Natalie Warne: How Can Young People Make An Impact? At 18, Natalie Warne's work with the Invisible Children movement made her a hero for young activists. She calls on young people not to let age stop them from changing the world.

Natalie Warne: How Can Young People Make An Impact?

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So as Neil just explained, there are a lot of things that make Millennials different from the two previous generations. And one of the things he found in his research is that a lot of Millennials want to have a meaningful impact on the world around them. And the other thing, they actually like their parents, which is where Natalie Warne's story begins as told on the TED stage.


NATALIE WARNE: My mom is a strong, black woman who raised her kids to have the same sense of strength and pride. This spirit was epitomized by a single wall in our small, two bedroom apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Two pictures hung proudly - one larger-than-life photo of my siblings and I and the other, a picture of my mom at 12 years old staring into the eyes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When I was younger, I used to stand on my tippy toes, stare at that picture, close my eyes tightly and just pretend that it was me.

Now obviously, I didn't meet Dr. King, but I met a man named Dr. Vincent Harding. He worked with Dr. King from day one and even wrote some of his most iconic speeches. You see, this was a really important moment for me as a kid because it was the first time that I realized that it wasn't just Dr. King who lead this revolution, but he was surrounded by a movement made up of people who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.

RAZ: Natalie didn't actually realize how significant that moment would be in her life until she was 17, her senior year of high school when she was feeling...

WARNE: ...Really antsy and I wasn't really staying in class. And two weeks before school ended, there was an assembly.

RAZ: It was optional, but Natalie went anyway.

WARNE: Not because I thought I was going to learn anything, just 'cause I wanted to get out of class. And we sat there and there was three young people that got on stage. They couldn't have been more than 23. And they just introduced and then they said for the last 20 years, there's been a war in Central East Africa.

RAZ: And at that assembly, they showed this documentary.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, after having seen the suffering of the civilian population in northern Uganda, I'm appalled, frankly. It's a moral outrage.

RAZ: It was about children in Uganda who were being kidnapped by a warlord named Joseph Kony, and then forced to fight in his rebel army. Some of those kids as young as 9 years old.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They are seeking out children who are going to be the most moldable and the most easy to brainwash, essentially, into being a soldier.

WARNE: It just completely rocked and, like, deconstructed my world 'cause you're like, well, God, this is a million miles away, in a place I will probably never go, happening to people I will probably never meet. And, like, what can I do? And so they instantly turned it around and gave us action steps.

RAZ: They told Natalie she could raise money for the group or do simple things like spread the word online, or she could join them in San Diego at the group's headquarters. It's called Invisible Children.

WARNE: So I raised money, and in two weeks or three weeks after that, my parents and I got in a car and drove to San Diego. And they dropped me off at the Invisible Children office. And the rest is history. And I worked there and...

RAZ: So if that name, Invisible Children, sounds familiar, it's probably because you were one of the hundred million people who watched their documentary called "Kony 2012." It came out in March of that year. And it is, to this day, the fastest spreading viral video in history - not without controversy, which we'll get to in a moment. But Natalie's story happened two years before all of that because at age 17, she found her thing. She found a purpose, a cause as important to her as the Civil Rights Movement was to her mother. And her first task...


WARNE: We were going to plan an event called "The Rescue of Joseph Kony's Child Soldiers," where participants would come in a hundred cities worldwide and rally in their city center until a celebrity or a political figure came and used their voice on behalf of these child soldiers. And at that point, each city was rescued. But the catch was, we weren't leaving the cities until we were rescued. I was given Chicago and nine other cities. And I told my bosses - I was like, if we're going for big-name people, why not go for the queen bee, right? Why not go for Oprah Winfrey? They thought I was a little idealistic, but, I mean, we were trying to think big. We were doing an impossible thing, so why not try to reach more impossible things.

RAZ: And what it took - 1,152...


WARNE: ...This is the number of hours that I spent on logistics, from getting permits to rallying participants and finding venues.

RAZ: 460...


WARNE: ...This is the number of times that I was rejected by celebrities' agents or politicians' secretaries.

RAZ: $336...


