The stone benches of the Diag became a temporary home for members of the International Justice Mission as they prepared to camp out for 27 consecutive hours on Thursday to raise awareness about the 27 million people worldwide involved in modern slavery.
Art & Design senior Alana Hoey, chapter president of the International Justice Mission, said Stand For Freedom is an important part in raising the campus conversation about international human trafficking and slavery.
“Every single person that’s come by has been shocked by that statistic, but it’s an accurate statistic,” Hoey said. “I don’t think that people realize slavery exists today, especially in the really broad terms such as land seizure, which is essentially commonplace in Africa.”
Hoey said she was unaware of these issue until she joined IJM and began focusing on learning about slavery and unlawful imprisonment. She said the keystone of IJM’s efforts involve “not just fixing the problem”, but empowering individuals to make changes in their own lives while preserving their culture.
“The lawyers working with people in Uganda are from Uganda and that’s what I really like about IJM,” Hoey said. “It’s not about trying to fix things, it’s giving the local people the resources to make their own changes.”
The goal of Stand For Freedom was to educate and inform the general public about modern slavery while raising money for IJM and getting petitions signed to send to President Barack Obama. At 8:30 p.m., the petition — which asks the president to consider changing the guidelines for what actions are considered “slavery” — had approximately 60 signatures. The national branch of the organization has a fundraising goal of $270,000 through the approximately 50 to 100 chapters at universities across the nation.
“I think most people just don’t know, and I can’t guarantee that if people know, they’ll care, because every day there are a million different things that people will tell me I should care about,” Hoey said. “But the point is that maybe a few people will, and those people will become really strong advocates and change a lot of lives. That’s really all we can ask for.
LSA senior Julia Santalucia said she did a lot of planning for the event after joining IJM through friends at New Life Church and developing an interest in social justice. She added that she didn’t know that slavery still existed until she joined IJM.
“Social justice means working to achieve the basic rights that each human innately deserves, like shelter, food, water, and to not be exploited, which are often not available to all humans,” Santalucia said. “I also think it has a lot to do with policy, which is what we’re doing today, it’s not just something you know, it’s something you do, and in this case work to achieve.”
Santalucia echoed Hoey’s sentiment that an advocate should act as a “mediator of change” for the people they help instead of acting directly.
“It’s not about barging in and changing their culture and telling them what to do with their lives, which is what a lot of aid does,” she said. “Ultimately, that won’t really help anyone.”
IJM has several events planned for the future including a dance competition in collaboration with Michigan Mazaa and the Aruna 5k run in April.