Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Hello, today I’m here with Professor Zoe Trodd. Zoe and I are coordinating, collaborating together on this course about how to end slavery. It’s a course supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Nottingham. Welcome, Zoe. Thank you. So Kevin, this global movement to end slavery– it is now 20 years old. It’s achieved a lot of successes. We’ve seen changes to legislation. We’ve seen a small number of prosecutions. But I think what we believe is that it’s a movement without real historical memory– that groups, NGOs, and governments tend to start from scratch, without learning from a really long history of 18th and 19th and 20th-century abolitionism.
Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds And we’ve seen that all around the world, in this anti-slavery movement– this growing anti-slavery movement of today– NGOs, governments, all starting from scratch– passing laws that often reflect older laws, trying to build strategies which, in fact, have been operated before– operating, in a sense, in a strange sort of ignorance. And our real goal here– of course, I know that we share– is that we might be able to bring lessons from that past– bring those lessons to the future, through the present, making sure that we’re not reinventing wheels, that we’re not making mistakes that have been made in the past.
Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds We’re going to produce a number of products about that, which I’m very happy about– in fact, an entire book about how we might learn from the past, for those anti-slavery organizations that are out there, who don’t have time to search through the history themselves, but, in fact, are busy getting people out of slavery. Yeah, we’re thinking quite hard, actually, about very specific strategies– everything from earlier abolitionist philosophies, and definitions, and uses of religion– how people were adapting visual culture, what the possible anti-slavery poetry is, that we might learn from– really exploring anti-slavery tools for potential adoption and adaptation by the contemporary movement. But we’re facing a lot of challenges as well.
Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds One of them is, if you just go straight to the basic concept of what is slavery, and what words should we be using to describe what this movement is all about, it’s a very curious situation– that when this movement began in the 1990s, the current anti-slavery movement began toward the end of the Cold War. People began to use the term human trafficking or trafficking to describe something that seemed to be emerging just at that time. Now trafficking, we know, is in fact, simply a conduit or a mechanism by which a person is taken into a situation of enslavement. And yet, people in the 1990s would look to the past and say, well, this isn’t legal slavery of the past.
Skip to 2 minutes and 48 seconds So it can’t be slavery. So let’s call it something else for the 21st century, and call it trafficking. The result of that, of course, has been tremendous confusion. Some legislation used the word trafficking. Others used slavery. Some international United Nations conventions were based around the word trafficking, even though existing UN conventions on slavery existed, which had perfect logic, legal coherence, and so forth. How do we begin to break that out? How do we begin to separate that through? Because it’s a little bit hard pulling together a global movement, if no one can actually agree on the meaning of the key word which describes what the movement’s about. I completely agree.
Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds And actually, by embracing a certain kind of language– by naming slavery what it is– we would have a much better access to that long history of anti-slavery campaigns, and strategies, and structures. For example, could this movement today salvage, for its visual culture, that long history of black activism and enslaved peoples’ agency in visual culture, rather than what it currently tends to rely on, which is images of white paternalism and black passivity? Are there lessons we might learn from the long history of slavery resistance in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries? For example, how far have NGOs and governments thought about basing series of community-based strategies, with grassroot partners, upon that long history of slave resistance?
Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds And should we be looking to the past for knowledge about slave uprisings and their efficacy, for today? Another example might be in the area of race– that long history of resistance, again, to racialized forms of slavery. Should we maybe abandon the idea that today’s forms of slavery are colorblind? Should race be more of a central lens for contemporary anti-slavery work? Should we maybe acknowledge that marginalized people– marginalized along the lines of race and ethnicity, quite often– are the people who are most vulnerable to slave traders? There’s a series, I think, of historical lessons that we might want to unearth and talk to our guest historians about throughout this course, and perhaps offer out to the anti-slavery movement. That’s right.
Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds And you know, in another area, we really have to help everyone to think through how do we live in a world in which the products of slave labor flow into our homes and into our lives– into the meals that we prepare– almost every day. This is one of the big questions that is addressing in the current anti-slavery movement. And people tend to think that somehow they’re inventing a kind of ethical consumerism by confronting the fact that there is slavery in shrimp that they eat, or slavery in their mobiles, or their laptops.
Skip to 5 minutes and 32 seconds They’re thinking that somehow they, as consumers– and they’re thinking of themselves as consumers before, often, they’re even thinking of themselves as citizens– they’re thinking, how can I deal with this? This must be the right way to achieve the end of slavery, is by making smart purchases. But of course, in fact, if they really wanted to understand ethical consumption, if they really wanted to understand how boycotts might address slavery, how purchasing patterns might address slavery, they’d look to the past.
