Friday, June 18, 2010
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.