Today is the first ever UN World Day to End Human Trafficking.
In case you're not up to speed, human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It's the reason I started this blog. It's the name for millions of people each year bought and sold by other human beings for a price. Whether it's for labour, sex, organ harvesting, child soldiering, debt bondage, or any combination of reasons, our 21rst century slave trade is thriving.
As a gesture of online solidarity, people creating awareness about human trafficking, advocating for victims, or former trafficked people themselves are posting pictures of their hands cupped into heart-shapes. The hashtag is #igivehope, and we're to create a massive global thunderclap heard around the world.
I've participated in online activism before (not to be confused with slacktivism – participating online and only online to show a nominal amount of attention to any issue without really doing anything); and there have been instances where online activism has created successful awareness. Other times, not so much.
I did re-tweet and share some pics of other people holding their hearts in their hands. Yet I hesitated today about taking a picture of my hearted hand. Why? Something was bothering me.
"Another online campaign?"
"What good will this one do?"
When I clicked on the website, it said we could be a "voice for the voiceless". I guess part of my hesitation was found right there. When I first began The Underground Railroad, I used that phrase: voice for the voiceless.
It wasn't until people who knew better than me, who had survived slavery, who will always be wiser than me gently chided me: "You're not giving a voice to the voiceless. There's no such thing! Everyone already has a voice, Erin. It's just that we're not listening to them."
How could I have been so deaf?
I understand completely the intention behind the phrase; I understand the hearts and minds of those of us who have been struggling for freedom and abolition of the trade, and have seen the brothels, clubs, fields and factories; I understand that terrifying reality that too many people are dying — their voices being hushed out — because of our consumer culture.
…perhaps we have spoken too loudly in some ways. In fact I know it now. When I step back and listen for those voices supposedly 'voiceless', I hear music. Songs. Songs rising up from the underground. I hear whispers, I hear stories, I hear pleas, I hear prayers, I hear cries, I hear experiences, I hear threats, I hear… people.
It's true: there is no such thing as a voiceless person.
We can suppress these voices to the point where it seems as if they are silenced, but they are never truly silenced. It's by trusting that these voices are indeed rising up, rising from the musical whispers they are to a cacophony of freedom and transformation. In our zeal, however, some of us must put aside our voices and use our ears as the weapons of change.
I want people to know what their dollars are actually fuelling when they buy a bunch of stuff from Wal-Mart or the local dollar store. I want people to know that girls in Canada are lured into the sex trade. I want people to know that slavery doesn't exist in a vacuum; but rather it feasts on poverty, consumerism, supply and demand, displacement due to war or natural disaster, cultural norms, the porn industry, lack of education/access to education, oppression of minority groups, oppression of women and girls, and so many other things.
I want people to know!
It's not that the #igivehope is without hope or decency. I wish, though, that more of us doing the talking would be the ones doing the listening. I wish, too, that online campaigns urged more folks into tangible action. A "like" on Facebook or a re-tweet does not an activist make.
No quotations from you tonight, Henri. Tonight I want you to listen to me, both to my words and my silence. And… even if I don't post them… my heart in my hands.
Until next time,