Experiencing the 3 “As” – Advocacy, Activism, and Antagonism from People in relation to my Anti-Trafficking “Take Action” Project

It’s been a long semester.

While this blog was originally created a month before I took my International Activist Politics class, it entered into full force when I decided to use it as part of my final project for that class. I had originally planned to work on it over the summer; but working on it this semester as my final project allowed me to “kill two birds with one stone.” Weekly updates and specific times set aside to bolster the blog’s social media presence has had it come a long way compared to four months ago.

Besides the creation and maintaining of this blog, part of my final project also has a “take   action” project. This “take action” project can be in the form of anything as long as it involves me, the blogger, fostering action outside the online world. I decided to do something that I’ve always thought about but never acted upon – flyering for anti-human trafficking awareness. A rather old school method compared to this century’s savvy social media ways, but I chose to do it for that precise reason. I have plenty of experience in managing various social media accounts and providing consultation for the public relations company I work at; but when it comes to flyering, I have no experience. I think that makes it great since no one really needs experience when it comes to flyering anyway. But what I learned about flyering this semester is that while the act of putting up pieces of paper around the school may look extremely easy (albeit time consuming), the thought and strategy behind it takes a bit of time.

I performed two flyering cases this semester at separate times, and recorded some people’s reactions to it and showcased where I put the flyers on the Instagram account I made for the blog (http://instagram.com/antitraffickip). As an avid Instagram user, I could not not think of making an Instagram account – it had to be done. I also think it was an effective way to document the action project, as it easily provided visual evidence that I put the flyers all over the school and the online community can engage with the photos by “liking” them. All my photos received multiple likes, and some people even commented!

boys are not for sale flyerI did two cases of flyering because I originally thought I would be able to do a mobile art piece, but personal circumstances changed and I was unable to do that. I started with the first case of flyering (which I fondly call my “litmus test”) about a month ago. I thought that I would start putting flyers up about human trafficking to “alert” people and spread awareness of it, kind of like a pre-activity thing to set the foundation for putting the mobile art piece up. The design of my flyer came to me quite randomly, but was nonetheless inspired by one of my blog topics, male human trafficking. Male human trafficking is quite under-explored as a subset of human trafficking, particularly since the gender bias and construction in society presents it as almost being taboo or non-existent, since males are typically recognized to be perpetrators. The first few posts on the blog deal extensively with male human trafficking, and since I was wrapped around that mindset and during that time frame I kept sharing those blog posts all over social media (Facebook, Twitter, and even my LinkedIn account), it made sense for me to create a flyer based on that. For the design of my flyer, I wanted something with a minimalist look yet striking; so I went with the black and white color scheme and used simple fonts to make it easy for the reader to read. Going along with the idea of simplicity and fully aware of people’s short attention spans when it comes to reading flyers on bulletin boards, I decided to stick with straightforward yet attention-grabbing facts to get people’s attention. I made “BOYS ARE NOT FOR SALE” as my headline, and then included a fact underneath it so that people would learn something new and be a bit informed about the issue. Obviously, a flyer cannot contain too much information as it will overwhelm the reader and pull the person away. Therefore, I included a link to my blog post as well as the hash tag “#endtrafficking” for people to look for more posts and information at their leisure.

The “BOYS ARE NOT FOR SALE” flyers were posted all over the school, specifically on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors of 1 Pace Plaza. The flyers were posted on bulletin boards, above water fountains, above recycling bins, outside elevators, outside classrooms, on bathroom doors, and in bathroom waiting spaces. For some odd reason, I didn’t think about taking pictures of the places I had put these flyers up. I think my thought process behind it was to stay “anonymous” and have the flyers appear as this mysterious phenomenon that took over the school in one night. Luckily, when I actually started taking photos of these flyers around the school, not all of them were taken down and I was able to document them then. I was aware that security would take down the flyers, and I’m surprised that some of them survived their postdate.

