I’d like to introduce you to five of the most passionate people I know. They are the Free the Slaves country directors – our key front line activists. They supervise our organization’s fieldwork in the world’s worst slavery hotspots.

Why do these courageous staffers risk their safety to confront slavery in the remote, impoverished communities where traffickers prey? One word: freedom. They believe everyone has a right to it. Period.

Their passion for freedom is the focus of our newest Free the Slaves video. It features extraordinary photography, and stories that come from the heart.

As the year begins to draw to a close, it’s natural to reflect on the people and events for which we’re grateful. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with our talented, resourceful and dedicated country directors. They are on the ground every day, helping to free slaves, support survivors and prevent slavery – working with local activists, government officials and law enforcement officers to eradicate trafficking. Without them, Free the Slaves could not achieve what it does. They are bringing an end to slavery.

I am also grateful for supporters like you, who generously donate time and funds to ensure that our country teams can operate. Your ongoing contributions help ensure that no person is left in bondage.

I am constantly amazed by the strength and infectious optimism of our country directors, and I know you will be too. Please watch their video. Then, if you haven’t already renewed your contribution for 2013, please take a moment to do so. You can donate directly from our YouTube channel page.

As Ghana Country Director Joha Braimah says: “I believe slavery can be ended in my lifetime, and in most people’s lifetime, if only we put our mind to it and commit to this cause.”

There was a surprise open to trading today at the New York Stock Exchange. Observers had expected the founders and CEO of Twitter to ring the opening bell, which is stock market tradition when a major corporation marks the first day that its stock becomes available to the public.

Instead, a young California girl named Vivienne Harr did the honors. Vivienne has raised more than $100,000 by selling lemonade, and she’s contributed the funds to groups that fight modern-day slavery, including Free the Slaves. Vivienne credits Twitter for much of her success.

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Vivienne Harr rings today’s opening bell | NYSE photo

“Today I rang the bell for twitter’s IPO! It was a ring for hope and freedom!,” Vivienne tweeted this morning. “I hope the whole entire world heard it, because now you don’t have to be big or powerful to change the world, you can be just like me. Find your voice, make a stand!”

Today’s Business Insider reports that Vivienne was chosen from more than 200 million Twitter users because “Twitter’s executives wanted to show appreciation for the social network’s users.”

Congratulations to Vivienne! It’s an impressive recognition of truly remarkable achievement.

Vivienne isn’t done fighting slavery. Her family has launched the Make a Stand Lemon-aid bottling company, and they plan to share profits with FTS and other organizations in the future.

12_Years_a_Slave_film_posterMillions of Americans will soon see the poignant story of a man who was ripped from his family in the 1800s and brutalized by a vicious slaveholder before finally breaking free. It’s important to remember that the events depicted in 12 Years a Slave are still happening today.

Slavery didn’t end with the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. It was outlawed, but not ended. There are 21-30 million people trapped in various forms of modern slavery around the world today, about 60,000 of them right here in the United States. Human trafficking is the modern-day slave trade.

If you see the film 12 Years a Slave, as the closing credits roll and you’re walking out of the theater, please remember that today’s slavery victims need a helping hand just as Solomon Northup did more than a century ago.

The movie is based on a real story. Northup was a literate, free African-American living in upstate New York. He was tricked by a slaver who had promised good work, then kidnapped and trafficked to the South. Northup returned to freedom with the assistance of anti-slavery activists who helped his family assert his legal rights.

Anti-slavery groups like Free the Slaves are doing the same thing today. There are millions of impoverished men, women and children who are easy prey for traffickers. They take risks that frequently lead to enslavement: such as traveling far from home to find a job, or borrowing money for a family emergency and promising to work the loan off at a farm, mine, brick kiln, logging camp or factory.

12-Years-a-Slave-book-coverAlthough slavery is illegal everywhere today, many in slavery do not know how to stand up for their rights. With community awareness and organizing projects, vulnerable villagers can break free, stay free, and prevent others from falling into slavery in the future. The Free the Slaves model of building community resistance to slavery is succeeding in some of the world’s hottest hotspots for trafficking: Haiti, India, Nepal, Ghana, Congo and Brazil. You can see how our programs work on the frontline partners page of the Free the Slaves website.

The resonance of 12 Years a Slave is that Northop went on to write his own story when he returned to freedom. His book became a bestseller in 1853, and helped build the case for abolition. It proved that the fictional depiction of southern slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was accurate.

Frederick Douglass said this about 12 Years A Slave: “Its truth is far greater than fiction.” (Historical footnote: Northup’s manuscript was actually lost, until it was recovered by historian Sue Eakin.)

Today, slavery survivors are also at the forefront of the modern abolition movement. You can read interview transcripts with modern slavery survivors, and watch videos about survivors who have become anti-slavery activists, on the Free the Slaves website.

If you’re not a movie-watching type, you can download the audiobook of 12 Years a Slave, narrated by Louis Gossett Jr. Free the Slaves receives 20 percent of the proceeds from audio book downloads.

If you see the 12 Years a Slave movie, or listen to the audio book, complete the experience by making a commitment to do something. Help us finish what Solomon Northup, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of the 1800s started. Let’s actually end slavery. Finally. Forever. For everyone, everywhere.

unbound 2013 promo photoIMPORTANT UPDATE: the October 5th UNBOUND event in Washington has been moved to Lincoln’s Cottage because of the federal government shutdown. You must be pre-registered and bring ID. 

Free the Slaves will be staffing an info table at the 5th annual UNBOUND event in Washington this weekend. The walk and rally provide a platform for organizations to unify the anti-slavery movement.

The rally includes a walk around the Washington Monument, live music and speakers, and a fair with dozens of anti-trafficking organizations, including FTS.

Volunteers of DC Stop Modern Slavery have organized this event to bring together a community of organizations and members who are all passionate about the fight to end human trafficking. UNBOUND, formerly called the Stop Modern Slavery Walk, has previously brought together more than 2,000 participants for the cause, making it one of the largest walk events in the U.S.

Last year’s walk raised nearly $100,000 for the anti-slavery movement. The event is a fundraiser for 10 anti-human trafficking organizations to provide direct services for victims and survivors of slavery.

The walk will take place at the Washington Monument on Saturday, October 5th at 10 a.m. To register for the walk, or for more information on the event, click here.

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg is interviewed for the film Stand With Me.

What do you get when you combine the world-class photography of Lisa Kristine, the innovative frontline anti-slavery projects of Free the Slaves, and a vivacious 9-year-old California girl who has decided she wants to help end child slavery?

You get a powerful feature-length documentary to spread the message that slavery still exists but can be overcome.

The film is called “#standwithme.” It chronicles how artistry and activism can build bridges to freedom for millions trapped in slavery around the world. The film is currently being shot by Portland, Oregon-based Stillmotion, and it’s expected to be released in 2014.

It will tell the story of Lisa Kristine’s heart-stopping photographs of slavery hotspots where Free the Slaves works. (Purchase Lisa’s prints and book here – proceeds benefit Free the Slaves.)

A California family saw Lisa’s slavery photos in her gallery – and decided to snap into action. Vivienne Harr raised thousands of dollars for the anti-slavery movement by selling lemonade. Her family has started bottling the recipe and selling it online and in small grocery stores.  Free the Slaves is one of several organizations that will benefit from Make A Stand Lemon-Aid sales.

The Stillmotion team was in Washington this week to film an extended interview with our executive director, Maurice Middleberg. They’ll be heading to the frontlines of slavery soon to photograph how the Free the Slaves model helps people break free and stay free.

Stay tuned – we’ll keep you posted when the film is ready!