Last night MSNBC aired two hour-long documentaries on slavery/human trafficking here in the United States. I watched the first one, "Slavery in the Suburbs," and wish that I didn't have a 10 p.m.ish bedtime so that I could have watched the second one, an in-depth look at modern-day slavery in Texas. Among other things, the documentary reminded me of another aspect of my mission as a writer: to make us aware of the world around us and how the way we live our lives impacts others in that world, and simultaneously restore trust and love to our hearts and minds.
If I haven't said so before, one of the greatest triumphs in my life is that I biked across the country to fight human trafficking last summer. That should be clear, since my major writing project right now is the book on the trip, 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves. You can check out my on-going blog with the same name. My main focus during the trip and now in writing the book was and is raising awareness. Too many millions of people here in the United States think that slavery is a thing of the past, something that we have conquered thoroughly, especially now after the Civil Rights Movement. Slavery happens elsewhere, we think, without stopping to realize that slavery of all forms most likely is happening right down the street from us at any given moment. Hundreds and thousands of young American girls, born and raised, are in danger of sex slavery every year--as it is, Polaris Project estimates that 100,000 Americans are forced into slavery each year (I direct you to the Polaris Project website, Polaris, for more information). That is a huge effin number for a country filled with citizens who simply can't believe such a thing possible. Indeed, the first presentation that I gave after my bike trip at a church brought forward a mother who argued with me, "There's no way there are 27 million slaves in the world. Don't you think we'd hear about it?"
Here is not the place where I will talk about slavery in our world today, I'm writing everyday in my book about it, but suffice it to say that human trafficking (an interchangeable phrase with slavery) is the fastest growing industry right now partly because of how secret it is. People who own or use slaves aren't going to come out into the open about it. But that doesn't mean that humans aren't the best drug, the best product, for one's personal pleasure imaginable: a pimp, or slave-owner of any kind, does not need to grow humans, does not need to buy humans, they just need to not get arrested. And the United States has been terminally slow in passing better and more strict laws to fight against human trafficking (the laws and response of the police make fighting human trafficking nearly impossible at times). Because of the nature of the crime, the laws in our country, and the attitudes that we wrongly hold about slavery which enable human trafficking, slavery will remain covert. Thus, awareness is the key.
Awareness is key. Believe me, some form of slavery is almost certainly occurring in your county, if not in your hometown, if not in your neighborhood. First things first, then, we need to acknowledge that fact. Essentially this means being extremely distrustful of all things and all people. I think that is a great shame, but there is no helping the inevitable. Once we know the realities of the world we live in--that our daughter could become a sex slave simply by going over to a friend's house or going out to watch a movie--we will feel the need to keep an eye out, preemptively for the sake of those we love and in order to perhaps catch human trafficking in process.
To me, though, awareness involves so much more than knowing facts and keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior. As I'll post tomorrow in my essay response to the shootings in Wisconsin and Colorado, we need to reflect on the attitudes we harbor in our society that could lead to someone's wanting to own or use a slave; we need to reflect on the attitudes that we harbor within ourselves that might lead or contribute to slavery. We cannot simply point blaming fingers every which way and refuse to acknowledge that in some way we might be part of the problem. Pornography, for instance, is not innocent at all, nor is watching pornography. The way we live our lives can also contribute to oppressive slavery without our knowing. All of this, I hope, can lead to more inward reflection. For me, awareness is essentially an act of confession. A small act of confession but an act of confession nonetheless. Becoming aware must help us grow as individuals and as a people if we ever hope to live in a better world.
Inward reflection might enable us to think less harshly and distrustfully of others, aware that the flaws and issues that other persons might exhibit can be found in our own character as well. If it doesn't, or even if it does, I cannot stand raising awareness of certain corrupt and loathsome undersides of the world around us and our own thinking and attitudes that undergird those undersides without also restoring the trust lost in the process of becoming aware. Too often I hear people use "naive" as a synonym for "trusting." I can't tell you how much that bothers me. I've told the story of the Jewish father protecting his daughter from me on a train and what that means to me, insert that story here.
Human trafficking/slavery is arguably the worst evil ever to exist, and it is unfortunately also one of the least known. So obviously I view it as my mission to make it known. But my mission of awareness extends beyond human trafficking into simply inviting deep reflection by all of us. And then, once we develop distrust of ourselves and everyone, I hope to show that the world isn't such a bad place after all. A hopeless mission, but part of my mission as a writer nonetheless.