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What I Learned: A Leap Forward in the Fight to End Slavery
By Tim Gehring, IJM Legislative Director
This week, Congress authorized the End Modern Slavery Initiative, which was embedded in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act—legislation that sets annual national security policy and funding levels for the Department of Defense. IJM was intimately involved in the idea of the End Modern Slavery Initiative and our advocates have been deeply invested in urging Congress to pass and fund this legislation over the past two years.
It has truly been an “all-hands-on-deck” effort that has taken many twists and turns along the way. Indeed, I think this is likely one of the largest, most complicated campaigns that IJM has been involved in, but all of that effort was because we believe so firmly in the importance of this legislation and vulnerable populations we serve.
As the year comes to an end and as it became apparent that IJM’s campaign to authorize the End Modern Slavery Initiative would be successful, I have been reflecting on our efforts the past two years, how we finally got the authorization done and what the lessons are to be taken as we prepare for an incoming Congress and Administration. I keep coming back to five words that my boss and friend Holly Burkhalter repeated over and over when the way forward was unclear: no effort is ever wasted.
When we began this campaign two years ago, no one would have predicted how the legislative language would change, the offices who would become strategic targets for us, the committees that would get jurisdiction over the End Modern Slavery Initiative or that it would end up being included in this year’s NDAA. We had to change our advocacy strategy seemingly every couple weeks because of the unpredictable path toward passage, especially this summer when EMSI was included in the NDAA and we needed relationships with members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.
As our advocacy strategy evolved, I was continually amazed how relationships with Congressional offices IJM and our grassroots advocates had developed over the past several years began to reap benefits on one of our most important legislative efforts. Our advocates in Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Rhode Island or Alabama (just to name a few) could never have known that their many years of faithful advocacy would pay off at such a critical time. For years they held meeting after meeting on behalf of IJM and our clients without an obvious conclusion–until now! Offices from these states and many others were critical to the success we are celebrating, and I’m certain that is a direct result of your engagement with those offices.
As a new Congress and Administration come to Washington next year, I’m taking great encouragement from this lesson. It gives me renewed resolve to be faithful in our advocacy efforts because you never know the seeds you plant today are going to reap significant rewards in the future. We’re so thankful for how hard you have worked with us on all of our advocacy efforts, especially this one, and hope that you’ll continue to use your voice and influence on behalf of the most vulnerable people in the world.