Midterm elections 2022: Slavery on the ballot in 5 states

The effort is part of a national effort to amend the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More than 150 years after slaves were freed in the US, voters in five states will soon decide whether to close the loopholes that have led to the prevalence of another form of slavery – forced labour. person convicted of some crime or not.

None of the proposals force immediate changes inside the states’ prisons, though they could lead to legal challenges related to the way they use prison labor, a lasting mark of the state’s prison system. slavery in the United States.

The effort is part of a national effort to amend the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banning slavery or involuntary slavery, except as a form of criminal punishment. That exception has long allowed exploitation of the labor of those convicted of felonies.

“The idea that you can end up saying ‘slavery is fine as long as…’ has torn your soul, and I think that’s what makes this a war that ignores political lines and binds us together, because it feels so obvious,” said Bianca Tylek, chief executive officer of Worth Rises, a criminal justice advocacy group that is pushing for the removal of the termination employment clause. judgment of the amendment.

Nearly 20 states have constitutions that include language that allows slavery and involuntary slavery as criminal punishment. In 2018, Colorado was the first country to remove the language from its founding frameworks by vote, followed by Nebraska and Utah two years later.

This November, versions of the question will be put before voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.

Senator Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis, was shocked when a fellow lawmaker told her about the slavery exception in the Tennessee Constitution and immediately began working to change it. this language.

“When I found out that this exception existed, I thought, ‘We have to fix this and we have to fix it immediately,’ she said. “Our constitution should reflect the values ​​and beliefs of our state.”

Processes require long and technically complex steps before they can be adapted. Akbari first proposed the changes in 2019; The GOP-dominated General Assembly then had to pass the changes by majority vote in a two-year legislative period and then re-pass them with at least two-thirds approval in the next. The amendment may then be put to a vote in the year of the next directorate election.

Akbari also had to work with the state Department of Corrections to ensure that prison labor would not be prohibited under her proposal.

The language proposed to the voters of Tennessee makes a clearer distinction between the two: “Slavery and involuntary slavery are permanently banned. Nothing in this section prohibits a prisoner from working when the prisoner has been duly convicted of a crime. “

“We understand that detainees cannot be forced to work without pay, but we should not create a situation where they will not be able to work,” Akbari said.

Similar concerns about the financial impact of prison labor led the California Democratic-led Legislature to reject a mandated slavery elimination amendment as a possible punishment for crime after Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration predicted could require the state to pay billions of dollars in minimum wage to prisons. prisoner.

Thorough scrutiny of prison labor has existed for decades, but the Thirteenth Amendment loophole specifically encouraged the former Confederate states after the Civil War to find new ways to sustain themselves. maintain the momentum of slavery. They used restrictive measures, known as the “Black Code” because they were nearly always aimed at Black people, to criminalize mild interactions such as talking too loudly or not yielding to each other on the Internet. Pavement. Those targeted will end up being detained for petty actions, enslaving them again.

Fast-forward to today: Many incarcerated workers earn dollars, which won’t change if the proposal is successful. Inmates who refuse to work may be denied phone calls or visits with family, placed in solitary confinement and even denied pardon.

Alabama is asking voters to remove all racist language from its constitution and remove and replace a section on sentencing similar to what Tennessee already has in its constitution.

Vermont often boasts of being the first state in the nation to ban slavery in 1777, but its constitution still allows involuntary slavery in some cases. Its proposed change would replace the existing exception provision with language that says “slavery and involuntary slavery are permanently prohibited in this State.”

Oregon’s proposed change repeals its exception provision while adding language that would allow a court or probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration as part of sentencing.

Louisiana is the only state to date that has proposed the amendment to attract organized opposition, due to concerns that the alternative language could make matters worse. Even one of its original sponsors has second thoughts – Democratic Representative Edmond Jordan told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate last week that he is calling on voters from deny it.

The nonprofit Council for a Better Louisiana has warned that the wording could technically allow the return of slavery, as well as the continuation of involuntary slavery.

Louisiana’s constitution now states: “Slavery and involuntary slavery are prohibited, except in the latter case as punishment for a crime.” The amendment would change that to: “Slavery and involuntary slavery are prohibited, (but this) does not apply to legal criminal justice administration.”

“This amendment is an example of why it is so important to use the right language when presenting constitutional amendments to voters,” the nonprofit group said in a statement urging voters. chose “No” and lawmakers tried again, pointing to the Tennessee ballot language as a possible sample.

Advocates of the amendment say such criticism is part of a campaign to uphold the exception provisions.

“If this fails, it will be used as a weapon against us,” said Max Parthas, state executive director of the National Network for Abolition of Slavery.

The question serves as a reminder of how dangerous it is to continue to be a slave to Americans, and Parthas says that’s reason enough to vote yes.

“We have never seen a day in the United States where slavery was not legal,” he said. “We wanted to see what it looked like and I think it’s worth it.”

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/slavery-on-the-ballot-5-us-states-midterm-elections-2022/507-d539938e-0643-4b2e-a288-6f2b72056de8 Midterm elections 2022: Slavery on the ballot in 5 states

Edmund DeMarche

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