Season 2, Episode 4: Average Advocates Fighting Human Trafficking - Interview with the LBD.Project Founder
You’re listening to Episode 14 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Ariel Niforatos. In this episode, we’ll hear from the founder of the LBD.Project, a month-long challenge that combats human trafficking.
In the first episode of this season, The Trafficking Dispatch team promised to not only keep you informed on human trafficking issues, but also highlight ways that you can take concrete action against it. After all, we don’t want to just create an awareness bubble. We want to break out of this bubble and put our knowledge to use. That is why in this episode, I’ll be interviewing Elisa Johnston, the founder of Average Advocate and the LBD.Project. The LBD.Project is a month-long anti-trafficking challenge that takes place once a year. If you participate, you are encouraged to wear the same black item of clothing everyday in the month of March, and donate to an LBD.Project partner organization, or an anti-trafficking organization of your choice. The idea is that by wearing the same black item of clothing everyday, people around you will take notice, and will ask you why you are wearing it. This is your chance to tell them about human trafficking and encourage them to join the challenge and donate to anti-trafficking organizations. We now turn to Elisa to learn more about her motivations behind creating this challenge, and the advice she has for other advocates.
Ariel: So Elisa, now that we have a general understanding of the LBD.Project, could you tell us more about your blog, Average Advocate, and how this led you to start the project?
Elisa: Uh sure! So, Average Advocate was a blog that I started in 2010. I mean a lot of my story is that I'm an adult, and a lot of us that find themselves, you know you get out of college and you're all inspired and you study these amazing things. Like for me, I traveled the world, I did some missions work and humanitarian work. And then I studied social/global issues in college. And then I also was in the real world where everybody has jobs and they don't really care about it, and they have 2.5 kids and white picket fences. And, and I was just going crazy! I didn't know how to handle that discontinuity of seeing these two sides of things, and I really was not okay with it. And so, I accidentally got pregnant and had my first kid and then another kid, and I was married and I was in a good situation which made it a lot easier, but at the same time it was one of those things where I was living as an adult, but I did not feel like it. And so, that was kind of where that blog surfaced, was speaking to other people who found themselves in that situation -- like, giving them a starting point. And so, eventually I started realizing that my experiment as a blogger didn't go as I had planned. I didn't become a famous blogger. And it didn't go as I planned, but at the same time it really did still inspire a lot of people to action. So, moving on, maybe three years ago, I started to kind of revamp the blog to actually be not just about teaching about social issues, but really kind of working on the core things that I felt in that amount of time working with people in real life, seeing what was hindering them. And a lot of the things that I felt was hindering them from getting involved in social things were because, well, they were busy adults, or they didn't really know where to focus their time. Or there was just -- everything is just so overwhelming, and how do you even begin that? And a lot of it is in your own personal life to become an influencer that leads people to -- going back to trafficking -- like, you know -- people might be like, "I don't like trafficking." But that doesn't mean they have a clue how to do it unless they spend an insane amount of time committed to an organization and go through a training process. There's this gap where there's not a really good middle ground helping people figure out how to get involved and volunteer in something they care about, let alone how to do that when they're also holding a job and raising kids, and living in the real adult world. So Average Advocate is the name of my blog, and it exists to help people discover their purpose and to figure out how to help them know their past in changing the world, and then hopefully through that they'll discover, "Okay, I really need to work on this issue." My ultimate vision is to, you know, really empower people to get their own visions to take off, and to hear what it is that they care about, and to work with them and be like, "Okay, you care about this? Well let's find a way to do this! I'll use the experience that I have and we'll help you figure out how to be an influencer and a leader in that area. And I'm going to empower you, and I'm going to help you move forward." But you know, we need help being empowered to make a difference, and I can stand with them and help them through that process until they find their own area that they care about, and help them get started in that. And then my impact would be, you know, way, way greater just helping you individuals.
Ariel: I like the point you made about empowering people to make a difference for whatever cause they care about. With the LBD.Project, you decided to focus on human trafficking, and since you started the project in 2012, how would you compare it from when it first started to now, in terms of its impact, reach, and recognition?
