In this messy and complicated world there are very few things that you can feel unilaterally good or bad about, everything is just a mix of shades of grey. But there are a few things that are universally good, right? Like charity? There couldn’t be anything bad about a charity, could there?
Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. Precisely because people give so much leeway to someone “doing something for charity” people can use it as a banner for all sorts of stuff, not all of it good.
This March, in the space of a couple of days, everybody’s Facebook timeline was littered with people telling you to watch a video called Kony 2012. The goal of the video was to get International Criminal Court fugitive and Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony arrested by the end of this year, by raising awareness and “making Kony famous”.
Now, we should emphasise that we are entirely anti-war criminal here, but it wasn’t long before people started to suspect that not everything was hunky dory with the Kony 2012 campaign and not just because it sounded like a presidential campaign, or possibly some sort of Olympic event.
The first problem to arise was that plenty of commentators believed the film, made by the organisation Invisible Children, oversimplified the situation in Uganda. It also missed the fact that Joseph Kony hasn’t actually been in Uganda for over six years.
However, as awareness of the video grew and grew, more people went back into Invisible Children’s history, unearthing more about the organisation and Jason Russell, its creepily photogenic and charismatic leader.
Information started to be unearthed, such as the allegation that Invisible Children spends only a third of their budget actually in Africa, using the rest of the budget to make awesome youtube videos that “raise awareness” in the same way that your friend’s Facebook status “Child abuse is bad! Post this as your status or I’ll think you love child abuse!” is “raising awareness”.
Videos like “A Musical To Believe In” a High School Musical pastiche that includes the lyrics “We’re on a mission to put Uganda deep inside your mind/It needs attention and a dance to make it sparkle and shine” and contains a really strong message that you should join their mailing list.
Which goes down really well on Twitter and in American high schools apparently, but the first time Invisible Children attempted to screen their video in Uganda, for the people they’re trying help, it was met with rage and the throwing of rocks.
The 9/11 Quilt
Aside from being anti-war criminal, being pro-9/11 survivors is one of the most uncontroversial stands you can take, somewhere between “I like puppies” and “I’m ambivalent about peanut butter”.
Noticing this, Kevin Held had a vision. His vision was for a humungous 9/11 memorial quilt the size of 25 football fields. Quite how this would benefit either first responders, survivors or the grieving families and loved ones of those who died on 9/11 was… well a bit hazy at best. Maybe he thought they could all gather under the quilt to keep warm?
It was pretty vague.
Oh? You thought that was the problem? That it was a charity to make a giant quilt? Noooooo!
The problem was that somehow Kevin Held persuaded people to donate $713,000 to his cause. Sadly, due to “tough economic times” the quilt was left incomplete. Now, “tough economic times” is the go to excuse in this day and age, and to be fair, times are tough. Not so tough however that Kevin wasn’t able to buy himself a $660,000 house, and then charge the charity £37,000 to rent office space in said house, while drawing a salary of $175,000 while his family drew salaries of $74,000 in total.
I want tough economic times like that.
Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights
Despite the efforts of certain politicians and tabloid papers, we still, on the whole, believe that “human rights” are a good thing. Likewise, I don’t think you’ll find many people who are flying the flag for “psychiatric abuse”. This is one fight where it shouldn’t be hard to pick a side. And indeed, the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights actually has done some good in the world. They have successfully battled the use of electroshock therapy and have fought and won legislation putting clearer warning labels on medication.
Compared to “The campaign to raise money to make an awareness-raising version of High School Musical” and “I’ll use your money to fail to make a really big blanket” these guys seem like total saints!
The thing is, the more you read their material, the more you start to get the impression that the part of “psychiatric abuse” they object to isn’t the “abuse” part. To the point where they’ve argued that the “drugs and conditioning techniques” used by psychiatry directly led to 9/11.
In fact it doesn’t take long to figure out that the CCHR is actually a front for Scientology, the cult/religion/sci-fi-fandom-gone-too-far that would very much like to abolish all psychiatry and replace it with their not-at-all-made-up technique of Dianetics (which my word processor still keeps trying to correct to “Diabetics”). The same people who, on seeing the misery and devastation caused by the Haiti disaster sent “Volunteer Ministers” who would try to heal people by touch.
So, next time you get sent a Facebook link or get stopped by someone with a clipboard in the street explaining how much good your money could do, take the time to perform a cursory Google search first, yeah?
Chris Farnell is a freelance writer who covers charity jobs, business and entertainment.