Ben Keesey at White House

Wow. Today is a day that I will never forget. Just 48 hours ago, I got word that a Presidential signing ceremony for the Rewards for Justice bill was being considered. And just a few hours later, I was on a plane from San Diego to Washington DC to represent Invisible Children in the oval office signing event.

On the trip out here, before we were able to share the news of this event, I was thinking about how hard it is to change U.S. policy. Our democratic system, especially with the current dynamic in Congress, is at-best slow to act and at-worst, stuck in gridlock of partisan politics.

But there have been a few issues that are so well supported by people around the U.S. and so morally clear, that they keep moving forward despite the status quo in Washington. And this effort took another step forward today, when President Obama signed the Rewards for Justice Rewards Program Update and Technical Corrections Act of 2012. This bill broadens the U.S. governments ability to use monetary rewards to individuals who come forward with information that leads to the arrest of people who are indicted by international war criminal tribunals like the International Criminal Court.

We started supporting this bill shortly after it was introduced in Congress in early 2012. It was authored and supported by both Republicans and Democrats, including Ed Royce (R-CA) in the House and Senators Kerry (D-MA), Isakson (R-GA), Coons (D-DE) and Boozman (R-AR).

Through letters, emails, local lobby meetings and MOVE:DC, thousands of you helped make the passage of this bill become a reality. And the President acknowledged that personally.

I got to the White House gate with Michael Poffenberger [of Resolve] at 1:40PM. After processing through security, we entered the White House through the West Wing. Standing in the White House and waiting for the President is a surreal feeling. After greeting the leaders of six other amazing organizations that were in attendance and saying “hi” to some of the key White House officials that work on the LRA conflict, I was getting a little nervous…thinking about what I would say to President Obama if I was able to say anything during the event. And just a few minutes later while we were all in the Roosevelt Room, President Obama opened the door to the oval office and said, “Hi everybody, come on in.” After greeting the President at the door, we took our places behind his desk to watch him as he officially signed the bill into law.

Rewards for Justice signing

After he signed it, he talked to us about his commitment, and the commitment of the U.S. government as a whole, to end the atrocities of international war criminals and how this expansion of the Rewards for Justice program will be a new tool that they can use. He talked about how important the work that our organizations do to rally support in communities all over the country and said that he simply wanted to say “Thank you.”

Just a few minutes later as the short event was wrapping up, there still hadn’t been any opportunity to say anything to the President, but just as he was about to send us on our way, I was able to catch his attention and say “Mr. President, 2 1/2 years ago we stood together in this same room when you signed the LRA Disarmament Act which committed the U.S. to assist in the arrest of Joseph Kony and the end of LRA violence, and as we stand here today, I am excited to report that major progress has been made. The rate of LRA killings have decreased substantially, and the rate of defections have increased over the same period. However, on behalf of all of our supporters around the world, we ask you to follow- through and help see the top commanders arrested and the violence ended once and for all.” In response he said, “That is what we intend to do.” It was incredible.

Thank you to everyone who made their voice heard and made the signing event possible. We are changing history and showing that the world can and will be a safer, more peaceful place for invisible children everywhere, when concerned citizens rise up and stand for justice and peace.

We are doing that and we will not stop in 2013. I am honored to be on this journey with you.


Ben Keesey

Ben reflects on the signing of Rewards for Justice legislation from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.