Posted by: Michael D. Austin | October 14, 2009

2009 Freedom Awards – Slavery is Alive

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Isabel Allende, freedom fighter

Isabel Allende, freedom fighter

Because it blindsided my insulated view of the world and expanded my field of sight, The 2009 Freedom Awards got my attention about the fact that large-scale slavery exists as this is being written. Even in the United States. Boom. There it is, right between the eyes. About this notion you might want to read Free the Slaves’ page titled, “Slavery Today.” You could also glance at Free the Slaves’ map. The darkly humorous throwaway line used in jest when talking with your boss about overtime, “Don’t you know they already freed the slaves?,” now has new meaning for me.

Since I’m friends with someone who performed at the event, I expected I’d be attending the The 2009 Freedom Awards ceremonies as an interested audience member instead of media rep. The Freedom Awards were streamed live and you can see some back story at Peggy Callahan’s Huffington Post feature. I surmised that I’d find a well-organized, thoughtful group of people celebrating their successes and tragedies in a cause dear to their hearts, but that I’d come home unaffected. I’ve done more than my share of professional fund raising and I thought my Heart of causes was ‘spoken for.’

Carla Gugino at the 2009 Freedom Awards. Picture Kristen Noseda/LE/Splash News Content ©2009

Carla Gugino at the 2009 Freedom Awards. Picture Kristen Noseda/LE/Splash News Content ©2009

So like a thorough reporter, I always do homework before I attend anything and I even listened to an NPR interview of Free the Slaves co-founder Kevin Bales. I found his interview to be educated, thoughtful and interesting. I take comfort and pride in being someone who, when they show up for anything, is confident they’ve enlisted into a cause which is all-encompassing and unavoidable.

I saw the list of notables presenting and attending included Ashton Kutcher, Camilla Belle, Carla Gugino, Demi Moore, Isabel Allende, Rickie Byars Beckwith, Tom Shadyac and the Agape International Choir. I’ve talked with celebrities before and always found them to first be people who are interesting or pleasant. But although I knew both celebrities and media alike would attend, I wasn’t expecting to have any life-altering discussions or experiences.

It seems I might have been mistaken. This began to dawn over me as I watched, with the audience, some of the videoed presentations of former slaves who were liberated. They were often tortured and always threatened before they walked free. A few were present. The vids also showed slaves who haven’t been freed. Norman Jean Roy, Given Kachepa and many others with beating hearts and soul-lit eyes spoke their truth about what it was like to be enslaved. Here and now, in our life and times. This got my undivided attention and that’s difficult although I’ve overcome most of my blonde DNA.

Think for a moment about that. I don’t have to explain what it would mean because you’ve your own imagination.

E. Benjamin Skinner, author of 'A Crime So Monstrous'

E. Benjamin Skinner, author of 'A Crime So Monstrous'

Several turnings pointed me toward my options and prospective actions. First, how and what E. Benjamin Skinner said from the stage about his work and his meeting with a 17-year-old woman he couldn’t save. Ben is author of A Crime So Monstrous and a Fellow with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Ben is clearly impassioned and on a lifelong mission. And if there’s one thing that always gets my attention, it’s someone articulate who knows what they’re talking about who brings their Heart to their work. Then, talking with him a little about his experience and work propped open the door to my soul, so I could actually absorb what had gone on at the The 2009 Freedom Awards.

Next, in thanking Kevin Bales for the evening and talking about Blue Planet Almanac, I asked who else I might touch base with in that moment. He suggested Siddarth Kara. Siddarth is at once intense, brilliant and laser focused on his task at hand, uncovering the economic policies which encourage slavery with the assistance of his book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

Of all the things I could imagine to make the Earth a better place, abolishing slavery wasn’t even on my radar until last night. Now I have to decide what I can do about it. My thanks to the real heroines and heroes of the evening; all the slaves, freed or not, who have their stories to tell. I hope we’re able to talk as free souls, because last night I couldn’t look all of you in the eye until I make ready.


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