Where have all the anti-slavery campaigns gone?

Friday, 9th March 2007 at 9:00 UTC 3 comments

For campaigners, particularly the NGO types, this year is supposed to be focused on anti-slavery campaigning. Think 2005 = anti-global-poverty campaigning. Its 200 years since the act of parliament banning the trans-atlantic slave trade. Slavery is still rife around the planet. So what’s going on this year, and what’s going wrong?

Needless to say, anti-slavery international is running a campaign, and its website does cover a long list of upcoming events, mostly art exhibitions and plays, which isn’t a bad thing, but its curious that there’s so little hard politics going on. Amnesty UK were running a campaign, but then the government decided to announce, at a convenient PR moment, that it would be signing the European Convention on Human Trafficking. Job done? I think not.

There’s a film to go with this years events, by the way. The film is called Amazing Grace (UK Site) and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with such a huge faith theme, it’ll do better in America than over here. OK, so it came out there a month earlier, but we’ve yet to see a single piece of advertising for it, and it wasn’t trailered before Blood Diamond which would kind of seem sensible. Ring your local cinema and make sure they’re showing it on 23rd March, the UK release date. Its only 2 weeks away!

Stop the Traffik is a new coalition to fight international people trafficking. They don’t actually produce any resources by themselves (oh no, not another Trade Justice Movement) but they are organising a Freedom Day. Curiously, its a Sunday, and what’s more, its a day after…

The Walk of Witness. Remember how MPH’s July 2nd wasn’t a protest, just a fun day out? Well, March 24th won’t be a protest either; in fact, there’ll be even less protesting. Instead, it will be a Church of England hosted walk of witness through London, ending in a large scale act of worship.

The decision of the Archbishops to put this event on is commendable, but its driven out all the politics and most of the support base. Actually, its not the politics that’s most sorely missing in my personal opinion, its the dissension; being the Church of England, its no surprise that this event is basically being consumed with the politeness of the establishment. Perhaps some reflection on the general image of the prophets throughout the bible is needed.

It certainly means that no one from outside of the church will want to turn up. Suddenly the church has a monopoly on the issue, and oh look, no one wants to know. Finding mass-organised-transport, i.e. coaches, running from Yorkshire is proving difficult. The Church of England signed up to ‘Set All Free‘, the Churches Together in England campaign to end slavery. Very commendable, but unlikely to make waves outside the church.

This is a regressive step, seeing as Make Poverty History put Christian campaigning efforts at the heart of an otherwise secular campaign. If churches really want visibility, they have to stop putting on solo performances. The media ignore church initiatives virtually all the time. The message is so much more powerful when they show up with lots of church banners in a truly national action.

Back to the walk of witness, I reckon most non-theists will see it in the papers (if it even makes the news) and find the whole event just weird. Yes, confessing our wrongdoing is important, and heck, I wish politicians did it rather more. But this mass-introspection isn’t going to make any kind of understandable statement to most of society. Early indications show that there’ll be almost nothing for people to connect to in the event. What’s more, all the admission of guilt by the church begins to let the government off the hook.

It seems unbelievable given where I was at the beginning of 2006, but I’m left to wonder if 2007 will be an even worse year-long-campaign than 2005. Its not that those involved learnt the lessons from 2005 and how to brand manage a campaign. Instead, there doesn’t even seem to be any inherited wisdom, BINGO*, grassroots or otherwise.

So right now, the whole year of action is really falling flat on its face. Some of the bigger names in Make Poverty History have never gotten on board, proving the extent to which their backing presence was a vital catalyst. And Church groups have effectively shoved everyone else out. The whole campaign has become very depoliticised and so those who would have put effort in are now faced with little to keep them involved.

*Big International Non-Governmental Organisation. Generally a derogatory term.

Entry filed under: Activism, Economics, Freedom, Human Rights, NGO.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Betty  |  Friday, 16th March 2007 at 15:40 UTC

    I saw an advert for Amazing Grace on a bus on Gower Street yesterday.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 16th March 2007 at 16:06 UTC

    Brilliant! Let’s hope its not just a London thing. Anyone else seen one yet?

  • 3. Betty  |  Friday, 16th March 2007 at 17:19 UTC

    And if we consider quite how many buses I see in a day, which is probably about 35 even if i only walk the 13 mins to uni and then back again twice a day, then one advert isn’t that impressive really.


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