“Learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.”
A few weeks ago, I was explaining the Underground Railroad to a group of 4th grade boys in my small reading group at the Horizons summer program. As I answered their questions about slave catchers and told them about clandestine meetings in hidden rooms, I couldn’t get it out of my head that those boys, if we had lived just 200 years earlier, would have been enslaved themselves. And I, as a white Northerner, would have had the responsibility to choose how I would have reacted.
After all, it was ordinary people who chose to hunt down humans and return them to slavery in return for a payoff. But it was also ordinary people who chose to harbor fugitive slaves in their homes, no matter the cost.
I wondered what I would have done if I lived then. Would I have welcomed runaways in my house at my own risk? Or would I have turned a blind eye to the whole issue? Would I have kept quiet, afraid of being seen as a nuisance and a radical? Would I have accepted and benefited from a culture that thrived through slave labor?
In the world today, there are an estimated 20,900,000 people enslaved worldwide. Some are tricked into slavery by offers of legitimate work. Others are sold by family members to pay off debts. Others are born into a culture of oppression and exploitation.
And those of us with the privilege of freedom have a choice to make. Will we be complacent in the face of what we are learning about the global issue of slavery, or will we take a stand for those who can’t?
Here is four ways that you can be an abolitionist today:
1. Be informed. There’s an exciting and growing movement to end human trafficking and slavery. The following is just a tiny sampling of the organizations devoted to that cause.
The Polaris Project is a national organization that focuses on getting help to victims of trafficking and pushing for stronger state and national legislature to help uncover and combat human trafficking.
International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that focuses on finding, caring for, and bringing justice to victims of exploitation and oppression.
Love 146 seeks to expose the exploitation of children, bring the perpetrators to justice, and care for the survivors.
End Slavery Now is devoted to bringing resources to abolitionists and educating citizens to recognize the signs of forced labor.
Not for Sale seeks to abolish forced labor by providing support centers to at risk areas, supplying job training, and evaluating supply chains to see what brands are addressing slave labor and which brands are not through the project Free2Work.
2. Vote with your money. Every time we make a purchase, we are voting for the kind of world that we want to live in. The sad truth is that much of what is sold commercially in the US is touched at some point by slavery and exploitation.
Research the supply chain of your favorite companies through organizations such as Free2Work and Slavery Footprint. When possible, choose companies that are making an effort to know their supply chain and support fair working and living conditions. Look for products that are fair trade.
Buy thrift and vintage. By purchasing used clothing and goods, you can still get bargains while cutting down on the demand for the manufacture of cheaply made goods (which are more likely to involve slave labor).
3. Speak out. Talk about modern slavery. Write to your representatives about legislation that needs to be passed to protect the vulnerable among us. Use social media to spread the word. Don’t be silent.
4. Pray. Slavery in the world today can seem overwhelming. If the numbers alone aren’t discouraging enough, because slavery today isn’t carried out in plain sight, but in the darkened corners of cities and remote places of the countryside, just uncovering centers of exploitation is half the battle. But we have a God who is bigger than the sinful and corrupt things of this world. If you do nothing else after reading this, pray that those who are fighting this injustice will be empowered and that those who are perpetuating will be convicted.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
I’m not so naive to think that I will end slavery from my living room, but when history recounts this abolitionist movement, I want to be able to say that we did not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters suffered.