To blog

AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, Ph. D.
Research Director, The Colorado Project
LCHT Co-Founder and Board Chairperson
Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

To blog. A foray into my brain and the spaces it is privileged to navigate. Cue: Chasing Pirates, Norah Jones:

My assignment this week is to reflect upon the start of my recent travels in relation to my work with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. However, as I began this current journey, I realized that I needed some kind of “anchor” blog. Something eloquent and witty to set off a series of blogs; a starting point of some kind.

And it felt a little overwhelming. I must have started a handful of times. And true to the social scientist that I am, I did my due diligence and did some research.

Word length. Tone. Level of seriousness. What are these bloggers trying to convey? With the guidance of our communications expert, I read…many…many blogs.

And the anxiety increased ever so slightly.

Reading through the blogs, I got insight into the different ways in which people shared what was happening in their heads. Thoughts. Observations. Irritations. Passions. To consider this was to really think hard about the thoughts in my own brain and whether it was blog-worthy. Of course I overthought this.

I came to the realization that it’s rare that I think with one “hat.” And I’m fortunate to never really have to be in a position to think “alone.” The nature of the Laboratory is to mix ideas and perspectives; the work and thinking of my incredible colleagues informs one another. We’re fortunate to be able to think intentionally and critically about nuances of the anti-trafficking movement. So for me, to blog is not only to share what’s going on in my own head, but to honor and feature the influence of family, friends and countless colleagues on my thinking. I’ve been extremely lucky to engage in some poetically simple and fantastically complicated conversations related to human trafficking.

And then there’s the added challenge of the hats that my brain occupies.

Psychologist. Co-Founder. Academic. Victim Advocate. Feminist. Daughter. Partner. First-generation U.S. born Pacific Islander-American. Musician. Board Chair. Dog owner. Research and Training Director. Runner. Wanna-be oenophilist. Nerd.

To have the privilege of knowledge from these various hats also means that I get to reside in what we refer to as “spaces in between.” Each of us at LCHT not only see these spaces in ourselves personally, but we get to help translate and make those connections to encourage shared learning. So for me, it’s concretely navigating my two academic departments, psychology and women’s studies. Navigating music and dance worlds. Navigating U.S. and Filipino cultures. Navigating law enforcement and service providers. Navigating academe and nonprofit cultures.

Admittedly, there are times where those spaces are vast, the kind where I need to use my “outside voice.” And sometimes that feels lonely where I belong everywhere and nowhere. Residing in these spaces can be exhilarating, aggravating and downright humbling.


As I begin this formal foray into the blogosphere, I’ll share two consistent threads that will help to set my blog intentions: random observations and music cues. Maybe it’s my scientific training, my curious observant nature, but these two things usually happen all the time in my head. Not only am I always sensing, I’m usually noticing something out of the ordinary. Or annoying. Or inspirational or insightful.

And there’s usually some kind of music playing in there as well. A soundtrack to my brain, you might say; it’s always there in the background and sometimes I just have to focus to notice it. It’s usually rhythmic, or speaks to my mood or reflects the “metronome” of my brain activity. Like Norah Jones’ Chasing Pirates for this blog; it’s there rhythmically calm and yes, those pirates roll around in there everyday. Oh, every now and then there’s a distracting or intrusive earworm (thanks, Foster the People). My co-workers will tell you of my ever-present music distraction, however it also serves as an absolutely critical factor to my sustainability in this field.

But then that would be an entirely different blog.


Social Media and Social Change

Marlena Hartz
Social Media Intern
Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

The relationship has always been ambivalent, tinged with resentment, advanced on impulses, marked by a sense of mystery.

I purchased my first cell phone in my senior year of college. All my friends had them, but I didn’t understand the need. More than that, I feared what we might become: discourteous drones obligated to answer phone calls in all places and at all hours, defined by the tiny machines in our pockets. I liked to think of my refrain as a form civil disobedience. Then, I found a new apartment and new roommates who refused to be tethered to a landline. So reluctantly, I bought my first cell phone. I sat on my porch until the sun went down and painstakingly transferred numbers from a tattered phone book into a little device. Today, I don’t leave the house without my cell phone. It’s saved me a hundred times: from flat tires, from crowds that separate me from friends, from detours on strange highways.

A few years later that familiar trepidation crept up again. I’d been a reporter for a daily newspaper in New Mexico for about a year when traditional and new journalism collided. My editor had just invested in a couple handheld video cameras. He called me into a meeting with our publisher and department managers. I assumed we’d talk about my big story. The Board of the community college would announce its next president. The race, between a newcomer and a town native, had been contentious.

“Marlena,” my editor asked, “How would you feel about Dustin following you with a video camera tomorrow to cover the announcement?”

“What?” I balked. “I think that’s a horrible idea. None of my sources will open up if some guy’s lurking around with a camera. No one will talk. No one.”

The next day Dustin followed me around with a camera. All my sources opened up. Unlike me, they embraced the camera’s presence.

Confession No. 1: as an intern at LCHT, one of my primary duties is contributing to our social media campaign. I spend a lot of time as a graduate student of communication contemplating technology, asking how it’s changing the news business and how it’s changing our lives. My Strategic Communications class this quarter often revolves around social media. We talk Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr. Even these sites, I’ve learned, are now best described as “old school.” The telltale sign: my mom just opened a Facebook account. Innovative social media venues, such as Foursquare and Meetup, and brilliant ways to use them seem to spring up every day.

Confession No. 2: I still find technology dizzying. A team of four LCHT interns and staff met last week to discuss how to cover an anti-trafficking conference in Colorado Springs. We agreed we should do some live tweeting from the event. Comedy ensued.

Me: “Is is twittering or tweeting? I still can’t figure that one out.”
No answer. Discussion moves on to other matters.

LCHT Staff Member No. 1: “We should make sure there’s an Internet connection available at the conference site.”
Me: “Yeah, like Wi-Fi, or whatever it’s called?”

LCHT Staff Member No. 2 to me: “Can’t you just tweet from your phone?”
Me: “My phone doesn’t have that capacity.”

As usual, I’m a slow to move with the times, still a print journalist at heart who’s exploring a pretty foreign landscape. Given all that, it’s surprising: the more I learn about social media, the more I like it. I seem to have landed in the right place, too, since LCHT embraces experimentation.

Gil Scott-Heron told us the revolution would not be televised in 1971. I wonder, will it be digitized?

I don’t think social media can replace the durability of relationships formed face-to-face or old-fashioned mobilization like marches, sit-ins, or boycotts. But it has power.

On the first day of class, my strategic communications professor prompted us to consider the recent Target scandal. Fittingly, we’ve been documenting it as a class on our communal blog. This June, news that the retail giant donated $150,000 to a group tied to a senator who opposes same-sex marriage went viral. Progressive consumers vented online, calling for action on blogs and Facebook pages. Employees vented on the same venues. Some 78,000 people joined an anti-Target Facebook page launched to encourage store boycotts. Target Ain’t People – the catchy YouTube video of a musical protest at a Target store – attracted more than 1.2 million viewers. In August, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel publicly apologized for the store’s political misstep. That’s powerful. Yet, so are other forces working to dismantle Internet democracy. According to The Huffington Post, Facebook administrators recently blocked key functions of the anti-Target site. It proves advocates of social change need to work hard to maintain and fortify the digital ground they’ve won.

I’m getting more and more excited about my social media assignments at LCHT. I’m starting to think like a chemist. Virtual activism and on-the-ground activism are like red and white phosphorus on the tip of a match.

Together, I believe they have the power to combat human trafficking and incite tangible social change.

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