Two years ago, President Barack Obama delivered the longest presidential speech on slavery since Abraham Lincoln. In his address to the Clinton Global Initiative he committed to three steps to strengthen the fight against human trafficking.
First, he promised to increase awareness by training teachers, police officers, and transportation inspectors to be better equipped to handle trafficking victims. Second, he vowed to use technology and the Internet to stop the predation by traffickers. Third, he signed an executive order to prohibit federal procurement of goods or services that are rooted in slavery.
This week, during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the White House unveiled specific plans for the protection trafficking victims and survivors. It’s called the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.
Because modern-day slavery touches all corners of the world, a combative strategic plan was needed, according to Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz. She says the White House plan includes services that are “comprehensive, trauma-informed, and responsive to the needs of all victims, regardless of the type of trafficking they endured or immigration status.”
The administration is also focusing efforts on increasing the federal government’s capacity to identify trafficking victims and to help them “recover and rebuild their lives.” Slavery survivors assisted in the plan’s development.
Last Saturday, I was standing on hallowed ground. As I rose to speak to hundreds of people gathered for a benefit concert at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, I had to take a deep breath. That’s because on that very spot, 150 years ago, anti-slavery activists were attending the funeral of one my wife’s ancestors, the noted abolitionist and congressman, Owen Lovejoy.
I knew that my words could never be as powerful as the eulogy delivered in 1864 by Plymouth Church’s founder, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
“Owen Lovejoy was evidence that a man might become heroic,” the New York Times quoted Rev. Beecher as saying about Lovejoy and his dedication to ending slavery. “He was built broad and square and healthy and resolute, fitted to fight this battle.”
As I stood where Rev. Beecher had, I noted that our movement today is just as strong, just as resolute. My words stressed our connections to the past, and commitment to finish the job that our predecessors had started.
Saturday’s concert was an extraordinary combination of reflection, song and prayer, thanks to the kindness of Plymouth Church, which put on the benefit concert for Free the Slaves, and the Brooklyn Historical Society, which organized a panel on modern day slavery the night before.
Plymouth Church was founded in 1847 by Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most prominent abolitionists of the pre-Civil War era. The fight against slavery was, in fact, a family cause. Henry’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His brother, Edward, was a leader of the abolitionist movement in Illinois, where he worked closely with another famous set of abolitionist brothers – Owen, Elijah and John Lovejoy. Owen Lovejoy was Abraham Lincoln’s closest friend in Congress. Edward Beecher was a staunch defender of Elijah Lovejoy, who was eventually murdered by a mob for publishing an abolitionist newspaper.
Plymouth Church was a key link in the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln attended Plymouth Church in 1860, the day before he gave an anti-slavery speech in Manhattan that helped secure his Republican Party nomination for the presidential election. It was thrill to sit briefly in the Abraham Lincoln pew at Plymouth Church!
On Friday evening, the Brooklyn Historical Society, which has mounted a wonderful exhibit on slavery and abolitionism in Brooklyn, hosted a panel on modern-day slavery. Dr. Timothy McCarthy, a well-known historian of social movements who is on the Harvard University faculty and the FTS board, gave an erudite and passionate talk on the lessons that modern abolitionists can draw from the antebellum abolitionist movement. Tina Frundt, founder and executive director of Courtney’s House, gave a moving presentation on her experience as a slavery survivor. I had the opportunity to speak about the lessons we have learned at Free the Slaves about combating modern day slavery. Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York, moderated the panel. More than 125 people came to the session and engaged the panel in a lively discussion.
The following evening, Plymouth Church hosted the concert. The truly incredible line-up of performers consisted of The Inspirational Voices of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, and The Impressions. The people who braved a stormy night to attend received a rare treat. There is no way for me to capture the beauty and power of the singing. All I can really share is that the entire evening was a deeply moving and captivating experience. We are so grateful to Plymouth Church, the organizers and the performers for a truly unforgettable experience.
Haiti’s devastating earthquake hit on January 12, 2010. It affected everyone in Haiti, and continues to affect those who lost friends and family as well as homes and businesses.
While significant money and effort have been marshaled to rebuild, much remains to be done. Solving one of Haiti’s most important human rights challenges must remain a priority. Impoverished families are vulnerable to child slavery.
The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index lists Haiti as the world’s second-worst spot for slavery prevalence, with more than 200,000 people enslaved today. Most are children sent from poor homes to wealthier ones to work as “restavek” domestic servants.
FTS has been working with our Haitian front line partner organization, Fondasyon Limye Lavi (FLL), to combat the deeply-entrenched restavek system. When the quake hit, we supported the deployment of a team to train humanitarian workers on how to recognize victims of restavek slavery during the family reunification process. This has kept many children from entering or re-entering domestic slavery.
Since the earthquake, FTS and FLL have worked to empower rural communities to bring restavek children home to their families, provide them with aftercare and education, and prevent many more from entering into domestic slavery.
On this anniversary, it’s important to reflect that while progress has been made on restavek slavery, much more is needed.
Two-thirds of restavek children are girls, and passage of an International Violence Against Women Act in the U.S. Congress would focus resources and programs on preventing violence before it starts as well as addressing existing cases, according to our colleagues at Women Thrive.
As well, they say, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s resolution on reducing gender-based violence could have a significant impact in Haiti.
Editor’s note: Christy Gillmore is Free the Slaves program manager for Haiti. Learn more about our work in Haiti on the FTS Haiti webpage.
TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE SATURDAY, JANUARY 11: Plymouth Church will be hosting a benefit concert for Free the Slaves. Join an all-star lineup, including The Impressions, Naomi Shelton, members of The Dap-Kings, The Gospel Queens and the Inspirational Voices of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Plymouth Church has a long history of involvement in the abolition and civil rights movements. It was once known as “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln attended service there. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached there. The historic venue will again be filled with the sounds of freedom at the Let Freedom Ring concert.
This year brings a remarkable opportunity to a country that has been gripped by conflict for decades. With the M23 rebels vanquished, slavery can become a new focus for building lasting peace and prosperity for all in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
I was in Goma late last year at the end of the M23 rebellion. For the first time in my many trips there, I could feel the climate of tension melting away. The Congolese army, supported by the U.N. intervention brigade, marched on rebel strongholds and successfully retook town after town. The stealth victory has boosted Congolese patriotism.
Many Congolese have renewed faith in their army and they have been calling for sweeping action to crush all of the armed groups that have mushroomed in eastern Congo. But the cornerstones for lasting peace require more than battlefield success. Peace can only be sustained through development and accountability.
Congo remains one of the world’s worst slavery hotspots, with more than 460,000 people estimated to be in slavery according to the Walk Free Global Slavery Index. Much of this slavery has been linked to so-called “conflict-minerals,” which are valuable metals mined by slaves to support armed groups. Free the Slaves research last year documented this widespread slavery in two reports, Congo’s Mining Slaves and Wives in Slavery.
The end of major military action provides a chance to confront slavery in Congo’s post-conflict zones. With the shift of paradigm, Congolese officials at the national and provincial levels will be held accountable for the development and welfare of their citizens.
Addressing the root causes that make people vulnerable to slavery in the DRC — such as poverty, underdevelopment, youth unemployment and gender-based violence – are cornerstones for security and economic development.
It will take time to end slavery in the Congo, just as it has taken time to vanquish the country’s main rebel group. But as we begin 2014, I am optimistic. The Congolese government has an unprecedented opportunity to muster support for decisive action to combat slavery, reducing one of the region’s most widespread human rights violations.
Gabriel Deussom is the Free the Slaves Congo program manager. For more info on our programs in the Congo, see our Congo webpage.