It’s nearing midnight and the opening night of Freedom Summit 2011 has concluded, but what a fantastic start!
Beautiful music by Sara Groves, followed by a touching and informative keynote address by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and closing with the Freedom Summit conference chair Betty Ann Boeving and Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock busting human trafficking myths, the evening was a fine balance of passion, information, and vision for abolishing slavery.
But the best part of the evening was the crowd of approximately 1,700 individuals who committed to learning what they can do to fight trafficking. I’m pretty sure the Freedom Summit has to be one of the largest anti-trafficking events ever. The first Freedom Summit in 2009 surprised the organizers when over 800 people attended. When the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition and Menlo Park Presbyterian Chuch decided to take on the reins of the Freedom Summit last summer, their goal was to double the attendance, and they have clearly succeeded.
So what does it take to put something like the Freedom Summit together? Money, of course, but more importantly it takes passionate volunteers who are willing to commit days, weeks, and months to bring the event to fruition. The Freedom Summit team has been working very hard for months arranging all of the logistics, scheduling speakers, designing a conference handbook, handling registration, and more. While I was not directly involved in any of this work, I was involved in a way that allowed me to see the dedication of the team. Tonight, over 50 volunteers were on hand to make sure everything was running smoothly. Tomorrow, when the breakout sessions begin and 1,700 attendees begin to move around the Harbor Light Fremont Christian School campus, only the preparation and dedication of the volunteers will keep everything running smoothly.
My point? I am often asked how to get involved in the anti-trafficking community. What roles need to be filled to fight slavery? If I recommended getting a group of your friends together to take on the task of organizing an event for 1,700 people, it would probably not be well received. This type of work does not entail personally assisting victims or locating and arresting traffickers, and will be exhausting, draining work outside the view of the public. Yet this may be among the most valuable types of work anyone can do!
Every anti-trafficking practitioner will tell you the challenges of addressing an issue that by its very nature is hidden from view. We lament that not enough people know slavery exists in their neighborhood, they don’t know how victims can be enslaved and, if they did, they don’t know what to do next. So providing an opportunity for 1,700 people to gather, learn, and plant the seeds for future work, the organizers and volunteers of Freedom Summit 2011 will have a direct impact in rescuing trafficking victims.
Here is my personal message to everyone who is part of the Freedom Summit team: Some day soon, someone who learned something at the Freedom Summit will use that information to report a concern or suspicion to someone else, who will, in turn, rescue a trafficking victim and send a trafficker to prison. A slave will be freed because you gave your time and energy to the cause of freedom. You will deserve just as much credit as the investigator, prosecutor or victim-service provider. In fact, you may deserve more credit. Because awareness and education has to be the first step, and opportunities to learn are limited.
I applaud your passion and dedication. Thank you for sacrificing your time and energy in the cause to abolish slavery.
Lastly, a public service announcement that we have been working on for almost two years (another story, for another blog post…) is up on Youtube. Since it was just posted yesterday, it doesn’t yet appear when you search, but here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw_rl8js810
I’ll write about our plans for this PSA later.