Elisa: At the beginning, it was really just a thing that I kind of did in my own desperation. I wanted to do something about injustice, and then I realized, well, I'm already doing this human trafficking stuff, why don't I move this into the realm of human trafficking? It was really for myself and I didn't really think anybody would pay attention, but I was like, "this is an experiment." But then, in that year, it had already inspired people to the extent that I had two people join me. And, in addition I was like, "Okay, well this seems to be working." So then I started inviting people the following year to join me. And then after that it became, like, random people around the country who were like, "I heard about this, can I join?" You know, and I said, "Well, yeah!" So then after that it was kind of an experiment of, like, is there a need that we can fill? You know, so then we were like, "Okay, let's try it out this year and see, are we actually needed?" And then, after that, it was like, "Okay, I think that there's a reason for us to exist." So now the season that we're really in is trying to create kind of awareness and kind of make it more -- into a movement, sort of. Just, you know, so people know that they can join us, or that organizations know that they can exist and partner with us. You know, uh, recently, I'm talking with a woman who works in India, and she was like, "Hey, I was telling people in India about this, and they want to join us!" And she's actually working with kids that are very much at risk of being sex trafficked. And so, it's kind of interesting, because I don't think that I would ever have even considered that this project would include anything like that. You know...we have been kind of surprised that, at least financially, we've kind of been raising funds exponentially. So like, last year, we raised I think -- I think it was $23,000. And you know, it's always a surprise. And this is what I think is really fun, is that people will come in and they'll be like, "Well, I can't really raise money. You know, I've only raised like $200." Or, you know, whatever it is that they don't feel like is very significant. But then when you pool it all together, and you're like, "Oh, it really is significant!" And that's why we kind of ask people to focus on just asking people to give low amounts. But you don't really see the significance of that in your everyday life. But at the same time, when you see how much it is altogether, you're like, "Oh my gosh! Look, we actually did something that feels significant." And that's what really empowers people to feel like that they can make a difference and that it's worth their time to be an advocate.
Ariel: So then, why do you think the LBD.Project is more effective in encouraging and forming advocates as opposed to other, more traditional forms of raising awareness, like posters and demonstrations?
Elisa: Essentially, I think the approach is more of a habit creating by confronting them with it every single day. And lot's of time people use our 31 days of human trafficking set and posts daily, so they're learning a little about human trafficking everyday. But really it kind of comes down to, for the individual who has committed to it, who definitely cares about human trafficking, they're being educated just by spending just a couple minutes a day thinking about trafficking. So it's creating a habit in their life, and then people around them, by posting something or a fact, people around them start asking them about it. And so, we are a lot more effective in learning something when we're teaching something. So I think that's why it's more effective for raising up advocates. I think honestly that the most effective is inviting people who have seen you do it before to join you. Businesses or small nonprofits or things like that, where they did it, you know it was like four people, and they were like, "Hey, we're going to do this this year." And then people watch them and they don't feel as alone because they're doing it with their friends. And then the next year all the people that had watched them that you didn't even know were paying attention were like, "Hey, I want to join you in that!" Or you ask them and then the next year they're like, "Oh, I want to join you." Which goes back again to exponential growth, is that, they see you and they're like, "She made it through!" or "He made it through!" So you provide that experience. But at the same time, when it comes to actually committing to doing that, most people still balk at that because it's so against the fast fashion. And so even though people are like, "Oh that's not hard, that's really easy," at the same time, they don't necessarily want to commit to it. So, really, a lot of times until they actually see somebody that they know commit to it, then they're like, "Okay, I guess I can do it too." So it depends also on how high of a commitment you make for yourself. They say it takes like thirty days to make a habit of something, and you know, doing that process every single day, you're like, "Okay, this...I care about this." At first you kind of cared about it, but by the end of those thirty days, and posting stuff on social media about it and creating awareness, and investing your time into it -- and even if it's not a ton of time a day -- that's a habit!
