Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Let Freedom Ring" indeed

As the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington yesterday, we were reminded that in the struggle for civil rights, laws changed only because people demanded that they be changed. Politicians took action because “we the people” took action first.

It was true then, and it's true now.

President Obama summed it up perfectly when he said:
“Change doesn’t come from Washington, change comes to Washington.”

It got me thinking about the time and energy we've all spent working to end human rights abuses around the world. We've enjoyed some great successes, and they've been encouraging and energizing. But just like the fight for civil righs continues, the fight for human rights continues as well.

And just like baseball is a "game of 90s," political advocacy is a game often measured and won in small, incremental successes. During the Let Freedom Ring event yesterday, one speaker after another mentioned individuals whose efforts helped ignite sparks that eventually became the fire of the civil rights movement.

The March on Washington was neither the beginning, nor the end, of the civil rights movement. But on that day, 50 years ago, change came to Washington, and Washington had no choice but to respond.

And as we continue our efforts, we ignite small sparks. Eventually, they become a fire that reaches the very doorstep of Congress and demands a response.

During his speech yesterday, former President Bill Clinton challenged the crowd to stay strong in the face of opposition and set back. If changes to the Voting Rights Act mean some people have to wait in longer lines in order to vote, then wait in longer lines - but don't give up, he said.

Similarly, as we face challenges and opposition, I hope we determine to settle in and persevere, encouraged by the victories we've already won, and energized by the knowledge that ours is a good and necessary fight.

I'm proud of all of you and the work you do. And I'm proud to be part of such a committed group of people (even though I've been somewhat 'in absentia' lately).

Keep up the great work, and thanks for indulging me and my ruminations (or 'musings' if you prefer). :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hi! Remember me?

Hey everyone.
I can't believe it's been over a year since my last update.
There have been some changes since last you heard from me.
I'm now living and working in Washington, DC, and I love being here.
I got the incredible privilege of interning at International Justice Mission, and also work there for a summer. Let me tell you, that's an incredible organization!

But, regardless of location or jobs changes, my passion remains the same - to end modern-day slavery and other human rights abuses.

With that in mind, I've got some great news to share - the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is set to be voted on Monday in the Senate! My understanding is that it will be voted on as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which means both pieces of legislation could pass simultaneously! It's very exciting and long overdue.

Please take a moment to contact your Senators and urge them to support the TVPRA. And encourage your friends and family to contact them as well.

Here's hoping we've got something to celebrate come Monday!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Tail Wagging the Dog?

This semester, I have two Political Science classes in which the same topics are often being covered at the same time. It's not intentional on the part of the professors, but it does make the conversations much more interesting. This past week, the focus has been on human rights and humanitarian aid.

The picture on the left is of a village in Darfur being burned by a group called the janjaweed - armed men whom many believe have been actively recruited by the Sudanese army to destroy the homes and lives of the people of Darfur. In one of my classes, we watched a movie called "The Devil Came on Horseback," about an American photojournalist who witnessed and documented the unspeakable atrocities committed against the Darfur people. To say the film is disturbing is an understatement.

Despite the overwhelming evidence presented by this man, and our own President's declaration that what was happening in Darfur was in fact genocide, nothing was done. We knew what was happening and let it happen.

When the movie was over, we talked, as a class, about the reasons why the U.S. didn't intervene - and has a history of non-intervention with regards to human rights. There are a lot of theoretical reasons why the U.S. doesn't do more. Most people in power believe (or claim to believe) that the U.S. shouldn't infringe on another country's sovereignty. What they do to their citizens is their business, not ours. Kind of like saying you'll try to break up a fight that happens in the street but you won't call the police if you hear a fight taking place in the house next door.

As I sat listening to all the intellectual reasons, I got angrier and angrier. Theoretical perspectives were develop to offer guidance, but they are not law. Yet so many people in class talked about these theories as though they "tie the hands" of the United States. Rather than using theory as an excuse for non-intervention, shouldn't we stop to consider that the theory is meant to serve the people - not vice versa?

At what point do we stop acting like diplomats, theorists, politicians and intellectuals and just start acting like human beings? At what point do our leaders gain the courage to say "yeah, I know this is the theory behind our non-intervention policy but people are dying and we're gonna do something about it." ?

And how do we, as citizens, facilitate that shift?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Very Long Overdue Update

Hello everyone. To those of you who are still following this blog - thank you for sticking around. I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything new.

Here's a quick update on both me and current anti-trafficking efforts.

At the end of 2010, I was accepted into the internship program at International Justice Mission. In January, I moved to Washington, D.C. and began interning with IJM's Government Relations Department. My focus was community organizing: communicating with constituents across the country (and around the world), helping prepare for our Advocacy Day in April, and managing the Michigan state campaign.

