Interactive art has become a trend throughout urban and suburban areas. For many artists, interactive art installations are a strategy to create shared meaning of emotions, political dissent or lived experience. Today, we had the opportunity to learn more about a participatory art project in downtown Brentwood known as The Red Sand Project.
The Red Sand Project
According to the website redsandproject.org, The Red Sand Project is interactive artwork that uses “sidewalk interventions, earthwork installations and convenings to create opportunities for people to question, connect and take action against vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation.”
The Red Sand Project has taken place in each of the 50 U.S. states and in more than 70 countries around the world. In Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Human Trafficking Coalition, a subsidiary of the Contra Costa Employment and Human Services Department and the Contra Costa Alliance to End Abuse as adopted the program and taken powerful steps to highlight the Red Sand Project and bring attention to human trafficking throughout the county.
Bringing Red Sand to Contra Costa County
We had the opportunity to speak with Justin Gomez, Communications Specialist, for the Contra Costa Human Trafficking Coalition. Justin described human trafficking as a difficult topic of conversation, especially in smaller communities such as Brentwood, Antioch and our small rural neighbors. Human trafficking is often associated with international scandal or sensationalized through the mass media. Community members often think that human trafficking is a ‘thing’ that just does not happen in places like Contra Costa County. Second, Justin explained that because people just do not know they should be aware of human trafficking, there is a lot of misinformation, or just no information, about how to help and become involved.
This is the power of the Red Sand Project
If you attend one such art installation, you will see people with bold red bags of red sand, filling the cracks in sidewalks, streets, and gutters. These are often unrecognized, invisible, or just overlooked cracks we tread upon daily without thinking twice. As soon as the brightly colored sand fills the crevices, the fissures in the streets become assertive and eye-catching. These red rifts in the sidewalk cause people to stop and ask questions. The Red Sand Project creates an outlet to discuss the travesties and the proximity of human trafficking.
As people become involved in the art, the symbolism of the red sand becomes evident through conversation. Most people who are trafficked are invisible, unnoticed and unrecognized in our communities. Because there is a mentality that human trafficking “just doesn’t happen here” people are unaware of the signs, symbols and red flags to look for when people are being trafficked. We do not look for what we are unaware. We also cannot help when we do not know there is a problem.
The Reality of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking in Contra Costa County is a reality. The Contra Costa Human Trafficking Coalition is working diligently to bring attention to human trafficking to help break the systems that perpetuate trafficking. First, recognition and empowering community members with engaging in conversations is the first step. These conversations empower people with the correct terminology to approach the topic and begin having conversations with their peers.
These are valuable conversations because when an invisible or overlooked population starts to become a topic of conversation, they are no longer invisible. This is when changes can occur. This is also when people can learn the signs, symbols and red flags. This is when people become involved. This is when human trafficking loses the stigma and becomes an issue policies and daily practices can begin to unravel.
How To Help
Justin said that currently, there are various legislative strategies to break the cycles that support human trafficking and provide resources for victims. However, he also explained that even with legislation, community members understanding what human trafficking in, the proximity of the problem, and how to protect themselves and the youth population from trafficking is imperative. His hope is that as Brentwood, Antioch and other surrounding communities, adopt the program, more conversations will bring more community engagement and more solutions.
If you are interested in learning more about the Red Sand Project, or learning more about human trafficking on Contra Costa County, get more information from http://www.ContraCostaCoalition.org. We also would like to thank the Brentwood City Council for voting in support of adopting the Red Sand Program into the community and thank Councilwoman Karen Rarey for dedicating her morning working alongside Justin at the event.