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20 Students Pile Into VW Bug to Stop Human Trafficking

When a group of students from Wilmore, Kentucky's Asbury University set a Guinness World Record for cramming 20 people into a Volkswagen Beetle, they weren't just having fun. They were bringing attention to the nearly 27 million people who live in the bonds of slavery. Though often hidden from view, modern slavery is a plague that these college students hope to see eradicated.

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By Jeff Calareso

Emancipation Project Car Cram

The Emancipation Project is the student group behind the Car Cram. Study.com's Education Insider recently caught up with Daniel Osborne, the President of the Emancipation Project. He spoke about both the record-setting event and the other important work students are doing to fight human trafficking.

Study.com: To begin, can you describe for our readers how you became involved with the Emancipation Project?

Daniel Osborne: I became involved in Asbury's anti-human trafficking work well before there was an Emancipation Project. Starting in 2006, I was becoming more aware of and more concerned about the crisis of human trafficking. Then, in the fall of 2008, my first semester at college, a recent graduate that was putting together an anti-human trafficking task force asked me to join the team and help plan our events. Throughout the next year and a half we raised awareness, we hosted events and a smaller team of us went to go see the crisis firsthand in Thailand and Cambodia.

That former graduate went on from Wilmore, Kentucky, to bigger and better things, as did many members of the old task force. But in the spring of 2010, I gathered up my friends who were passionate about the issue and we reformed under a new charter and a new name, the Emancipation Project.

Study.com In December of last year, the group managed to fit a record-breaking 20 adults into a Volkswagen Beetle in an event called the Car Cram. Where did this idea come from and what was the goal?

DO: That was the brainchild of the exceedingly brilliant Kyle Schroeder. He's the Assistant Director of Public Relations for Asbury University and an adjunct graphic design professor (not to mention an all-around great guy). He cast for us this vision, one that went beyond simply a publicity stunt. The Volkswagen Beetle was designed for and built by the people, but very few of the German public ever received one because the Nazi elite hoarded them. So this 'people's car' did not live up to its name. So, by cramming 20 people into the people's car, we were making a mockery of that past injustice.

Then we wanted to reclaim its original vision. The automobile, in general, is a symbol of freedom. So while mocking that historical injustice, we also used it as a symbol for the release of the modern slave. We were committed to a 'one for one' model. For every person we crammed into the car, we promised to set one free. Through four partner organizations (The Salvation Army, International Justice Mission, Not for Sale and Word Made Flesh), we are still committed to this goal.

So it's three pronged. We wanted to get the word out about the issue. We parked the car outside the cafeteria, hung posters, got news coverage, etc. We also wanted to mock injustice and reclaim the vision of an iconic car. But most of all, we wanted to commit to setting the captive free today.

Study.com Can you describe what it was like getting 20 people into such a small car?

DO: We actually had no idea we would get 20 people in. The previous record was 17, so we found 18 of the smallest, lightest and most flexible people on campus to shove in the car, but even then we were concerned. But when we got out for the event, we found we had more space than we thought. In our first and only practice run (5 minutes before the record event), we loaded the front and back at different times and realized we had plenty of space left over. So we talked it over, found two more people and shoved them in as well.

As for what it was like, just imagine floor to ceiling people. Everywhere you could fit them, there they were. On the dash, pressed against the windows, bursting the car at the seams. Since I am a very sturdy 6'2', I was not allowed to be in the car, but from everything I was told it was uncomfortably hot, so hot the participants were not eager to get back into their winter jackets, despite the below-freezing temperatures that night.

Study.com How did the students at Asbury University become interested in the issue of human trafficking?

DO: In this aspect, I am very proud of the Asbury community. Though the Task Force and Emancipation Project have created a great deal of awareness throughout the community, the majority of our most committed members all became passionate about this crisis independently. I came to college with a passion for it, as did many others; some came through friends and their passion; and a good deal of our members found out about human trafficking through Asbury's Social Work program. The independent passion of the people in our community continues to inspire me.

Study.com In addition to the Car Cram and Freedom Drive, what other campus activities has the Emancipation Project organized?

DO: Counting Human Trafficking Task Force events, we have done mostly educational and awareness-raising events. Specifically, we have had a showing of the film 'Born into Brothels.' We also held events on sex trafficking, labor trafficking and slavery in the chocolate industry. But I am most proud of two events in particular.

During the first event, we started by taking a look at the role the Internet plays in trafficking, including pornography, mail order brides and the actual purchase of slaves. For the second half of that event, we focused on what can be done to do make a change. Simple actions like writing an e-mail to your representatives, telling companies you don't want to purchase goods made with slave labor and simply donating money to a good cause. The Internet is a powerful tool, one we can use to bring beauty, light and life to people, or one by which we can enslave.

My favorite event we ever did, however, was by far the most different. Instead of getting up and giving speeches, we had students write and perform dramatic monologues telling the story of a victim, a trafficker and a customer. We also had a few talented musicians sing about tragedy, victims and hope between the monologues. The overall impact of the event was astounding. Even though I had been there through the whole planning of it, when it was over even I was stunned by the power of it.

Study.com Have the students taken their cause off campus and into the greater Lexington community? In what ways?