Skip to 6 minutes and 1 second Because it was, in fact, those very first anti-slavery campaigners in the 1790s that invented the boycotts, based on human rights– that invented ethical consumption, that invented the concept that all of this– when we buy things, we are actually acting as moral agents at a distance. In other words, we’re practicing a morality which has to do with human rights, at a great distance. So if it’s 1795, people are saying, I’m drinking tea with sugar in London. But I have to remember that slaves bled, and sweated, and possibly died to put this sugar in my sugar bowl, on my tea tray, in London itself. That was a very powerful concept.
Skip to 6 minutes and 47 seconds And it’s one that is almost forgotten– that it was invented at that time, and yet echoes over and over through the second and third anti-slavery movements, into this, the fourth one. And today, we have other organizations to help us get there– organizations like Rugmark, which has pioneered the idea of being able to look carefully at hand-woven rugs– often woven by child slaves in north India, southern Pakistan, and so forth– and to find a way to trace, and treat, and protect consumers from the idea that they might be buying them unknowingly, and also to give them the choice about how they could then make sure that the rugs that they buy are slave-free.
Skip to 7 minutes and 31 seconds Likewise, a group like the International Cocoa Initiative– when slavery was discovered in cocoa production in the Ivory Coast, back in 2001, 2002, it came as a great shock to many people, because chocolate is something we all love. And chocolate is something that we give small children. It’s something linked to Easter time. I mean, it’s something that’s very emotional for a lot of people. And the idea that there’s slavery in chocolate is heartbreaking, I think, for some, and more motivating than, say, car parts or something that’s less personally involving.
Skip to 8 minutes and 2 seconds A group like the International Cocoa Initiative, then, takes a levy from all the chocolate companies, and uses that money independently to eradicate and reduce the amount of slavery on the ground in West Africa, where the cocoa is grown. That’s fantastic work. And that’s the kind of thing that we’re going to need to understand to be part of a citizenry which doesn’t just work against slavery, but also consumes against slavery. I think it’s really interesting that you went back to the 1790s, because I think another example we could draw from, from that sort of early era of British and American anti-slavery, is the role of petitioning. In 1792, 400,000 people signed anti-slavery petitions– petitions against the slave trade.
Skip to 8 minutes and 47 seconds The British parliament had received 500 anti-slavery petitions that year, and they’d received 5,000 by 1830. So could the 19th-century petition have a new life in today’s contemporary digital networks? How effective is mass, trans-Atlantic petitioning for the contemporary anti-slavery movement today? What about the role of intellectuals, and religious leaders, and women in this mass mobilization around petitioning, for example? And if we have this mass mobilization, is it only going to be speaking to power through petitions– to the governments– or is it also going to act on the grassroots, where the work and the support is desperately needed in the post-emancipation processes, as people are helped to achieve lives of dignity and freedom?
Skip to 9 minutes and 38 seconds It’s very interesting that if we look across the history of abolition, and the history of post-abolition, what we discover is that while some governments and some groups, over time, have done a good job of getting people out of slavery, they’ve done a pretty terrible job of supporting them once they’re in freedom. In other words, if we look back to the United States at that moment in which 4 million people were lifted up out of slavery, at the end of the American Civil War, and then basically dumped– they were free, yes.
Skip to 10 minutes and 9 seconds But they were denied legal rights, access to education, access to credit to begin to build up their own businesses, or whatever, access to full political participation– and then treated with prejudice, discrimination, violence, disrespect– in other words, set aside as second or third-class citizens, under a pall of violence and discrimination. Well, we know that the United States is still paying a terrible price for that botched emancipation of 1865. And we know that the impact of that– the terrible negative impact of that– is echoing down through the generations of African Americans, to this day. How do we make sure that if we’re bringing slavery to an end, we don’t make that ugly mistake?
Skip to 10 minutes and 52 seconds I personally don’t want to be part of an abolitionist movement that’s going to lead to millions of people simply living out their lives in third-class citizenship, or suffering discrimination for generations. I want to see people who come out of slavery being able to be full citizens– to have decent education, to have self-respect, to be economically autonomous, as much as they can. You know, freedom isn’t about achieving everything, but it is about achieving what your potential is. And we want to make sure that people who come out of slavery can achieve that potential. So we’re going to be looking at how people come out of slavery, and how do they do it well, and how they do it poorly.
Skip to 11 minutes and 32 seconds And we’ll be listening to some really interesting experts who have actually managed the programs by which people have come to freedom. And we’ll be hearing how that can work well, and maybe not so well. So we’ll focus on that, actually, quite a lot in week 4. We’ll be learning about that post-emancipation phase against a backdrop, actually, of community-based freedom across history– so that slave resistance that I was talking about earlier. And when we talked about anti-slavery boycotting, and actually about mass, popular mobilization, we’re going to return to that as a real topic in week 2.
