Facing One of the Great Moral Challenges of Our Time

Photo: John Kerry (Getty Images)

As a 21-year-old college student who’s looking to change the world, there is no better place to be than Washington D.C. Apart from the despised metro (which is always running late when you need it most), our nation’s capital is overflowing with a sense of dogged passion: an underlying force that inspires you to exceed beyond what you previously imagined. What better backdrop to set the scene for exciting new developments in the modern abolitionist movement.

On July 17th, I joined the sea of interns that rushed into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on human trafficking. Senator John Kerry, whose presidential campaign I followed back in high school, opened the session by boldly identifying human trafficking as one of the “great moral challenges of our time.” We at Free the Slaves did a silent cheer from our seats in the back row, as Senator Kerry called human trafficking what it really is: modern-day slavery.  

The infamous “s word” is one that many try to shy away from. The slavery that most know, that of the African slave trade, belongs in the past; a dark blemish in American history books rather than in headline news. This “s word” challenges our preconceived notions of morality and freedom, calling us to open our eyes to the dark reality of our globalized world. Using the term slavery and acknowledging its presence is the first step towards bringing it to an end. Seeing slavery featured by top media agencies is a testament to how far the movement has come, and a reminder of how much work we have left to do.

The heroes of modern abolitionism come in a variety of forms. There are politicos like Senators Kerry, Rubio, Durbin, and Brown who advocate for new legislation to protect victims. Or, there’s Ambassador CdeBaca, who went from prosecuting traffickers at the Justice Department to coordinating the State Department’s global efforts to end slavery. Less talked about, but just as valuable, are the corporations like Motorola and HP, who are investigating their supply chains to remove conflict minerals from their product lines.

For me, however, the stars of the movement are the young people. Like the students of Creighton University who led the campaign to have their campus designated as fair trade. Or, a high school student from Louisiana who called Free the Slaves just last week, asking me what he can do with his church community. In our hour-long conversation, he expressed me to me his disbelief that slavery still exists and his dedication to raising awareness in his hometown about the issue. It is humbling moments like these that bring me back down to earth after a busy day and make the long morning train rides worthwhile.