One thing the year 2012 will be remembered for twenty years from now – or at least when the topic is mentioned most people will have some opinion on it – is the (in)famous Kony video. It spread virally at an unprecedented rate reaching 50 million youtube views in 5 days since its release on the 5th of March, and as I’m writing this article views have almost reached 88 million. The web film has been criticised by many and praised by some for various reasons but what I would like to draw attention to is the broader concept of awareness campaigns in general.
What is the point of awareness campaigns anyway? To make people aware of an issue obviously! Yes, but why? Will awareness necessarily lead to action and if it does, to what extent?
I am generally in favour of awareness campaigns for the simple reason that once someone is aware of something they can respond to it. You do not normally respond to things you’re not aware of unless you’re perhaps suffering from constant paranoia?
As members of the general public we are targeted by tons of organisations competing for our hearts (money) through creative, emotional campaigns on a daily basis. Certain issues will catch our attention more easily than others depending on our view of what is important in life, experiences we had relating to a specific cause or simply because of a marketing plan which was brilliantly executed. It is at the end of the day our own responsibility to see to it that the cause we decide to support does the work they claim to do and that they do so with integrity.
But then, what if we are the ones trying to get someone on board? You can be part of a an organisation or simply an individual who needs assistance or who wants to get someone more capable, or better positioned than yourself to bring about change, to buy into your vision.
What you’re looking for is to create an ‘Equiano Moment’.
I draw this phrase (and if I can trust google, just coined it!) from the must see film for everyone in the slightest bit involved in activism: Amazing Grace. Well, actually, it is a must see film whatever you do with your time. Every time I watch it again I recognise different challenges that Wilberforce faced as he stood for the abolition of slavery and how he dealt with them and that they are pretty much identical to the challenges anyone standing for justice will face today. But I’m going slightly off topic now.
The Equiano Moment is what awareness campaigns truly ought to aim for. Yes, it is always beneficial and often times ultimately necessary to have strength in numbers in order to feed the thousands or put pressure on government to pass a bill but I’m convinced that if you aim for ‘the one’, the others will get drawn in automatically. And, as a matter of a fact, if you don’t get the attention of that ‘one’, the multitudes don’t have anyone to speak through. One of the pastors at my local church told me a while back that throughout history it almost always took only one person to take a stand for change to happen, God has never been interested in numbers but only in willingness. Just the other day I heard a talk on radio where the guest speaker reminded listeners that many famous revolutions were started by one person who decided to stand, as he referred to Rosa Parks who stood her ground against racism on a bus by remaining seated actually, and also ‘Tank Man’ who stopped a column of army tanks as he stubbornly refused to move out of the way on that famous day on Tiananmen Square in 1989. The reality is simply this: one person wholeheartedly committed to a cause can bring down an army eventually. Imagine now ten or one hundred people functioning with such conviction?
So what exactly is this Equiano Moment? It is basically that moment when someone reaches tipping point and crosses the line of no return. It is not something someone can be conned into doing or stops doing once the hype of emotional hysteria has died down. It follows a clear understanding of the situation at hand and the consequences advancing a certain cause might hold for the individual in doing so. In the Amazing Grace film William Wilberforce has long been opposed to the slave trade, yet grew tired of fighting for a cause which simply seemed impossible to achieve. Up to this point the battle was fought on principle and although it was for a noble cause indeed, there remained a willingness to discontinue. While Wilberforce was passing through the valley of decision and still hesitant as to whether he should continue the fight or leave it to others, a meeting was arranged at his home. Among the guests was former slave, Olaudah Equiano, who presented Wilberforce with the real facts surrounding the slave trade and showed him the branding he bore on his body which signified that a slave ‘no longer belonged to God but to a man’. Although Wilberforce understood for years that the slave trade was an immoral and unjust practise, he experienced that night at his dinner table his Equiano Moment. It was then he decided that he would see the slave trade abolished no matter what the personal cost to him would be. It is probably because of this moment that he closed one of his abolition speeches in the House of Commons saying, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”
Actress Ashley Judd mentioned: “I allow my empathy to be engaged, and once it is – because my feelings help teach me what my values are – I’m on the path for which there is no return. I am inexorably an advocate when I allow my empathy to be engaged.”
At times it is your duty to allow the empathy of others to be engaged, to wake the sleeping giants, to speak to the valley of dry bones, like the visiting party did when they identified and engaged Wilberforce as the one who must champion their cause. And on occasion, you will be the one chosen, the one who experience the Equiano Moment.
“From awareness comes action, from action comes change.” – Conal McDevitt
“One man with courage is a majority.” – some say Andrew Jackson ,some say Thomas Jefferson.
“The greatest works are done by the ones. The hundreds do not often do much – the companies never; it is the units – the single individuals, that are the power and the might. Individual effort is, after all, the grand thing.” – Charles Spurgeon
“When we take the risk of really witnessing another human being, when we validate their human experience, we risk becoming recruited to their welfare.” – Robert Keegan
“When one comes close enough to death one only has one of two choices: you either run to it (to offer your help) or you run from it.” – Bill Wilson paraphrased