So I gave a lil speech at the Stop the Traffik event we had in the Mandela Hall with thanks to a wonderful team of student types, some great friends who mucked in and the delightful Juliet Turner...and wanted to expand on the thought a little bit. I was moderately encouraged recently while talking to a friend, who is growing dearer to me by the day, that blogging wasn't a complete waste of time...
Human trafficking is a global problem. The fastest growing form of illegal trade, the disturbingly simple laws of supply and demand see 2.4 million people, 1.2 million children, sold every year. There is a demand for children. What a horrendous sentence. As can be seen from my previous piece on the stop the traffik campaign, the idea of people being bought, being sold and being OWNED is what knocks the wind out of me. I spent my Easter Sunday largely entertaining two of my little cousins and one of their friends...I had a ball with these three little girls, listening to tales of their horse riding lessons, pulling faces and talking nonsense to make them laugh...their lives are so precious, so utterly priceless. I haven't been on the best form of late as life seems to be going through a colourless phase but spending that day with my family was the first time in a while that I felt really joyful. My heart swells in my chest as I think of them. And yet there are girls the same age as my little cousins whose very smiles have been taken from them. There are no words.
While manning the stall we had in the foyer of Queens Students Union over the course of our week of stop the traffik we urged everyone who went past to sign the petition that was at the centre of our campaign. Over two and a half thousand people did. But many didn't and slid past us with jokes about being in favour of slavery or mumbles about a class or some work that needed done. The most ironic of responses was this: "No thanks mate....I'm alright." My immediate response was to think to myself something along the lines of, "That's great for you but there are many who aren't" but as I thought about it more it became obvious to me that my response should have been this - NO YOU ARE NOT. None of us are. We live in a world with an appetite for children...an appetite which is allowed to be sated. This trade reaches my country, my city. We are not alright. We can not be alright. Children work essentially as slaves in the chocolate industry of the Ivory Coast, the country in the world where most of our chocolate originates (Fair trade = Slave free). Slaves make the chocolate which WE buy. We are NOT alright.
A number of students chatted to me about the campaign, seeing it as a pointless, hopeless attempt at a change which would never come. One guy told me that he disapproved of our methods so I pushed him to explain what he meant...fascinated by what his issue might be. Like another student I had spoken to earlier in the week, it turned out that he was a socialist and believed that nothing could be improved without a fundamental change in the system by which our world operates. This is a point of view I have come across many times before of course and I have much sympathy for the sentiment behind it but what I don't understand is why it is sometimes (as it was in this case) accompanied by this refusal to strive to better the imperfect system we currently live in the midst of. It may rest in the idea that left to its own devices capitalism will become so oppressive that eventually the masses will rise up and tear down the walls of the system which lies between us and utopia. I don't really get it. It doesn't seem to come from people who have totally opted out of taking part in any aspect of the 'system' since I wasn't visiting a hermitage when talking to these guys... Anyway...got sidetracked there perhaps...
What I wanted to draw out, as I sought to first at our Mandela Hall event, is the hope that change can be brought. Slavery was abolished two hundred years ago and though the subject of this post shows that the issue has not gone away it would be ridiculous to suggest that a massive change was not affected. Ian Lustick, a political scientist, talks about how all 'progress' ever sees us do is move from one problem to another but explains that that is what he terms a 'better problem'. I encouraged people at our event to think about the name of the hall they sat in when pondering whether change could be brought. Of course South Africa still has massive problems, one being the economic apartheid which continues to exist...but it's a 'better problem' than the monster that existed before. I believe that change can be brought. I believe that pressure can be brought to bear. Poverty may never be made History but what Bono calls the 'stupid kind' can be tackled.
We are not alright and maybe we never will be.
But we can be better.