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News From Washington - May 2010
Im sitting here at my desk with a 650-page, 15-pound letter to President Obama on my lap. It wasnt that I had a lot to say the text is only one page long. No, the reason this letter is so huge is because it is signed by 20,300 friends of IJM in 50 states. There are 3,060 Californians, 557 Georgians, 800-plus from Pennsylvania, and over 1,000 from nearby Virginia. These are folks who took the time to respond to an appeal from IJM, and they sent it on to family and friends and neighbors. They tweeted, posted to Facebook, phoned, wrote and e-mailed.
Im going to deliver this monster to the White House later today to President Obamas National Security Director for Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs, Samantha Power. Samantha is perhaps the best known human rights activist in the world. We at IJM know her well. She has visited IJM offices in Asia and Africa and wrote a profile of IJM founder and President Gary Haugen that was published in the New Yorker in January 2009. We are proud and happy that our friend is in a position of influence with President Obama.
Last year, we organized a letter to the President on Inauguration Day, and we delivered it several months later with 7,000 signatures on it. Like the flowers that are coming up everywhere in Washington, IJMs Justice Campaigns is growing! Every time my team asks for help on our anti-slavery legislation and policy, the response is overwhelming. As Eileen Campbell, Director of IJMs Justice Campaigns, puts it: IJM is an organizers dream! Ive never seen people so eager to help!
One thousand friends of IJM came to the Washington area on April 11 for our annual Global Prayer Gathering. There were prayer rooms for each one of IJMs overseas field offices, and people even came to my prayer room to pray for the Government Relations Department! It meant a lot to us.
Later in the weekend, my team provided a four-hour advocacy training for 250 activists. The following day, 140 people descended on Capitol Hill to talk to House and Senate offices about the "Child Protection Compact Act," legislation that would provide additional funding to combat child trafficking overseas. We had 140 visits and dropped off more than 22,000 postcards to Members and Senators from their constituents in support of the bill.
Just a week later, IJM joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Not For Sale, World Vision, and other anti-slavery groups for a week of anti-trafficking events on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus. For me, the highlight was a Town Hall Meeting on April 19 at the beautiful new OSU Student Union. The hall was overflowing 600 people, at least to hear from U.S. Congressman Patrick Tiberi, U.S. Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy, and an expert panel that addressed domestic and international trafficking. (Check out video from the Town Hall Meeting here.)
You might not think that IJM, which combats sex trafficking in Cambodia, India, and the Philippines, would have that much in common with policy makers in Ohio. But I learned that Ohio has one of the worst sex trafficking problems in the U.S. Toledo leads the nation among cities of its size in the commercial sexual exploitation of minor kids. The Town Hall Meeting featured people like Theresa Flores, who was herself trafficked and pimped as a teenager and is now a widely respected leader in the state who is helping end the crime. Another local hero is Ohio State Senator Theresa Fedor from Toledo who helped create a state commission to investigate sex trafficking in Ohio, and is now at the forefront of strengthening Ohio law against the crime.
I came back from our Ohio Town Hall Meeting with a new sense of the possibilities of collaboration between local and international anti-slavery activists. Its going to take all of us to end slavery in our lifetimes.