When the internship began to wind down, I was offered a summer job with the department. So I'm still in D.C., still working with IJM's Government Relations team. It's been an incredible experience! I've learned so much, I feel I don't even know where to start. I'm here until the end of August, and then I'll move back to Michigan to find a job and finish school.

That's the short version of my personal update.
Now, as to anti-trafficking news.

Many of you may already know that the Child Protection Compact Act was not passed last year. It was voted out of committee in the Senate, and put forward for a Unanimous Consent vote. Unfortunately, the bill was put on hold by a couple of Senators who had concerns about the money that would be spent to establish the programs laid out in the CPCA. IJM staff and others worked hard with those offices to try and find a solution, but they simply ran out of time. Needless to say, many of us were disappointed.

This year, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is due to be reauthorized and we are hopeful that some of the provisions from the CPCA will be rolled into it. We are expecting the bill to be introduced very soon.

In addition, tomorrow the State Department releases its annual Trafficking in Persons report. I'm excited to tell you that I will be there for the event, and live-tweeting from the IJMcampaigns Twitter account. So, if you don't already, follow IJMcampaigns and get live updates tomorrow from me!

Over the last couple of years, IJM's Government Relations team has rolled out state campaigns which are managed by local advocacy leaders. Campaigns are running in several states, including Michigan (woot!), and the leaders are making remarkable progress in raising awareness and getting others involved in advocacy efforts. If you or someone you know would like more information about a state campaign, you can email Since I'm the one who monitors that email inbox, you'll likely receive a response directly from me. :)

Our team is also working with constituents across the country to schedule in-district meetings with Members of Congress this summer. If you'd like to participate, send an email to the above address. Constituents will talk with Members and their staff about the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and the importance of fully funding the State Department's Trafficking in Persons office (which, as an aside, had its budget cut by more than 23% this year. We'd like to see the budget fully restored).

One last bit of news: check out this wonderful Op-Ed piece written by Holly Burkhalter, VP of Government Relations at IJM.

Thank you, again, to those who are still following this blog. And, again, I'm sorry there's been so little activity. I have some actual free time this summer, so you'll be hearing from me much more often. Keep up the great work, all of you! And thank you for joining the fight to end slavery!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Help Protect Kids from Slavery and Exploitation

Hi everyone.

It's been months since I posted anything. I apologize for the loooong delay. There is actually much to share, and I'll post a more complete update soon, but right now I need your help.

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you've no doubt read my posts about the
Child Protection Compact Act. This is a bill that would allocate $30 million for the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons. The money would be used to fund programs in a few key countries that have demonstrated the political will to end child trafficking.

The most exciting thing about this bill is that it's based on a program that has already been proven very effective in the Philippines.
Through a combination of police training, and strengthening of the justice system, the availability of child prostitutes decreased by 79% over four years in Cebu. Imagine how many kids could be protected from the horrors of slavery if these programs were established in other cities and countries as well!!

The bill has been introduced into both the House and the Senate, and was voted unanimously out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September.
Senator Barbara Boxer intended to submit the bill for a unanimous consent vote, but we've learned that Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina has put a hold on the bill. I don't know the specifics of his objections, but he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which means he voted in favor of the bill just a couple of months ago.

It has also been brought to my attention that there is now push-back from
Senator Tom Coburnof Oklahoma, who wants a budget offset for the funding. I'm all for fiscal responsibility (and I'm not being facetious, I mean it), but at $30 million, the CPCA costs just 27 cents per American family. 27 cents to save kids from being forced to work in brothels, brick kilns, rice mills and garment factories.

OK... that's the background information. Here's where I need some help.
f you know people in either South Carolina or Oklahoma, please encourage them to contact Senators DeMint and Coburn and ask them to support the CPCA. I've included their contact info below. In addition, if you have contacts with media outlets, student organizations or anyone else who could help us build support in these two states, please let me know that as well.

If the CPCA doesn't pass before Congress adjourns, we'll work at it again next year. A year may not seem like much but, for a kid being forced to work in a brothel, it's a long time.

Please do what you can to help us get this bill passed.
Thank you so much!

Senator Tom Coburn

Senator Jim DeMint

Friday, June 18, 2010

5 Weeks - Join the Movement

One of the first stories I ever heard about modern-day slavery involved a young girl named Manna*. She had run away from home and been befriended by a man who said he could help her. What he actually did was sell her to a brothel where she was forced to work as a prostitute.

