America is so often a contradiction in terms. It is a land of immigrants, for whom immigration is a contentious, sometimes even violent issue. It is a land of immense wealth and plenty, where millions of people still live in poverty. It is a land thick with shrines to liberty and dogmatic in its worship of personal choice and self-determination. Yet it is also a land where thousands of men, women, and children still live in slavery. Yes, America may be the land of the free, but it’s also the home of the slave.
Modern-day slavery is woven into the social, political, and economic fabric of the U.S. just as much as antebellum slavery was on the first Fourth of July, over 200 years ago. While the exact number of people trafficked in the U.S. is unclear, estimates indicate that around 15,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. each year, and around 100,000 Americans (mostly children) are trafficked within America.
Slavery in America affects men, women, and children. It happens in big cities and small towns, immigrant communities and native populations, middle-class neighborhoods and poor ones. In the U.S., slaves can be found in brothels, construction sites, fields, factories, private homes, strip clubs, meat processing plants, hotels and restaurants, and Internet sites. Slavery is woven through the American experience just as much as if not more than the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial or the Liberty Bell.
But America doesn’t have to be the home of the slave. It could be the country is strives to be, the country it deserves to be. It could be the land of the free. Period. But it needs one person to help make that dream a reality. And that one person is you.
This 4th of July, between the barbecues and the bathing suits, take five minutes to take action against modern day slavery in America. Sign one of Change.org’s many petitions to end human trafficking or create one of your own. You have the power to end slavery in America and around the world.
To continue in my brief tradition of quoting Fredrick Douglas on the 4th of July, “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. … This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
You cannot love freedom but not engage in agitation for social change. You cannot hate slavery but do nothing to act against it. But you can celebrate America today by changing slavery.
Photo credit: Beverly and Pack