“What does the modern-day abolitionist movement need to succeed?”
This week the Fellows read ‘The Talent Code’, which analyses the notion of ‘talent’, asserting that talents can be developed through focussed, targeted, and intense practice. The reason why some people seem to develop exceptional talents, while others remain mediocre, is largely due to the fact that they commit to this ‘deep practice’ even when initial progress seems slow or non-existent.
“Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter.”
If this is indeed the case then in order for the modern-day abolitionist movement to succeed, it must be a movement led by, and comprised of, individuals who are committed to ‘deep practicing’ abolition. In the same way that a musician diligently practices specific parts of a composition repeatedly, seemingly disjointedly, and with unwavering focus until near perfection is achieved, we as a movement need to aspire to a similar approach when developing and executing strategy to end modern-day slavery.
Recently at Not For Sale I have been working with various colleagues to look at how we can best communicate the fact that, in order to end modern-day slavery, we must do more than just raise awareness. That, in actuality, awareness of the problem is just the first (albeit hugely important) step in the process of abolition. So what comes next?
Sometimes when I try to describe things in the clearest way, I produce some pretty abstract metaphors. This week is no exception, so bear with me…
I think that the future of the modern-day abolitionist movement is like a 3-speed ceiling fan:
Each of the five blades of the fan represents one of each of the sectors of society which Not For Sale broadly engages to bring change: Education, Culture, Faith, Law & Government, and Academia. The three speeds of the fan are the three stages that I believe lead to lasting change: Education, Collaboration, Innovation.
For a long-time the fan has been switched off – there has been little awareness of the problem of Human Trafficking, and no real ‘movement’ to speak of. However in the last 10 years, the fan has been switched on at speed one, with the introduction of bills such as the ‘Trafficking Victims Protection Act’, and the emergence of a variety of NGO’s and Non-Profits taking up the cause. The movement is slow as people begin to become aware that a problem even continues to exist, and education remains fairly specific to each sector of society.
At speed two, collaboration occurs as the sectors of influence begin to merge. Through the motion, it becomes harder to visually separate out the blades, and there is greater overlap between individuals who are working to educate society within their own sector. At Not For Sale, this has become increasingly more apparent as we witness various abolitionists working more closely together. For example, students who are part of the ‘Student Abolitionist Movement’ also take part in events such as ‘Freedom Sunday’ hosted by the ‘Abolitionist Faith Community’, or law enforcement officials who extend their training to include interested members of civil groups etc.
At speed three, innovation occurs – not only do the sectors of society collaborate together, they work together– sharing resources, expertise, failures, and successes. There is a true blending of sectors, where only the movement is apparent. This does however require a great level of commitment from the individual, through investment and contribution. It requires people who say ‘I am an abolitionist’ to part with their money, time, and resources – not many people care about the weekly lottery numbers unless they have actually purchased a ticket. Until people ‘buy in’ to the reality of the problem and the need for change, I believe that commitment will continue to waver. Dave Batstone recently said:
“It’s no victory to say you were right [to say that slavery is a problem and very little can be done] – there needs to be palpable change’ – We need physical and tangible solutions”
In the same way that a fan on its highest speed can effectively cause palpable change and lower the temperature of the room, I believe that a movement combining education and collaboration, to culminate in innovation that provides solutions, will result in success for the modern-day abolitionist movement.
Of course this is easier said than done. In order to progress from education to innovation, we have to become better at what we do – we have to be smarter this week than we were last week, and this requires a level of ‘deep practice’ that is uncomfortable and costly. On a day-to-day basis it can seem like we are getting nowhere or that we were are moving further away from the goal than towards it. It can be disheartening, and we can become disillusioned. But I truly believe that if we commit unwaveringly, refusing to give up even when you are ‘operating at the edges of your ability’, then the moment of breakthrough when there is a success, however small, is the gateway to a new level of talent and expertise that can drive the movement even further forwards.