Monday, June 22, 2009

Interview: Charles Lee, Co-Founder of the Freeze Project

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Charles Lee, co-founder of the Freeze Project, about the project, its aims, and his views on anti-trafficking activism.

What is the Freeze Project?

According to the Freeze Project website, a typical Freeze event looks something like this:
  • Participants will be asked to show up a designated time and place.
  • Participants will then proceed to the “Freeze” space and blend themselves into a crowd as if they were regulars in that particular environments (e.g., malls, events, outdoor shopping areas, etc.).
  • A cue will be given by the director of the Freeze moment.
  • Participants will then stop what they were doing and stay frozen for the next 5 minutes until they receive another cue telling them that the freeze is over.
  • Following the freeze, participants will handout a couple of print material each to people observing them (with or without conversation).
Freeze events have taken place at seven locations in the last year. Lee says that right now people are taking the basic idea, running with it, and making it their own. For many different organizations, the Freeze Project model provides a tool that can be adopted and then adapted all over. The model provides flexibility, allowing organizations to combine a Freeze with other events or activities, or to reshape the Freeze concept to meet their groups’ individual needs.

How did it start?

Inspired by the
Improv Everywhere group of NY, the Freeze Project began as a creative way to raise awareness and mobilize action. According to Lee, the heart of the Project is bringing awareness to social issues, such as human trafficking. Rather than activism efforts that can be intrusive or confrontational, Lee suggests that there is a need for awareness raising events that are more accessible and less alienating.

Why is this movement important?

Originally begun as a social experiment, Lee says that the Freeze project is an easy entry point to pull people in. While it may seem like the main goal of the event is to raise awareness in the spectators, as Lee pointed out to me, the events are especially powerful for participants. After being involved in a Freeze, there is a good chance that participants will never forget the issue of slavery. And from there, Lee says, people are almost compelled to get involved and take further action.

Lee notes that it is easy for people to have compassion from a distance; in the age of Facebook and other similar sites, it’s easy to connect to a cause on a superficial level. For Lee, one of the advantages of the Freeze Project is that it gets people to physically do something, and partially because the events are so memorable, they can be the first step for people to go deeper on the issues- Lee doesn’t want people’s anti-trafficking work to end with participating in a Freeze.

How did you first learn about trafficking?

Lee began studying human trafficking about six years ago after learning about it from friends. Like many involved in the anti-trafficking movement, Lee found that once he learned about modern day slavery, he had to take action.

Lee co-founded
Just 4 One, an organization that focuses on human trafficking, poverty, and orphans. The organization’s human trafficking work ranges from awareness raising campaigns to opening shelters for survivors. Lee’s work focuses on building networks between those who are just learning about slavery and want to do something and those on the front lines. His goal is to connect people to grounded, practical ideas and initiatives that they can engage in.

How can people get involved in the anti-trafficking movement?

Lee’s passion for this work came through clearly when I asked him what people can do to support the Freeze Project and anti-trafficking work in general. His first response was that people need to read up on slavery and learn about human trafficking today. Though it might seem basic, from that knowledge people gain creativity on how to fight the issue. Lee also encourages people to keep modern slavery in the forefront of people’s minds.
On a deeper level, Lee points out that the movement to end slavery needs people from all different professions: from lawyers to writers to social workers to business people to actors to graphic designers who will make fighting slavery their career. Lee also mentioned the need for better prosecutors to convict traffickers, legislators to work on policy, service providers for survivors and people to work on prevention.

Ultimately, the Freeze Project serves as a first step towards creatively engaging a diverse audience to join the fight against slavery.

Visit the Freeze Project website

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