Yesterday was my first session of the long-awaited Abolition U class offered by Doma regarding human trafficking and modern-day slavery. As an utterly brilliant introduction to the class, we took a field trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. What does the Underground-Railroad-era-of-slavery have to do with the sex-trafficking-and-forced-lobor-slavery you’ve been hearing so much recent buzz about in the movies and on CNN? Well, I was wondering the same thing. But after spending the day at the Freedom Center yesterday, I’m no longer asking that question.
To begin our tour, we went out on the balcony and looked over at the Ohio River. Our tour guide explained that this river was not just any old landform…but that because it was the border between the slave state of Kentucky and the free state of Ohio, the river became a symbol of freedom for many slaves who dared an escape attempt from the south into the north. We learned how Ohio was historically such an important crossroads for many runaway slaves, and a hotbed of controversy because its existence as a centerpiece of the Underground Railroad. There were many more amazing details I wish I could share, but you really need to go visit for yourself. The experience certainly made me understand that Ohio has long had deep roots as a symbol of freedom for many.
Fast-forward to modern-day–to my own very brief history as a fledgling abolitionist. In the past couple of years, the phrase human trafficking has come up more than once around my dinner table. It might seem to be a strange topic for table-talk, but you know that feeling when something pops up on your radar and your heart aches over it and you’re not altogether even sure why? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. We all have that thing. I started wondering if this issue of human trafficking was my thing. So I’ve watched movies. I’ve read books. I’ve reviewed countless articles and blogs and done research about organizations that try to rid the world of this sick enterprise. My heart has been stretched and seared and torn to pieces ever since the first time I really put together the statistics and stories, and understood that human trafficking (in all its hideous forms) is in fact modern-day slavery. The thing is, Ohio still plays a big role in slavery today. Unfortunately, our coin has flipped to the other side, and I’m sad to say that we can no longer really be called a free state. Why? We hold some interesting records here when it comes to modern-day slavery. Ohio has been mentioned as “a destination place for foreign-born trafficking victims” and I’ve discovered over and over how central the city of Toledo has become in the recruitment and transport of sex trafficking victims.
I really expected the Invisible exhibit, which focuses specifically on modern-day slavery, to just be a little more in-depth information about what I already knew about human trafficking. But there were so many things I heard for the very first time…things that have my head spinning about how I could potentially even be contributing to modern-day slavery. For example, I found out that a large network of slave labor in India has to do with children being forced to work in carpet mills. I’ve been looking at every inch of carpet I step on differently. I learned how certain countries in the world are known for multiple and
consistent constant reports of verified slave labor associated with common products like cotton. I checked the tags in some of my shirts. Wouldn’t you know it?? My cotton came from the #1 offender. What do you think is the likelihood that I just happened to purchase a slave-free tee shirt? Hmmmm…
I’m looking at the world differently, and there’s no doubt that this is just the beginning of adjusting my lenses around this topic. My question to you is…whose right is it to be free? I don’t think there are many folks out there who wouldn’t agree that it is the right of every human being to be free. But if we are aware of so many out there whose freedom is taken from them in a multitude of ways every day and we do nothing about it, haven’t we, in effect, become slave owners, as we’ve silently kept someone’s freedom from them?
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