DO: Yes! Thankfully, we have partnered with the Lexington Human Trafficking Task Force (a group of health care professionals, social workers, lawyers, lawmakers and police fighting trafficking), which opens us up to a number of opportunities. Many of our members work on the front lines with the Bluegrass Rape Crisis center. Several of us have helped move former victims into new, safe housing away from their oppressors. Also, many of us have participated in trainings sponsored by the Lexington Police.

Study.com What misperceptions do you think people have about human trafficking and modern-day slavery?

DO: I think the biggest misconception is that it's some far-away issue that doesn't impact people near us; lots of people think human trafficking only occurs in seedy brothels half a word away. But this is wrong on two levels. First, slavery is so much closer than we want to accept. I would encourage everyone to check out slaverymap.org. It shows a map of reported human trafficking cases in the United States. It really helped me see how local the crisis is.

Second, slavery is in everything we buy. Our coffee, clothing and chocolate are the three big industries where we find slavery, but it's also in our flowers, cell phones, laptops, jewelry, toys and sporting goods. If you follow the supply chain far enough, almost everything we buy touches slaves at some point.

This is not to say that everything you own is 100% made by slaves. Truly, the odds are that about 90+% of what we all own has slavery in it, but each item has only about 5-10% of slave-made components inside.

Study.com What's next for the Emancipation Project?

DO: We are actually in a transition period. Asbury is a small community and we have up to this point been very successful at raising awareness and informing the community at large. Our next steps largely focus on action. We'd like to see our school become a leader in saying no to slave-made products. We're also looking for even more avenues of community involvement. Also, since I'll be graduating in December, my role in the future of the organization will be lessened as I prepare to hand it over to the next generation of passionate activists.

Study.com Once they're aware of the issue, how can college students make a difference in eradicating modern-day slavery?

DO: There's so much a college student can do. But, once someone becomes aware of this crisis, one thing is first and foremost: they must tell other people. Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist (and one of my heroes) said, 'We're never going to get there, unless we all go together.' We need everyone. So tell your friends, get a community going. It's a long, hard road going it alone, but it becomes much easier with friends.

But, in terms of practical things, get educated; learn as much as you can about the issue. 'Not for Sale' by David Batstone is an incredible and accessible resource, and 'Ending Slavery' by Kevin Bales is one of the most incredible and comprehensive looks at the topic ever written. Bales's book was a critical moment for me in realizing that we can end this crisis in this generation.

Some of my other favorite practical actions that an individual can take are as simple as mentoring a kid. Many communities, like my hometown of Cincinnati, have programs where you can go tutor an at-risk kid for an hour a week. Just that one hour of providing education and support for a young child significantly increases his or her chances of success in school and in life, as well as significantly decreasing his or her chances of a variety of terrible outcomes, including falling prey to human trafficking (others include drug use, gang involvement and incarceration).

As I mentioned before, the other thing you can do is vote. Depending on your audience, voting means different things. Write to your representatives and vote for ones that take a strong stance on human trafficking. When lawmakers see that we care about this issue, they will have no choice but to stand up and make the necessary policy changes. Write to companies; tell them that you don't want slavery in your products. Purchase Fair Trade Certified brands. The more market share those brands have, the more the others will realize that it's profitable for them to care about their fellow man.

However, I must emphasize this point: while affirming Fair Trade Certified brands is effective, boycotting non-fair trade brands is not. Arranging mass boycotts typically has little effect on the company being boycotted, but they also tend to hurt the honest farmers that do not use slaves. As I said before, thought 90+% of your purchases have slavery in them, only about 5-10% of it is slave-made. So, when you boycott a brand, the other 90% of that product that is not slave-made suffers, often times even more than their trafficker counterparts.

Study.com If students from other colleges are interested in becoming involved in this issue, how would you recommend they start?

DO: Every college is different, but there are a few universals we can all draw upon. First, check to see if there's already an active anti-Human Trafficking group on your campus. While more than one group is not a bad thing at all, one team of 20 can usually get more accomplished than two teams of ten. If there's not one, then you can decide if you want to form an independent organization, like the Emancipation Project, or join a larger organization as a student chapter (both International Justice Mission and Not for Sale have excellent student chapter programs).

From there, the rest is up to them. Raise awareness, host an event, talk about it to your friends, make a video, write a play, sponsor an art exhibit, raise money, talk to your school administrators and work with your local communities. One of the best things we ever did was talk the school into letting us, with a member of the sociology faculty, teach a class all about human trafficking.

I can give suggestions, but what we need in this fight now is creativity. We need creative ways to tackle this issue. I know there's passion and talent out there, a new level of creativity that can bring more power to our efforts, if only we can leverage it correctly.

Study.com Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers about the issue of human trafficking?

DO: My message is one of hope. I know how very easy it is to look this crisis in the face and think, 'It is so very big and I am so very small.' But the reality is, this can end in our lifetime. We can be the generation to stop it, if we leverage our influence. So I'll reiterate: act in your local communities, interact with your national politicians and speak out to your international corporations.

We can do this and we can be the ones to tell our kids, 'Once there were slaves, but we were the ones who set them free.'

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