Last night in the ARCO Forum people from all parts of the effort to end slavery participated in a panel discussion intended to inspire the audience to take action, according to panelist Jesse Sage '98, the associate director of Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group.
"We're trying to recreate what was in Boston: the center of abolitionism," Sage said.
The discussion focused on slavery in the Sudan in Africa. Despite the unified intentions of the panelists, panel and audience members sometimes disagreed over whether there are religious and ethnic origins of slavery in Sudan. They also discussed the utility and ethics of purchasing slaves from masters in order to free them, whether the Sudanese government is complicit in the enslavement of its citizens and what the responsibility of President Clinton is in speaking out on Sudanese slavery.
The panel included Sage, Dr. Shelly Leanne, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, Francis Bok, an escaped Sudanese slave, Gerald L. Williams '03, who worked this summer on a delegation that bought the freedom of Sudanese slaves, and Wendy Patten, a member of the National Security Council.
Bok gave an opening statement which, like his testimony before Congress this September, described his capture and subsequent 10 years in slavery in the Sudan.
"For 10 years, they beat me every morning. They made me sleep with the
animals, and they gave me very bad food. They said I was an animal. For 10 years, nobody loved me" Bok said.
Bok was abducted from the primarily Christian south and enslaved in the primarily Muslim north. Bok said he was forced to convert to Islam, but still does not identify himself as Muslim.
One audience member, who identified himself as a Muslim from the north of the Sudan, rejected the notion that religion and race play into the enslavement.
"There is no doubt a problem of slavery in the Sudan, but to frame it in a racial or religious context is counterproductive," he said.
Part of the panel's function is simply to inform people that slavery is ongoing, Williams said. "Many of us are under the understanding that slavery ended in 1865 with the Emancipation Proclamation" he said.
Sage repeatedly encouraged audience members to protest the U.S. government's lack of explicit condemnation of slavery in the Sudan.
Patten outlined the U.S. procedure on countering slavery as prosecution of traffickers, protection and assistance of victims and prevention of trafficking through various programs.
"There is a need for a forceful response," she said.
Bok raised concerns about President Clinton's action on the slavery in his home country. "We have a question: Why has President Clinton not spoken out on slavery in Sudan?" he asked.
Sage put the fact that Clinton has not yet condemned slavery in the Sudan in more dire terms.
"President Clinton has 50 days to redeem himself," he said.
The forum ended on a passionate note, with Andy D. Litinsky '04 drawing loud applause as he said he planned to talk about the situation in the Sudan to the new members of the House of Representatives, who will be visiting Harvard next week.
Despite the many conflicts of the evening, audience member Onyinye I. Iweala '02 said she felt that the forum did accomplish something. "Now there's a dialogue so people are realizing that something needs to be done," she said.