My first introduction to what activism can look like was when Invisible Children came to my high school and showed a documentary in the gym. Invisible Children, as you may or may not know, is an organization founded by film makers in San Diego who massively raised the profile of the LRA using child soldiers in Uganda by making immensely powerful documentary films to share the story and using those films to move the public into action. They used what skills and passions they had to make big, big impacts like building schools, lobbying international governments for action, building a radio network so rural communities could communicate with one another, and their work is still ongoing in northern Uganda a decade plus later.
I would later go on to intern with Invisible Children and have always found their version of activism the most appealing and the most impactful; use what skills and passions you have, connect with the people that know the cause, and remain committed throughout the months and years. IC also taught me that although the issues and causes at hand can be very heavy, activism can be fun.
Which is why when some of my friends began participating in Dressember years ago I was immediately drawn in by the premise. You wear dresses (or ties!) every day of the month throughout December to raise awareness and money to end human trafficking. I can use what I have and am passionate about (style!), Dressember partners with dozens of well respected and well equipped organizations around the globe, and while the fundraising mainly takes place in December, I am able to return to it year after year, raising over $3,000 in 4 years. (!!!)
Mostly importantly, Dressember has opened my eyes to what human trafficking is, AND the absolutely heartbreaking tie that fast fashion has to bondage.
If you are not super familiar with the details of human trafficking, I would recommend clicking around Dressember’s website here because I’m not an expert, but I wanted to share a few of the lessons that have stood out to me the most over the last 4 years of participating.
Human Trafficking is not just sex trafficking.
While trafficking women for sex absolutely is one component of Human Trafficking, other forms of trafficking and inescapable labor are included in the definition and estimate of those enslaved world wide (40 million people). Other common forms of modern day slavery include farming or housekeeping schemes where you can never work enough to pay back the ‘loan’ the ‘employer’ provided to get you the job. It can be extremely underpaid hours with no way to freely leave, like what is often seen in ‘fast fashion’ – more on that in a sec.
Sex Work is not Sex Trafficking.
It is essential in this conversation to know and remember that sex workers who choose their profession and have a safe and consensual relationship with their occupation are not in need of rescue and assuming that all sex workers are trafficked or owned in any way is not a useful piece of the human trafficking dialogue.
Buying used clothes is more sustainable, even if they aren’t considered ethical brands.
The marketplace for ethically made clothing is growing, but is still incredibly small compared to the multi billion dollar fashion and retail industry. It can be expensive and difficult to find things you know aren’t made using trafficked labor or modern day slavery, but shopping second hand can help. This not only helps your money stay out of the pockets of companies whose supply chains aren’t ethical, it also can help lessen the demand for cheap, fast clothing, and keeps used clothing out of the landfill.
Labor Behind the Label estimates that garment workers often will only receive 1-3% of the cost of an item. If the true cost of a piece of clothing is not reflected in the price we pay, it is being paid by someone else, usually the garment workers. They can be forced to live for less that $21 a month.
I hope that when you are faced with an injustice that you are moved into action by starting where you are, and using what you have. You have to get dressed, you are probably online and post occasionally to your community of family and friends, and you might have some disposable income every month to set up a small recurring donation to an organization making a difference. I truly believe that everything we do in life has a ripple effect and I hope we all work to make sure our unintended consequences are positive, not negative.
If you’d like to join me in raising money to end human trafficking, the fundraising continues until January 31st and I’d love to have your support. You can find my fundraising link here: https://www.dressember2019.org/fundraiser/kaitlin-elias