The few reactions I got from these flyers were all positive. Then again, the reactions came from people I knew so the reactions are somewhat biased. Two people took a picture of the flyer and posted them on their personal Instagram accounts; these two people were my friend Channell Williams and Pace University’s Center for Community Action and Research (CCAR). There are two screenshots on antitraffickip’s Instagram page that show Channell’s and CCAR’s comments towards the flyers. Channell’s comment was “The things you find outside math classrooms”, and CCAR told people to check out the flyers. Ashley Kuenneke, CCAR’s Program Coordinator, later sent me an email a few weeks later saying, “I saw the #endtrafficking posters around campus a few weeks ago – super creative!”. Seeing and hearing these reactions to my first flyering session was a big surprise, since I didn’t think people would actually comment or respond. A few of my friends also saw the flyers posted around the school; and when I asked them what they thought about it, they all smiled and said “It’s so you.” That wasn’t substantive feedback, but at least I know the flyers were seen and noticed. Hearing people’s feedback and comments were definitely encouraging, and a confidence booster in terms of repeating the same event. Around the same time I started posting these flyers, I also noticed a spike increase in terms of my blog views. One of the difficult things about seeing an increase in blog exposure is that unless comments are given, the blogger never really knows what people think about the blog. Just because I had an increase views doesn’t mean that all of them could have been “positive” ones – for all I know, some people could have reacted negatively or some people may have merely visited the link out of interest but then stayed uninterested once they saw it was posted. I consider an effective and legitimate blog view to be one where besides visiting the blog and reading a few posts, the reader also either “likes” the post, leaves a comment, and/or shares the post and blog link on social media. Some of my blog entries have gained likes, but those likes are from other anti-trafficking organizations that have WordPress blogs. This isn’t to say that I’m not pleased that these organizations/people are reading and visiting my blog; it’s just me saying that there isn’t as much public interaction on my blog as I wish there would be, but I think that is something that would probably take more time.

My second flyering session took place a week ago, but almost aspect of it had a complete makeover. After posting the “BOYS ARE NOT FOR SALE” flyer, I was at first content with its design, but then I started to feel a bit uncomfortable looking at it from a distance and pretending I was a random person reading it. While I’m content with its design and the information on it, I was put-off by the fact that I just focused on the male human trafficking. To the everyday viewer, their perception of the flyer would be that only male human trafficking mattered since I just said “Boys are not for sale” and I didn’t mention anything about females and transgender individuals who are trafficked as well. And while I know that when I was making that flyer I didn’t purposely make it to be exclusive, I was thrown off by what I did and proceeded to fix it immediately. I didn’t think it would be good to take down the remaining “Boys are not for sale” flyers since I wanted people to be exposed to them; so to mend the situation, I made another flyer to put next to the “Boys are not for sale” flyer. This flyer was also simple in design and said,

“The Anti-Trafficking Independence Project is not stating that the trafficking of girls is acceptable. We wish to see equal attention and resources spent on boys who are being trafficked. It must be made known that boys are trafficked here in the United States and around the world as well.”

Hopefully, the inclusion of this statement was noticed and thoughtfully remarked upon after I pinned it under or next to the “Boys are not for sale” flyers. Scrolling through the hashtag “#endtrafficking”, no one had posted a photo of my “Boys are not for sale” flyer with its updated note. I know security seems to be out to get me since they’ve been taking my flyers down; but I hope before they do that, they at least read the information on it.

After I went around updating the flyers, I felt inclined to design a new flyer that would have a broader and encompassing definition of all the people affected by human trafficking. My thought process behind making this flyer was to explicitly state in the definition that girls, boys, and transgender individuals are all subject to being trafficked; and I wanted to make that especially prominent in display. In the end, I decided to put on the flyer, “Human trafficking happens to girls, but it also happens to boys and transgender individuals in America and the world. #endtrafficking.” Creating this flyer made me feel more at peace with myself now that all other affected individuals were mentioned. Since I had run out of printer money printing my “boys are not for sale” flyers, I was lucky to enlist the help (also known as “printer money access”) of friends who were more than happy to let me use all of their printing money. With so much printer money at my disposal, I was able to print so many flyers and be equally strategic about their placement around the school.

Since I had an unlimited number of flyers at my disposal, putting the flyers around the school was much more fun. This time, I targeted all floors of 1 Pace Plaza (including the cafeteria, which was an interesting and nerve-wracking experience), the second to fifteenth floors of 41 Park Row, and Pace Seidenberg headquarters. My second set of flyers infiltrated Seidenberg with help from my friend Lola, who is a student aide there and who was more than happy to post the flyers on Seidenberg’s bulletin boards. As with the first time I put my “boys are not for sale” flyers up, I pinned flyers to all Pace Post bulletin boards (which are the only bulletin boards my flyers were allowed on; that didn’t prevent me from not posting on the other bulletin boards, though, since life is short and exposure is exposure), on bathroom doors, in elevators, by elevator buttons, along hallways, in the honors lounge, and on the CCAR office door. Two new locations I included in my flyering adventures were the cafeteria and a few classrooms that I knew were used often.