When she was rescued by a team of International Justice Mission investigators and local law enforcement, she and the other girls from the brothel were found locked away in a sound-proof dungeon.

Think about that.

Nearly a dozen young girls locked up in a room where no one would ever have heard them yell for help.

Every week I hear stories from IJM about sucessful victim rescues, and successful arrests and prosecutions of perpetrators.

On June 28th, IJM embarks on its biggest campaign ever, aimed at raising awareness about this kind of exploitation and oppression. Fifteen ordinary people will spend 5 weeks biking along the Underground Railroad - from Mobile, AL to Buffalo, NY - on a tour aptly named 5 Weeks for Freedom. They'll travel 1,800 miles, and remind us that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

IJM's summer campaign presents unique opportunities for us to accomplish something extraordinary, too - the eradication of slavery and other forms of violent oppression. One of the most important things I've learned in the 18 months I've been involved with IJM is that our voice matters. I participated, with hesitation, in IJM's first Advocacy Day in April, 2009. I joined several others from Michigan, and our delegation met with legislative aides on Capitol Hill to talk about human trafficking and some pending anti-trafficking legislation. At the time, I wasn't sure that meeting with elected offficials would do any good.

But, to my happy surprise, the aides listened. They asked questions, took notes, and some even encouraged their bosses to co-sponsor the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). I was converted that day, and have been a passionate advocate ever since.

5 Weeks for Freedom will hold events in several cities along its route. If you live in or near one of them, plan on attending. Come enjoy live music, hear from IJM speakers, and take advantage of advocacy opportunities. Sign a postcard asking your Senator to support the CPCA. Submit an Op-Ed letter or Press Release to your local news outlets. If you live in Birmingham, AL; Columbus, OH; Louisville, KY; or Buffalo, NY, you can participate in IJM's Advocacy Training and learn how to engage your elected officials in the fight against slavery. If you're skeptical, like I was, I'd encourage you to simply invest a little time and see what happens. You might, like me, be surprised.

Individually, our voices may not accomplish much. But together, they become a collective cry that cannot be ignored. Together, we've helped encourage 8 U.S. Senators and 110 U.S. Representatives to co-sponsor the CPCA. Next, we need to encourage them to pass the bill and have it signed into law. We can, and we must, advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves. We must be the voice for people who have none; people like Manna* whose voices are stiffled and suppressed. We must bring freedom to those who can't get it on their own.

Stop Injustice: 5 Weeks For Freedom from International Justice Mission on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Appeal to Michiganders

While studying for my MacroEconomics class earlier this week, I came across a quote from economist Frederich Hayek. It made me think of the good people of Michigan:

"Society's course will be changed only by a change in ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and writers, with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail, and the politicians will follow."

In Michigan, we proven this statement to be true about a lot of things. We have consistently gotten the attention of the politicians, making sure they prioritize those things which we value most. We have debunked the myth that people are "powerless" to affect change.

This week, my classes at Oakland University are wrapping up. Two more finals, one more paper and I'm done. For eight weeks I'll have no classes, no homework, no tests. Eight weeks. It's not a lot of time, but I'm already making plans. Plans to contact Detroit city leaders and ask for their help in the fight against human trafficking. Plans to contact both state and federal legislators and ask for their support of existing and pending human trafficking laws. Plans to begin (and maybe finish?) production on a Michigan-specific video aimed at raising awareness. Plans to network, connect, and mobilize people around this well-hidden but undeniable truth: modern-day slavery exists in Michigan.

Yep. Lots of plans. And they're good plans. But here's the thing; I need your help. There is a handful of people in Michigan who have taken up this fight, but we need more. A handful of voices against this issue just isn't enough. Hayek was right, politicians will care only when we care. Holly Burkhalter, VP of Government Relations for International Justice Mission, has told me the same thing. Human rights legislation is initiated in response to society's cry for justice.

Will you become an active contributor to that collective voice? Will you help us fight for those who can't fight for themselves?

You may be asking why. "Why should I put my time and energy into defending people I don't know? We have a lot of problems in this state/country. Why pay attention to an issue like human trafficking? It doesn't really affect me."

You're right. It doesn't affect you. Not directly anyway.
I'd ask you to consider this: victims of injustice rarely have the ability to help themselves. They're violently controlled - often physically and/or emotionally abused, may not speak the language, and simply don't have access - even in America - to the systems that are meant to protect them. They're forever trapped in their lives of oppressive, abusive slavery unless someone comes along and helps.

So... will you help? There are so many simple things you can do. Write an email, make a phone call, sign a postcard. Things that take just a few minutes, or a few seconds.

Think about it. Leave a comment or email me if you'd like. I'd love to hear from you.