Ariel: I like how you emphasize the habit aspect of advocacy. If you really want to bring about change, you probably won’t do it with a one-time event -- it has to be more of a continual commitment. So for the people that do want to make this ongoing commitment against human trafficking, uh, what advice do you have for other advocates who started out like you, like me, like a lot of people, who are just beginning their efforts against human trafficking, and who maybe feel that they don't have the necessary resources to do anything big at first?
Elisa: First of all, it's worth your time, getting involved. And I think a lot of times that discouragement sets in. And I know I mentioned it earlier, but there's a definite process that people go through when they start caring about an issue and going from caring about it to doing something active about it to becoming part of their lifestyle. And I think that helping yourself understand where you are in that and recognizing that it's a process is really, really helpful. Because if you don't realize it's a process, most of the time people get frustrated and quit or get discouraged, as opposed to being like, "Okay I'm really angry at everyone else because they don't care about this thing that I care about greatly." Like, that is part of the process. That happens for every single person who is an advocate against human trafficking. And so, I think that seeing yourself as in a process is really, really helpful. Also, I think a lot of it comes down to our beliefs that we can actually make a difference and impact. But, if you don't think you're going to make a difference, then you're not, because you won't make any efforts to. Whereas if you think that you have the ability to make an impact, and are willing to see even small things as an impact, and even -- this was some advice that was given to me, which really, really helped me was -- when people said something positive, write it down, or but it in like an encouragement folder in your computer, or just have a set of notes where you always can go back to it. So when you get to those moments where you feel discouraged, and you feel like you're hitting your head against a wall, you can pull out that file and start flipping through things that people have said. And that's really helpful when you get discouraged. So that's a set of advice. And my last advice is to serve. If you go in with a goal of serving what already exists, you're going to win. And I say this largely because, both in the business world to, like, spirituality if you have a faith or a worldview, a lot of proof that exists that if you go in with humility and with service, with a service mindset, you can really affect a lot more change, because your goal is to give to the people around you versus kind of take from them for your own agenda. So I've seen this so much in the advocacy world, is that people will be like, "I'm going to start this!" They do that without ever trying to partner with people around them, or they do that without actually serving those around them. Whereas, on the other hand, if they served an organization for a while -- even if they didn't like it, and even if it wasn't their best fit -- they've learned a lot through experience by serving that organization. They have a lot more experience to stand on if they start their own thing and then they have a partner. And my caution is to people who are interested in human trafficking and doing something about it, before they go off and start something new -- and I'm not saying that they shouldn't because there is probably a place for them -- but to look around them and to see, even if they are started something new, but how to partner with them well, or how to serve them well, or how to not just be trying to get your own agenda across. So, those are some pieces of advice that I've learned in my time doing advocacy work, and I think that if you follow those it might really help.
Elisa is a shining example of how ordinary citizens -- or as she calls them, average advocates -- can all contribute to the greater anti-trafficking movement. You may feel that your contribution is small, but as she pointed out, with thousands of us working toward the same goal, we definitely have more of an impact that we might realize. If you’re interested in joining the LBD.Project’s month-long challenge, you can visit their website at thelbdproject.org to register for free and learn more about the project. If you’ve registered for the LBD.Project, and are looking for a black clothing item to wear, you can purchase a fair-trade t-shirt from our partner, Youth Underground.
Youth Underground, based out of Geneva, Switzerland, is the largest anti-trafficking youth-advocacy NGO in the world. Their mission is to “prevent human trafficking through awareness-raising, education and advocacy” by enhancing the “echo” of young advocates. As you can tell, our missions are very closely aligned, so we have decided to partner with them to mutually support each other and spread our message so that we can inspire more people, like yourself, to do something about human trafficking. In the coming episodes, we’ll discuss how you can get involved in the Youth Underground. Until then, you can visit the “Meet Our Partner” page on our website to learn more about the details of our partnership, or visit their website directly at youth-underground.com to learn how you can get involved. Whether you decide to participate in the LBD.Project or join the Youth Underground -- or both! -- we hope that this episode has pointed you toward some specific steps that you can take in your journey as an anti-trafficking advocate.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Ariel Niforatos. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on March 11 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Average Advocate: averageadvocate.com
Youth Underground: youth-underground.com