Today, January the 11th
To me, that word – slavery – always sounds unreal, like something peeled from another age.
Sounds ripped right out of the history books, doesn’t it? That word harkens us back to a dark but bygone chapter in our country’s history, to the unenlightened age of whips, seasoned slave ships, and chain-clad men and women.
But the beauty of hearing that musty word is that (despite a vague sense of white guilt) we can at least celebrate the good news that slavery is but a thing of the past! We can cheerfully agree that Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln and the rest of those noble folks went ahead and put an end to it sometime back in the eighteen somethings.
Nothing like that could exist in America today (or so I thought for many years).
Sadly, this is not the case. The time has come for us to begin to recognize this fact.
Today, January the 11th, is national human trafficking awareness day.
Human trafficking is just another name for that age-old evil: the trade and sale of human beings as property. Slavery, the exploitation of vulnerability. Ugh. Trafficking is just that same. old. story. – the powerful taking advantage of the defenseless.
And today, trafficking takes many, many forms – it happens in brothels and on street corners, in massage parlors and in stone quarries, in sweatshops and in suburban homes, on plantations and in prisons. Human trafficking happens in places like India and Southeast Asia and Mexico and in places like New York City and Glenview, IL.
Slavery still exists with spectacular regularity: there are more slaves in the world today than there were during three centuries of the transatlantic slave trade. Some 30 million people across the globe woke up this morning and will go to sleep tonight knowing nothing but a life of bleak desperation.
So slavery is still huge. But what can we do about it?
It’s funny, but even asking that question is a huge gain for the cause. The abolitionists of old, folks like Harriet Tubman and William Wilberforce, in many ways they had a much harder task at hand. Today, most every human being knows, deep in their bones, that other human beings should not be for sale.
Not so back in the day.
Human trafficking was something your average American actually thought was okay.
Scripture was being used to justify the institution of slavery.
Science was being co-opted to unilaterally restrict certain racial groups from pursuing their God-given destinies.
People, otherwise good and ordinary people, were actually arguing that slavery was not so bad.
See today, we need to convince very few people that a woman being held against her will for the purpose of rape is not an acceptable practice.
Today, we do not need to sway people with impassioned pleas that children around the world should not be forced to cut limestone instead of attend school.
More and more people have come to recognize a deep truth the abolitionists of old knew all along: slavery is bullshit. People should not be property.
Thanks to their efforts, today’s aspiring abolitionists – folks like ourselves – we don’t need to tell people that trafficking is bad. People know it’s bad. All we have to do is expose it wherever it exists. We have a much easier task.
Here are 5 simple, practical ways to fight human trafficking with your everyday life choices:
- Smart consumerism is one of the most effective forms of activism available to us. I once heard a speaker talk on how to begin to live the compassionate, charitable lives that we all desire. He said that justice is something that must start in your proximity, that living a just life begins with your most basic purchasing decisions. Do you want to live a moral life? Start by clothing yourself with righteousness, by drinking justice, by not treading on other peoples’ dreams with your shoes. Our clothing, technology, and beverage choices should never come at the cost of stripping another person of their human dignity.
Here is a link to the extremely comprehensive Apparel Industry Trends 2012 report, which meticulously documents and rates many clothing companies on, basically, whether they use slaves to make their products. Take 5 minutes and look up your favorite clothing store. If they don’t stack up, find a new one. The dollar is a powerful thing. I’m not talking about a complete overhaul of your financial life. What I’m talking about is a series of small adjustments to your purchasing decisions that will have enormous ripple effects on the downtrodden and the impoverished here and abroad. This site is another great resource to research some of your favorite companies. Although it’s not a perfect system, but buying fair trade does matter, and it does work. It costs more? That’s because the people who make your product aren’t slaves.
- Pornography and prostitution fuel sex trafficking. Rise above them. This is a tough one, and probably the most controversial so I will speak not in broad terms, but from personal experience. Guys, when we foster lust and corruption in our own hearts, that poison spills out onto our keyboards and smartphones and across cities and continents and strips women of their worth. When we indulge in pornography, we are essentially telling companies (and traffickers) that women are mere objects to be used to fulfill our carnal desires; we directly feed into the notion that women are not to be treated as human beings. I hate sex trafficking. And I hate even more that I contribute to a vicious cycle of violence against women that says women exist to be debased by men. Pornography breeds in us, in its victims, and in traffickers the idea that women are subhuman. No wonder this leads to trafficking: everybody’s comfortable selling objects or animals.
- Shed some light. Activism is every day. Speak up. Do your research and shed some light on the issue. Like we discussed above, slavery is not something you need to convince people is bad. All you need to convince people of is that a) it still exists and b) that we can actually end it in our generation. These are both true. A good place to start is throwing up a cover photo, writing a blog post, reading articles, talking (incessantly) to your friends and family about the latest trafficking news. I know this may sound like slacktivism, but I believe this is the beginning of a huge process of personal transformation and a very important place to start to challenge your own behavior.
- Prayer. I think this speaks for itself, so I won’t dwell for too long, but I want to address the complaint I feel growling around in some of my more secular readers’ hearts. I believe in God and strongly believe in the power of prayer. But do not mistake this for a fruitless exercise, for an excuse to ignore actual action. For what I have found is that prayer is not just about us trying to get God to do what we want Him to do; it is as much about God getting us to do what He wants us to do. Prayer is about aligning our hearts with God’s, and learning how to best live His justice. As a Christian, I follow He who came to “set the captives free,”Jesus, the original abolitionist. Justice was on God’s heart before it was ever on ours. So pray daily and deeply, every time you think of it, for God to free a slave in your city, in your country, in your world. Ask Him to move mountains, and be ready if He asks you to pick up a shovel yourself.
- Advocate locally for the oppressed, underrepresented, and marginalized. This is what it means to fight the causes that lead to trafficking. Do you have a voice in your community? Speak up for she who has none. If you attend school where I do, there are a plethora of opportunities to get involved, to get your hands dirty. Some friends and I recently founded a student organization to activate against human trafficking and are looking for members. I work at a local refugee and immigrants’ rights center that is always looking for new volunteers. Many local churches need volunteers to serve in their homeless ministries. Fighting trafficking means both tackling the root problem of poverty and opening yourself up to the experience of the other, stepping out of your comfort zone in so doing. These are just a few practical ways to begin breaking out of our own cultural narratives and in to the reality of daily life for the vulnerable and impoverished. Human empathy is central to fighting trafficking, so practice it, and preach freedom wherever you find yourself. Get to know some tired faces and get used to them for we do not seek to liberate featureless masses, but men, women, and children with real names and faces.
Every one of these steps has one thing in common: it starts with you. So we are faced with a choice: do we choose the way of life or the way of death? Do we open our hearts to the cry of the slave and begin to implement little things in our lives that will plant the seeds for their freedom? Or perhaps we are content to harden our hearts, put our fingers in our ears, and feign ignorance.
The choice is each of ours to make.
But as for me and mine, today, January the 11th, I fight for the lost.
I know I’m missing some things. What are some ways that you have been able to begin to live a more just life? How have you been able to start to fight human trafficking with your everyday decisions?
(The painting at the top of the post was masterfully crafted by a local artist. I have been given permission to share it here).