These words appear in an ISIS pamphlet
“It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of.”[i]
Think, how naught but death can sever
Your lov'd children from your hold;
Still alive- but lost forever
Ours are parted, bought and sold!
So wrote Susannah Watt in 1828, in The Slaves' Address to British Ladies[ii].
Three years ago, we in the United Kingdom celebrated the centenary of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which paved the way for the end of slavery in the British Empire in the decade after its enactment. We had no right to celebrate. There are 45.8 million slaves in the world today, and, as the map below shows, it’s not just something that’s happening as part of the terrible situation in the middle east. In fact, the country with the greatest number of slaves by far is India.
Moreover, to our shame, there are over four thousand slaves in the UK.
By now, you’re probably thinking, why is this appearing on More Than Writers? What can I do? As individuals and Christians, we can: sign petitions circulated by WalkFree and other anti-slavery organisations; (if we can afford it) donate money to them; and, of course, pray for all people held in servitude and against their will. But what can we do as writers? What do we do best? Write. Authors, musicians and visual artists help to shape opinion. (Yes, even those of us who feel we are a long way down the writing pecking order.) You can write about slavery directly, as I'm doing on this blog. You can also use Facebook, Twitter and your own blog, although you may gain a reputation as ‘rent a rant’ (like me).
Or you can be subtle and write poetry, as they did two hundred years ago. The Romantic poets didn’t only pen nice little odes about daffs in the Lake District. Much of their work concerned the news of their day, particularly the French Revolution and slavery. Anti-Slavery Poetry is a sub-genre in its own right. In 1785 William Cowper wrote:
We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad?
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free.
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud.
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
And let it circulate through every vein.[iii]
The ACW is offering you the opportunity to set the world on fire with your poetry, by entering our News competition (see pages 4-5 of Christian Writer or visit http://www.christianwriters.org.uk/competitions). It’s free to ACW members, although non-members will pay £3 for first entry and £2 for subsequent entries. The submission deadline is Monday, 21 November.
Modern slavery is in the News, isn’t it? You might use this opportunity to write about modern Anti-Slavery Poetry. In an age, when good is seen as dull, bad as exciting and wicked the highest accolade of all, remind the world that we are called to love one another equally. ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28, NIV).
Rosemary Johnson writes under the pen-name Charlie Britten. She has stories published online and in print and, like everyone else, is writing a novel. In real life, she teaches IT in an adult education college.