MON 24 - 6 - 2019
Date: Mar 21, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
CNN #MyFreedomDay: Standing up to slavery
Leif Coorlim
Looking at the global scale of modern-day slavery, any effort to fight it might at first seem fruitless. Forty million people trapped in slavery right now! Criminal human trafficking networks generate $150 billion a year in illegal profits! The headlines are ominous and overwhelming. But look a little closer and spend a little more time on the issue, and something amazing appears. All across this planet, empathetic people with a sense of social justice are standing up, starting anti-trafficking organizations, lobbying local politicians and in some cases, marching through the streets to demand freedom for the anonymous victims they’ve never met, who’ve had their freedom stolen from them.

At the center of this campaign - the motor powering much of the movement - is a group of dedicated young people, who have catalyzed #MyFreedomDay into a global social media phenomenon. From the very beginning of its launch in 2011, the CNN Freedom Project took note of the incredible passion students displayed around this cause. In 2013, a conference just down the street from CNN’s Atlanta headquarters drew more than 60,000 students, eager to learn of ways they could fight human trafficking. Those students literally waited hours in line just to donate money. By the conference’s end, they had raised more than $3 million for a collection of international anti-slavery organizations.

In 2017, CNN International wanted to harness the power of these spirited students. The network created #MyFreedomDay, a student-driven social media event on March 14 designed to drive awareness about modern-day slavery. The challenge for students was to answer the question, “What does freedom mean to you?” and then come up with creative ways their schools could support the anti-slavery organizations working in their communities. Schools showing the most spirit would be featured on CNN and - and a few lucky schools might even receive a visit from a CNN correspondent, who would report live from the school. On March 14, social media was flooded with postings from The Philippines, Nigeria, Germany, Colombia, South Korea, Canada, France and the United Arab Emirates. The students posted more than 33,000 tweets and reached 160 million timelines on Facebook. They also generated more than 400,000 views on Snapchat. There were huge rallies at schools in the United States, murals painted in Nigeria, huge banners across schools in Cambodia and even a lovely group of traditionally clad Mongolians holding #MyFreedomDay signs. Students in 100 countries posted about what freedom meant to them.

In 2018, #MyFreedomDay grew even larger. The hashtag made 1.4 billion Twitter impressions and reached 20 million Instagram timelines. CNN broadcast student films and a music video created by a school in Kenya, dramatic dance recitals from university students in Rome and more than a thousand students forming a human #MyFreedomDay sign at a high school football stadium in Atlanta.

This year, students are reporting plans to hold numerous unique events around the world. From music concerts in Poland and Ghana, to a street march in London to a brand-new school curriculum used for the first time in Los Angeles, it’s inspiring to see the commitment and creativity these young people demonstrate in their ongoing efforts to eradicate slavery.

As adults, it can be easy to get discouraged about the global state of affairs and what we can do individually to make a difference. But looking at what these young students can accomplish, using nothing more than their imagination and energy, inspires hope in all of those working to end a shameful human rights abuse, that’s as old as recorded history. They believe freedom for all is possible, and it can happen in our lifetimes.

Leif Coorlim is the executive editor of CNN Freedom Project.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 20, 2019, on page 6.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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