Being an activist.

A few interesting things have happened this week. First, I watched this clip from European Affairs with Not For Sale’s Amsterdam Director Toos Heemskerg on how sex trafficking is on the rise. I immediately got distressed about all of the hard work we’ve put in over the last few months, all of the great work Not For Sale has done over the past five years, and all of the other work being done to fight slavery over the past decade, only to realize that trafficking is still on the rise. It’s a slap in the face, and it makes me wonder if this is all worth it. I never wanted to be a skeptical or cynical person, but this type of work and these statistics still make me wonder.

Then, I met someone who asked what I did, and while he didn’t respond with the first expected response of ‘well that’s not happening here,’ he did respond with the second expected response of ‘so you’re rescuing the enslaved?’ Trying to explain that that isn’t the answer is sometimes like pulling teeth.

But then I received an e-mail from Not For Sale Massachusetts on the great work they’re doing, with this quote: “Never be discouraged from being an activist because people tell you that you will not succeed. You have already succeeded if you’re out there representing truth or justice or compassion or fairness or love.” -Doris Haddock.

This fellowship has had its emotional ups and downs for everyone. We work hard. We work long hours. We don’t get paid. I continue to be questioned by outsiders and friends alike about why and how that’s possible, and sometimes I don’t feel like I have an answer. I’m still shocked when strangers react with surprise that human trafficking and slavery is a problem today. Why don’t people know? Why aren’t more people doing anything about it? When I’m reminded of the enormity of the situation and the smallness of my outreach I begin questioning everything. How can I possibly make a difference in this movement if I can’t convince this one person that even changing their shopping habits could make a difference? Can I really dedicate the rest of my life to being an activist against human trafficking when I’m constantly questioning these things? It’s at these times I have to remember this quote.

We are successful because we are out here doing what we can do. We are successful, fellows and staff included, because we are giving our time to a cause we truly care about. I think about my friends who have signed up for Free2Play, who are out rocking the NFS baseball cap, and who read the countless articles I post on facebook. I think about the other fellows who have dedicated six months of their lives to work with Not For Sale, and of a recent conversation I had with one of them when she told me that it’s changed her perspective on her future career and couldn’t imagine ever not working for a greater cause.

No one said ending slavery was going to be easy. Being an activist is a lifestyle, and not one that everyone you meet will agree with. But no matter what, this fellowship has changed us and taught us things that we didn’t know about ourselves, what we care about, and our futures. This is confirmed every time someone I meet asks me what I do – in the confidence in which I talk about the facts and how no, we aren’t rescuing girls from brothels, but going upstream to stop the root causes of trafficking in the first place. Many of us don’t know what our next step is, but when I talk to the other fellows or read their blog posts, I realize how much this fellowship has changed us – and I’m so grateful for that.

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