The following post is part 6 in a blog series following Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, in Southeast Asia on an awareness trip inspired by our current special exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Can You Walk Away?. For more information on our Emancipation 150 activities, Can You Walk Away?, and slavery in the U.S. today, please visit www.lincolncottage.org.
Today was our last full day of the trip before we begin our trek home. What a day it was. Between the museums and meetings, today has left us all emotionally drained and ready to unwind. Our first meeting was with an organization that rescues victims of human rights violations. This particular organization was started fifteen years ago, by an American man who grew up following rockstars like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln. The program has grown and now exists in many different countries all over the world. We ate lunch with members of this team, including an intern from England named Alice. After the meeting, Alice rushed up to me to say how exciting it was to meet with me. I was a little surprised, but Alice explained that she had derailed her career plans, moved to Cambodia, and started her career in human rights-all because of William Wilberforce.
I’m fairly good with English history, but it just so happens that a recent visit to the Cottage by William Hague prompted me to look up this English hero (Hague recently wrote a biography on Wilberforce). After many years of struggle, Wilberforce and his friends and fellow abolitionists were able to put an end to the English slave trade and ultimately abolished slavery in England altogether. Of particular interest to me is that Wilberforce was a household name among Americans during the nineteenth century, and both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass often acknowledged Wilberforce for his significant role in starting a movement in England that informed a similar movement in America.
Perhaps what I found even more fascinating was that through Wilberforce, my new friend Alice came to know Abraham Lincoln. It was through her love of both men that she came to this work in the modern slavery field. “It was their love for justice and their desire to truly rid the world of this evil that I admire them so. They used their power to build support for something that was sometimes unpopular but always the right thing to do.” When Alice went to Washington, DC a few years ago for her initial work training, she told me the highlight of her trip was her late night stroll to the Lincoln Memorial. She recounted sitting on the steps and looking up at the massive Lincoln. “In that moment, I felt like the job before me was too big, and that I would not be able to do justice to the movement started so long ago by my heroes. But as I walked away, Lincoln got smaller and smaller, and finally I began to see that I could be like them. I could do this, too.”
Our journey is almost over, and while I’m not sure I’ve made nearly the mark on Thailand and Cambodia that they’ve made on me, it has been an incredible trip. The trip back should give me ample opportunity to process and download the whole experience, so look for a wrap up sometime in the coming days.
In February 2012, President Lincoln’s Cottage unveiled Can You Walk Away? Modern Slavery: Human Trafficking in the United States. This special exhibit challenges perceptions of slavery in America today and raises awareness of a growing humanitarian crisis. By posing the question, “Can you walk away?” this exhibit inspires people to engage with the modern abolitionist movement and to see that slavery is an ongoing issue that requires big thinking and direction action, just as it did in Lincoln’s time. First Lady Laura Bush endorsed the exhibit, calling it “an invaluable lens through which the public can view our country’s ongoing struggle with slavery — both in the historical context and in present day trafficking. Exhibits like this are evidence of the way historic places can shape the way we live in the present.” Can You Walk Away? was created in partnership with the Polaris Project, the leading NGO in the United States fighting modern-day slavery. The exhibit is schedule to run through August 2013 in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center.
Polaris Project is a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Named after the North Star “Polaris” that guided people escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad, Polaris Project is transforming the way that individuals and communities respond to human trafficking, in the U.S. and globally. By successfully pushing for stronger federal and state laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), conducting trainings, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking, Polaris Project creates long-term solutions that move our society closer to a world without slavery. Learn more at www.polarisproject.org.
Students Opposing Slavery is a student run organization that is committed to improving the world by raising awareness for human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. For more information visit http://studentsopposingslavery.org/.