One thing that most people missed after watching ’12 Years a Slave’

One thing that most people missed after watching ’12 Years a Slave’

Today’s guest blogger is UK Youth Ambassador Benjamin Palmer. He’s one of the 150 young campaigners across Europe lobbying Members of European Parliament (MEP) candidates in the upcoming EU Elections, to sign our ONE VOTE 2014 pledge to tackle extreme poverty.

Having heard all the plaudits, I took my seat to watch 12 Years a Slave knowing that it was going to be two hours well spent, and I wasn’t disappointed. The emotionally provocative and unflinching retelling of Solomon Northup’s life as a slave (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 19th Century America deserves all the praise it has received.

But it appears that there is something almost everyone missed:

Actions speak louder.

Huh?! What do I mean by that? Well Solomon’s life is transformed by someone’s actions. Samuel Bass (played by Brad Pitt) took a risk on Solomon’s behalf. He didn’t just get emotional and angry about Solomon’s position, he did something. With me so far? But this is where most of us have missed the key point.

During his acceptance speech, the film’s director Steve McQueen pointed out that 21 million people still live in slavery today.

Put yourselves in the shoes of an anti-slavery organisation for a moment. This film should have been it. Huge public awareness and heartfelt engagement on a topic that’s hard to face the brutal reality of. Support should have flooded in – volunteers, signatures, grass roots organisers, even cash. But it didn’t.

Writing in the UK’s Sunday Times, Cosmo Landesman highlights that most anti-slavery organisations felt minimal benefits. He points out that, “Following McQueen’s Bafta appearance, Anti-Slavery International had 516 hits on its website, just 146 more than its monthly average of 370.”

What happened?

The anger and the emotion failed to move people to action. There is nothing wrong with those emotions, as they can provide the source from which action can spring. But it is ultimately actions that speaks louder, that make the real difference. Just as for Solomon it was Samuel’s actions that made the real difference.

We only have to look to the UK abolitionist movement to see how people can really make change happen. William Wilberforce often takes the headlines but there were thousands of petition signers that helped to drive through the abolition of slavery in Parliament.

Youth Ambassadors in action
That’s why I’ve signed up to be a Youth Ambassador for ONE, because as their motto says: Actions speak louder.  I’m going to be spending the next six months, seeking to make my actions speak as loudly as possible for those in extreme poverty.

We are going to be contacting new MEPs who are not only responsible for the second largest aid budget but also have the power to transform laws to change the very shape and nature of the global economy. We are asking them to take strong steps towards ending extreme poverty by 2030, a vision that is bold and daring but can be fulfilled.

So what can you do? Get angry and emotional at the injustices that exist today and then let them motivate you to action.

Sign the ONE VOTE 2014 petition calling on MEP candidates to pledge to tackle extreme poverty.


Join the fight against extreme poverty


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