We need each other.
"It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake."
- Frederick Douglass
A few days ago, I presented for the first time at my new university, the University of Nottingham. The Slavery-Free Communities project of The Rights Lab hosted it's first conference to reveal a report co-authored with the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The report maps and describes 'anti-slavery partnerships in the U.K.'
I started my presentation with quotes from two survivors. The one above, and this one: "There's a feeling of empowerment. And that comes from being with other survivors, but it's also the process itself, and the fact that the Task Force is being analyzed, I find that really empowering and important."
With a presentation all about partnering with survivors, it seemed appropriate to start with these two quotes. I wanted to answer the "So What?" question right off the bat. So what? Why does it matter that we partner with survivors? The academic and professional answer I gave is that our interventions and anti-slavery solutions will be more relevant and effective. A slightly more personal answer that I also gave is that survivors in our partnerships indicated that having their voices present in any anti-slavery and anti-trafficking solution is their number one priority. In addition, as the quote above indicates, the process of participating can be empowering and important for the survivor.
I want to offer a third answer. I call this the 'love answer'. The reason why it is important to partner with survivors is because survivors are at the heart of why any anti-slavery partnership exists. It's a simple answer and one that a couple other presenters echoed. Behind the numbers, the interventions we are designing, the policies we want to change are real human lives.
Survivors are among us. They are your neighbors, colleagues, strangers on the tube, and/or your barista. I'm not talking about people who are enslaved that are right under our noses. I'm talking about people who have freed themselves without the anti-slavery movement, as well as the people who are currently supported by anti-slavery organizations. Survivors are in our communities. They are not 'out there'.
If our anti-slavery partnerships are succeeding, more and more survivors will be among us. I urged us to start imagining that there are always survivors in the room, and if they aren't, I reckon that we invite them. Throughout the conference, it was clear that most anti-slavery partnerships do not include survivors as key stakeholders. And yet, are we not the primary stakeholders?
I raise this issue with no anger or animosity. I feel a renewed energy to bridge the gap between survivors and the broader anti-slavery movement.
We need each other.
Many survivors came before me and relentlessly advocated for survivor voice and leadership. They helped pave the way for my research and advocacy. Though I've been engaged in this work for some time, this conference was a new start for me.
We need each other. Survivors and non-survivors - we need to pave the way together.