Carnegie Vanguard High School JSA’s Human Trafficking Awareness Letter Writing Campaign and Election Day Party
By: Juliana Elise Dunn
On the chilly Texas evening of November 5th, the sun was just setting as the Carnegie Vanguard High School’s Junior Statesmen of America (JSA) chapter got down to work. The room became a sea of laptops and lit up faces. Everyone was researching Texas JSA’s 2013 activism project, human trafficking awareness, and counting down the hours until the polling results of the mayoral election would begin pouring in.
Thirty minutes later, armed with information and statistics on human trafficking, and with Texas legislators selected, the letter writing process began. The sound of fast fingers pounding away on keyboards intermingled with tentative predictions of election results. There were smiles all around. As drafts of letters reached completion, laptops were passed from person to person and edits were made. A general sense of satisfaction permeated throughout. It was fulfilling, they felt, to be the crusaders of such a serious and impactful cause.
Human trafficking, they were discovering, is an issue entirely too real, and surprisingly close to home. The modern slave trade affects, according to the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, an estimated 2.5 million people, who are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time. As recently as October 11th, a sex trafficking operation was busted in the students’ own backyard. That night, undercover officers raided several nightclubs in the southeast region of Houston. Over a dozen were arrested and some of the girls rescued, Mexican immigrants, victims of human trafficking, were not yet even teenagers. They had been forced to work as prostitutes at the ages of 10 or 12. This and other similar stories filled the letters of the JSA’ers. Also included were striking statistics, including the fact that of all calls reporting human trafficking in the United States, 30% are from Texas. With such powerful material, the letters seemed to write themselves.
Around 7:00 PM pizza arrived, and those who had finished writing and sending their letters, filtered through the kitchen, into the TV room. There they gathered, flipping through channels to find the local station airing the mayoral and city election results. Anticipation mounted as results from the polls began to arrive. The students chatted about mayoral candidates and discussed what they thought ought to be the fate of the Astrodome. Intermittently, smart phones were fished out of pockets and employed to search for the names of local city council candidates or to research a previously unheard of proposition.
The night ended contentedly around 8:00 for most. The Carnegie students said goodbye and see-you-tomorrow to their classmates, packed up their laptops and their backpacks, and went home.
The next day, the big news of the election was confirmed: Mayor Annise Parker was to serve her final term as Houston mayor and the Astrodome would not receive money for renovations. Although most of the chapter’s members were not yet voting age, they could still feel the gratification of having participated in the political process. All were hopeful that their letters would raise awareness about human trafficking, and encourage state legislators to advocate for substantive legislation dealing with the issue.
As Connor Burwell, the Carnegie JSA Chapter President put it: “It just feels great to know that no matter who you are, you can help make a difference in your community. All it takes is a few friends and a mission, and you can have your voice heard.”