Skip to 12 minutes and 5 seconds Perhaps as just one last lesson to throw out there– and I know we’re planning to talk about this in week 3– it’s the idea of heritage activism. It’s actually about the idea that anti-slavery NGOs, the anti-slavery movement, might work with the heritage sector to really try and harness that memory of slavery and anti-slavery for today’s movement. For example, Anti-Slavery International– in 2007, you’ll remember– had a campaign it called Fight for Freedom, 1807 to 2007. And it was a way to try and harness that memory at the bicentennial, at the 200th anniversary of the ending of the British slave trade, for contemporary anti-slavery campaigning.
Skip to 12 minutes and 43 seconds But to my knowledge, it’s the only major NGO attempt so far to try and harness that memory. So other lessons we might learn from that fusion of activism and heritage– of heritage activism– as we look ahead to 2033, this time– so the 200th anniversary, not just of the ending of the slave trade, but of the ending of all of British slavery– so what might we learn to do a better job, possibly, next time, with our heritage activism? And all of that points toward the great challenge and the great achievement that we hope to achieve, or at least foster, in this course. It’s one thing to say, you’ve brought an end to legal slavery.
Skip to 13 minutes and 25 seconds But what has never happened– and what’s really the point of this movement– is the end of slavery itself. Now, that may not mean wiping out every single situation of slavery that will ever exist in the future, because human beings may want to treat each other very badly, indeed. But it would mean bringing it to an end as a structure, as a system that exists in many countries, and reducing it very, very dramatically in the way that we’ve reduced polio and smallpox around the world. And I appreciate that that’s an enormous challenge. But of course, we’re throwing down that challenge.
Skip to 14 minutes and 0 seconds We’re asking everyone on this course to think through, about how– and think big– about how slavery could come to an end, and to help us think that. It’s worth, again, looking all the way back to that day in late May, 1787, when 12 people sat down around a table in central London, and decided to try to bring an end to the international slave trade fostered by the British Empire. They weren’t rich people. None of them were politicians. None of them were media stars. None of them were royalty. They were pretty reasonable and ordinary people, and truly, truly addressing the impossible. They lived in a world where slavery was considered to be a moral activity. The church said so.
Skip to 14 minutes and 49 seconds It was economically sound. It supported the entire economy. It was perfectly legal. The royal family owned slaves. The mayor of London owned slaves. The Church of England itself owned slaves. The idea that they would suggest that this normal, moral, economic activity should be brought to an end was, in many people’s ideas, insane. Well, the good news for us today is that we don’t have to overcome the challenges that they had to overcome. We don’t have to get laws passed that say slavery shouldn’t exist. And we don’t have to convince any industries that it’s economic to do so, because, in fact, slavery doesn’t do that much for the global economy.
Skip to 15 minutes and 31 seconds And all the churches and almost everyone, except for ISIS, they’re also against slavery. So for us, the end of slavery is something that we should be aspiring to. And it really just begins when we say, I don’t want to live in a world with slavery. So I think, just to conclude, what we’re going to do now, over the next few weeks, is to search for a kind of activist memory– the memory of activism, used for contemporary activism– in the hope, I think, that we can ask NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations, and heritage communities, and individuals to try to apply the knowledge of slavery’s legacy and abolitionism’s inheritance.
A Usable Past
Professor Zoe Trodd of the University of Nottingham is a leading expert on protest movements, including historical and contemporary antislavery.
In this film, Zoe and Kevin debate the value of what they call an “antislavery usable past.” They discuss how far the contemporary antislavery movement borrows techniques from historical abolitionism, which strategies were useful to earlier antislavery generations and might be useful for contemporary abolitionists in adapted form, and the idea that historical antislavery contains usable lessons, examples and methods for today. Agreeing that today’s campaigners and policy makers tend to start from scratch, rather than learning from earlier antislavery successes and failures, they begin to explore past antislavery tools, and approaches for potential adoption and adaptation, including the importance of enslaved people’s own leadership.
After watching the film, please brainstorm with us in the comments any other potential lessons that the antislavery movement could learn as it tries to end slavery by 2030. These could be lessons from other historical movements for rights and justice - not only antislavery. Would any techniques from the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, the LGBT campaigns, labour rights or any other movement be useful? You might also want to explore the work of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, an NGO founded by the direct descendants of the famous 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, to continue their ancestor’s antislavery work in the present day. The FDFI harnesses historical memory - the antislavery usable past - for their work on educational initiatives and outreach.
You can also start preparing your responses and questions for Kevin’s live session as our “expert in the hot-seat” later this week.