Flyering the cafeteria was an interesting experience for me and the one that probably gave me the most anxiety. I flyered the cafeteria in the morning once it opened at 7:30am, so that I wouldn’t run into people I know and have too many people stare at me. There were just a handful of people in the cafeteria when I went, and some people did take interest in what I was doing. No one commented or said anything, probably because they were more interested in their breakfast. I taped flyers on the walls next to the booth, on all sides of the pillar close to the café windows but also somewhat in the middle, above the microwaves, and on the wall near the utensil dispensers. I put a total of ten flyers in the cafeteria; and I was surprised to see they lasted for two days before some people thought some of the flyers on the booth walls needed to be ripped in half while others were taken down. Though I wasn’t pleased that some of my flyers got ripped (so much antagonism, why?!), I still had this feeling of contentment knowing that the flyers were noticed and were just negatively reacted to. Also, there is also the faint possibility that since my blog link is on the second half of the paper that was ripped, maybe the person ripped that part of the flyer out because he or she didn’t have a piece of paper and wanted to remember it so they took that half of the flyer as a souvenir. (That could just be me being overly optimistic.) Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of my ripped flyers in the cafeteria since whenever I went down to get food and/or drinks, I went during rush hour when there were so many people and taking a pic of the flyers would have been obvious.

Flyering 41 Park Row was a spontaneous decision. I remembered and decided to include it when Bill asked me to put flyers of his summer I and II online classes in the Park Row building. It wasn’t difficult or nerve-wracking to put the flyers up since luckily for me, the Pace Post bulletin boards were right next to the elevators; all I had to do was go up to each floor, stick my flyer(s) wherever there was empty space (I sometimes took down old flyers to make room for mine), and then leave to go up or down another level. I’m not sure how effective putting my flyers up in 41 Park Row was, since I didn’t encounter anyone when I went to put them up in the afternoon. I do know that the last time I checked (about three to four days ago) the flyers were still there. Interestingly, no one posted photos of my second set of flyers. I searched the hash tag I put on the flyer “#endtafficking” and other human trafficking related hash tags (such as #sextrafficking, #childtrafficking, #labortrafficking, #organtrafficking, and #humantrafficking), but only the photos I had posted showed up. I think that maybe because it’s finals season that people might be zoned out more than usual to even pay attention to flyers or their surroundings.

Executing this action project was one of the highlights of this semester. This might be the millionth time I’m saying this, but I honestly feel that all the assignments we’ve done in our International Activist Politics class has better prepared me for what a future career in the non-profit sector, and I’m really excited to continue exploring all the opportunities to do that at Pace and in New York. The Anti-Trafficking Independence blog is something I’ve wanted to happen ever since my senior year of high school when I first read articles by Nicholas Kristof on human trafficking, and taking this class has pushed me to make the blog happen. Besides posting as often as I could on the blog, I decided to take it a step further by finally creating the social media accounts I always imagined the blog having – namely Instagram and Twitter (I would like to branch out into an official Facebook page, Tumblr, and Pinterest one day). Even Brysk mentions in her book on page 190, “Effective use of media also helped by provoking interest, raising awareness, and shifting attitudes through repetition.” Repetition, visibility, and distribution of information was clearly evident through the blog’s application of social media. As I mentioned earlier, Instagram was created to document my take action project. That was particularly useful for the visual aids provided as evidence that the action project happened. Twitter was useful in the fact that I linked my Instagram account to the @antitraffickip Twitter account so that whenever a photo was posted on Instagram, it was automatically shared on Twitter as well. I also shared links of my blog posts on my personal Twitter (@heynells), and then eventually moved the sharing of blog posts to @antitraffickip for professional purposes. Unfortunately, it was not until a few days ago that Twitter finally produced weekly emails sent to users that showed how much traffic each Tweet got and what Tweets were marked as favorites. I have yet to see an email from them regarding @antitraffickip’s statistics. My Instagram and Twitter feeds have a fairly small audience (less than 100 followers on both accounts); but considering how they were made a month ago, I’m happy with the progress and attention they’ve received. One of my favorite things about social media is its storytelling aspect, and how the things shared (besides those viral animal videos) contribute to a person or organization’s story and/or advocates awareness for something. The Anti-Trafficking Independence Project’s social media accounts will document the growth of the blog and activism experiences, and it will hopefully become a recognized platform for anti-trafficking awareness initiatives.

In the future, I will be continuing these flyering activities as part of the anti-trafficking advocacy I will be doing in the future. I’m still deciding whether or not I want to stick with using the same flyers, or if I should design a new ones. The flyers I used for this final project were only up for at most two months, and I wonder if that’s enough time for proper exposure or if I should launch a new set of flyers for each month of next semester. I will be working with CCAR over the summer to plan some anti-trafficking awareness events for next school year, besides having speakers come in and hosting another petition event. Lately I’ve been thinking about using art as a means of activism, and that’s something I will be looking into over the summer. Is “artivism” a thing, or is it waiting to be discovered? Overall, I am so excited for this semester to be over so that I can fully dedicate myself to growing the blog, its social media presence, and to volunteer with anti-trafficking organizations and network with other people. Cheers to an amazing semester, and to reading this super long blog post.

I would like to give a special thank you to Bianca, Lolita, and the Center for Community Action and Research for all the help they gave me in executing and spreading word of my final project. I cannot thank you enough for all your support (and to you, Bianca, for your printer money!). 

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