcements were made that all six abduction sites in Australia had been rescued. Billy Boyd (“Lord of the Rings”) had rescued the Edinburgh site in Scotland, and Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) was on her way to Los Angeles. Despite Orange County’s lack of a rescuer, spirits stayed high as people meandered and made friends, making sure to snap a few pictures with the guy carrying his cardboard “Joseph Kony is Bologna” sign.
Then at about 9:30 p.m., the atmosphere completely changed; suddenly people were running towards the stage and shouts of “What’s going on?” were heard among the masses that had instantly come alive. News filtered back: The band Paramore had come to the rescue!
As cameras flashed and video settings were adjusted on phones and cameras, Haley Williams of Paramore read the Invisible Children rescue anthem.
“We are the masses, the misfits, the moguls, media, millennials, doing what we can with what we have: our voice … we are shaping human history by closing the divide between resources and responsibility, distance and disinterest, awareness and action … we are here to amplify the chorus of their cries and rescue Joseph Kony’s child soldiers,” Williams said.
As cheers arose from the crowd, the elation of having been rescued easily overshadowed any disappointment caused by the band’s quick departure due to a photo shoot early the next morning. Dance parties and epic dodge ball games began as the crowd settled in for the night. Orange County had officially done its part.
For 23 years Joseph Kony has been abducting children from their homes in Northern Uganda, forcing them to massacre their families and fight in his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). What began as a conflict between the north and south has become the crazed obsession of a mad man. Claiming spiritual prowess, Kony’s abduction of these children had gone largely unnoticed.
It wasn’t until six years ago in 2003, when three college students from California, Jason Russell, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey, took a trip to Africa that would change everything. Upon learning about these children who were being forced to night commute to government-guarded safe locations, the three made their first film about the conflict, “Invisible Children: Rough Cut” in 2004.
Since the injunction of the organization in 2005, Invisible Children has held three sleep-out events to raise awareness for these children. The first was the Global Night Commute in April 2006, which resulted in the virtual end of night commuting for these children. The second was Displace Me in April 2007, which resulted in the U.S. State Department’s appointment of Tim Shortley as senior advisor of conflict resolution in representation of Uganda and in allowing the Ugandans to return home from their displacement camps. After this event in 2007, peace talks progressed as never before. A temporary cease-fire was instated, and Kony agreed to sign a peace treaty. But when the day came, Kony didn’t show up. And on Christmas day 2008, Kony began abducting children again, this time from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
The event this past weekend, Invisible Children’s third sleep-out rally, encouraged awareness of this particular issue: The RESCUE of Joseph Kony’s child soldiers.
However, getting rescued was not so simple for all of the event locations. After the first night, about 23 sites still remained. Three buses of people from sites that had already been rescued, called the Rescue Riders, were sent out by Invisible Children to sit and wait with the sites that were not rescued. The first stop for the SoCal Rescue Riders was Las Vegas, where they waited with the participants until they were finally rescued by Mel B, also known as Scary Spice, on April 27. Slowly but surely, as the Rescue Riders made their rounds to the remaining cities, the numbers dwindled to the final two rescue sites: Richmond and Chicago. Gavin DeGraw came to Richmond’s rescue on April 28, leaving Chicago as the last site standing. Then the decision was made: Chicago wasn’t going home until Obama or Oprah showed up.
When Oprah arrived at her television studio on May 1 for her “Live in Chicago” episode, she was met with 500 enthusiastic faces and asked for five minutes of her time. And she delivered.
One can only hope for a similar story for these children in East Africa. As they wait to be rescued, join the movement at www.invisiblechildren.com.