This past Saturday, right in front of the Washington monument and several feet away from the White House, I was one of the what seemed thousands of people wearing red t-shirts with the words Stop Modern Slavery on them. The occasion was the annual Stop Modern Slavery Walk, an event organized by community volunteers of the non-profit organization DC Stop Modern Slavery (DC SMS). It was a cool and sunny day and about forty different organizations adamant about the eradication of human trafficking set up tables and were ready to inform those interested in learning about the organization or about the issue itself.
This was my first time at the walk and I was thoroughly excited about meeting and chatting with fellow activists, concerned community members, and interesting speakers. I first spent time with the team from Courtney’s House passing out information about the organization and talking to passersby. I also tried to walk around and meet representatives of the other organizations there, but unfortunately was not able to talk to everyone. Some of the organizations present included Free the Slaves, Fair Girls, Halogen TV, Save the Innocent, and iEmpathize (coming all the way from Boulder, CO). I just sincerely hope that most people who attended were not attracted solely by the sensationalist aspect of the program and truly wanted to learn how to become more involved in bringing about systematic change.
The planned program was as well-executed as such big events running solely on volunteers could be. I certainly enjoyed the musical performance by Bethany and the Guitar! I found most of the speeches educational, but the most memorable speakers for me were Barbara Amaya, Tina Frundt (founder of Courtney’s House:), and Victoria Pannell.
Barbara emphasized the need for an appropriate treatment toward survivors that does not include arrests and criminal records. In addition, referring to her personal experience with the negative impact her juvenile record has had on her life, she urged for those records to be expunged. Barbara is currently working on a memoir and more information about her quest could be found here.
Tina grabbed the attention of the audience by bringing the focus close to home and to the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking. For more on the issue, watch Lisa Ling’s “Our America” or OWN’s “3AM Girls.”
Victoria and her passionate speech (I could tell she is only thirteen!) woke up and shook people standing within at least a two-mile radius around the Washington Monument. She is collaborating with FAIR Girls on the goal to shut down the adult section of Backpage.com and her opinion about the issue, and about the buyers and sellers, was clearly expressed in her speech. The aspect of the speech that stood out the most for me was her call to put up pictures of known buyers and sellers on billboards and websites, to reward them with harsher sentences, and to refer to them by calling them what they truly are.
The walk itself was fun and we even managed to slow down traffic, pedestrian and otherwise. I guess people in DC are not as used to protesters as one of the team leaders suggested they should be. Or perhaps those who stopped to take pictures were tourists and regarded the procession of red t-shirts as simply one of the amusing quirks of big cities. Even if they were not intrigued by the purpose of the long line of walking people, I hope they stopped by and examined the works by artist Kay Chernush, founder of Artworks for Freedom. I would have liked to see some positive messages as well, but all the photographs on display along the walk seemed to have the purpose of shocking the audience into stopping and paying attention.
I am thankful for having the opportunity to be part of this event. I am also glad that the speakers’ messages were not always about the horrendous details of being trafficked; quite a few of them voiced the importance of policy changes, survivor assistance, and appropriate punishment for all those involved in the business of trafficking people.