The Common Good

What Would Dr. King's Fight Be Today?

As our nation celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther, King Jr., I can’t help but wonder what injustices Dr. King would fight against today. 

Photo: Anti-trafficking concept,  mypokcik / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Anti-trafficking concept, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

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Would he rail against the “New Jim Crow” of mass incarceration, which disproportionately targets African-American men? Perhaps he would continue to speak out against the “most segregated hour of Christian America” — 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. After watching Les Miserables, I’d like to believe that Dr. King would focus on abolishing modern-day slavery.

Known as ‘Humankind’s Most Savage Cruelty,’ human trafficking is a global phenomenon driven by the profitability of sexual exploitation. From China to Washington, D.C., millions of men, women, and children are forced into sexual slavery each year.  

Likewise, in Les Mis, we meet Fantine who unjustly loses her factory job and then, out of desperation, turns to prostitution to support her child. While she chooses to sell her body, the realities of poverty do not leave her with other options to earn a living. Not much of a choice, I’d say.

After servicing her first customer, a jaded Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream.” This song could very well be the anthem for victims of human trafficking:

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Who knows how many hopes and dreams have been torn asunder by the scourge of modern-day slavery? How many women and children must continue to be robbed of human dignity in order to fund this $32 billion industry?

And so it is that I want to believe that Dr. King would have taken up the cause of abolishing human trafficking. Dr. King not only stood up against injustice, but captivated the moral imagination of our nation. He taught our nation how to dream — to dream of a future without oppression, to dream of equality, to dream of freedom for all. 

As we continue to observe National Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness month, let us be mindful of all those in our local community, nation, and world who are enslaved by human trafficking. May we take up the charge of Dr. King to act for justice, so that our trafficked brothers and sisters may dream once again.   

Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners magazine.

Photo: Anti-trafficking concept,  mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

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