Freezing For Freedom From Slavery (Harvard Symposium)

Posted by James F. Smith
April 6, 2009 09:42 AM

It’s appropriate that the global anti-slavery campaign has generated renewed energy in Massachusetts, in the form of a movement of college students engaging in protests including “freeze-ins.”

The Bay State, after all, was home to William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist from Newburyport who published The Liberator in Boston starting in 1831, and two years later founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. More recently, the American Anti-Slavery Group was founded in Newton in 1993 by human rights activist and modern-day abolitionist Charles Jacobs, with support from African anti-slavery campaigners from Sudan and Mauritania, to remind Americans that slavery persists in many parts of the world — including the United States.

Now, students at Harvard and other universities are again mobilizing — and they are offering a public symposium on Tuesday night to discuss modern slavery and human trafficking in more detail. The symposium is titled, “Destination Freedom: A learning approach to human slavery/human trafficking.”

The symposium, being held from 4-9 p.m. at the Arts for Humanities Epicenter at Harvard, is sponsored by the Harvard branch of Free the Slaves; PANGEA of Tufts, a human rights group; Minga Groups, which fights sex-trafficking of teen-agers, and Human Trafficking Students of Boston alongside national organizations Free the Slaves, Love146, and The Not For Sale Campaign.

Kelli Okuji, a Harvard undergrad who is head coordinator of Harvard’s Free the Slaves branch, says the purpose of the symposium “is to continue to promote community awareness and education about modern-day slavery, while also exploring avenues of student activism and ways to bridge the communities of knowledge and practice within the Boston-area and abroad.”

She helped organize the “freeze-in” on Thursday in Cambridge, in which students freeze in position in public places for three minutes to call attention to the cause.

Okuji said the Harvard action was part of a national chain of freeze-ins at nearly two dozen college campuses nationwide, with more than 200 partipants. It was the first such national freeze-in by anti-slavery campaigners — with the Harvard students taking a leading role.

Okuji wrote: “Many people today, especially within Western societies, are unaware that slavery still exists today. At the mention of slavery, people often conjure images of black bodies in chains or stooped over cotton plants during 1860s America. What we fail to realize, however, is that slavery is within our midst wherever we go, and may even be as close as our own backyard. “
One form of modern slavery, that of women trapped into lives of forced prostitution, is known to have Boston ties. The Globe’s Ric Kahn wrote a detailed piece in 2007 about the long tentacles of sex-trafficking.

The American Anti-Slavery Group’s website, Abolish!, offers details about the many forms modern slavery takes, including debt bondage and chattel labor as well as sex-slavery and forced labor.