WARNE: ...That is the number of - the amount of money that I spent, personally, on Red Bull and Diet Coke to stay awake during this movement. You can judge me if you want to. These were just some of the ridiculous things that we did to try and pull this event off. And so April 21 rolls around, and the event begins - a hundred cities around the world. They were beautiful. Six days later, all the cities were rescued but one - Chicago. People started coming from all over the world, all over the country to be reinforcements and join their voice with ours. And finally, on May 1, we wrapped ourselves around Oprah's studio and we got her attention.




OPRAH WINFREY: First, when I drove into the office this morning, there was a giant - when you all came in, was there a group outside?


WINFREY: Holding up signs asking if I would talk to them for just five minutes. And they are with a group called Invisible Children...

RAZ: So the engine - the energy that powered Invisible Children - Millennials. And it became one of the most powerful social movements in the past decade, founded and led mainly by teens and people in their 20s and early 30s.

WARNE: I honestly think if I did it when I was 23, I don't think I would've had the exact confidence in saying we're going to get Oprah as I did when I was 18 because I think at 18, everything was limitless and everything was possible just because I hadn't been told otherwise yet. I just thought if we work hard, something has to come from it.

RAZ: But two years later, a very generational setback - a viral video.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A video about an African warlord goes viral around the world...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The 30 minute video was posted on YouTube Monday and quickly went viral.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: The documentary has been viewed more than 74 million times on YouTube.

RAZ: So as you mentioned, Invisible Children made a video called "Kony 2012." It was a powerful documentary with the same message as the one Natalie saw in high school. And last March, it became the fastest spreading viral video in history. And that success also brought a lot of negative attention. Soon, critics were calling the group naïve and false accusations started to spread, relentless personal attacks against the group's cofounder Jason Russell. And he had a very public and embarrassing meltdown. And for thousands of volunteers like Natalie, who'd worked so hard to get publicity that was now turning into something so damaging, it was devastating.

WARNE: I had a lot of family and friends who called me and came up to me that same day, and just were really upset 'cause they thought that I had been lying to them about what we were doing. And I would constantly say, like, I will tell you anything. I'll give you the stats. I'll tell you what's going on, where the money goes. I'll tell you anything, but we just have to have a conversation.

RAZ: It's interesting because the flipside of all the optimism and all the energy and possibilities that the so-called Millennial generation have, there's also the access to feedback and comments.

WARNE: Yeah. I don't think I ever understood that to that extreme until the controversy of "Kony 2012." You know, and it's still sometimes hard to kind of grasp how just dark it all got.

RAZ: The flipside is a group of teenagers and 20-year-olds made sure that everyone in the world knew who Joseph Kony was.

WARNE: Yeah. That is the flipside. It's crazy and it worked.

RAZ: Now whatever you might think of Invisible Children, that part is undeniable. In January of this year, leaders from Invisible Children joined President Obama in the Oval Office where he signed a tough bill that includes millions of dollars to help find Joseph Kony.


WARNE: You know, the Oprah moments, they prove that the supposedly impossible can be done. They inspire us, they boost our confidence. But the moment isn't a movement. You know, for me, what kept me pushing on through the rescue was the thought of those child soldiers. It became personal to me. But that doesn't have to be what drives you. What

ever you want, chase after it with everything that you have, not because of the fame or the fortune, but solely because that's what you believe in because that's what makes your heart sing. Despite what people think, my Oprah moments, my being on TED doesn't define me because if you were to follow me home to LA, you would see me waiting tables and nannying to pay the bills as I chase after my dream of becoming a filmmaker. That's what is going to define our generation, when we start chasing and fighting after the things that we love and that we want to fight for. And believe me, when the door is closed and the cameras are off, it's tough. But if there's one thing that I want to drive home to you, one thing that I can say, not just to you, but to myself, is that it is the acts that make us extraordinary, not the Oprah moments. Thank you.


RAZ: That's Natalie Warne. She's 23 now, living in LA and working on a whole bunch of social change campaigns. Check out her full talk at More Millennials in a moment. I'm Guy Raz. It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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