Freedom United joins a national coalition launching the #EndTheException campaign fighting to abolish constitutional slavery and involuntary servitude in all forms, for all people.
Together with over 70 national organizations, we sent a joint letter to Congress, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsing the recently introduced Abolition Amendment and urging immediate passage.
The joint resolution (SJ Res 21, HJ Res 53) which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as punishment for a crime,” was introduced last week by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Congresswoman Nikema Williams (D-GA-05) to remove the last vestige of slavery in the U.S. Constitution — the insidious exception clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.
They were joined by eight U.S. Senators and 16 U.S. Representatives, including Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Today’s letter comes just days after legislators and advocates hosted a Juneteenth celebration to introduce the Abolition Amendment and #EndTheException campaign to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude, once and for all. Advocates expressed the urgency of the moment in a one-hour event detailing the history and current state of slavery.
“Today, people across the nation are forced to work without pay, some still picking cotton in prisons that are built on former plantations. Correctional officers patrol like overseers, and those who refuse to work are often beaten, denied contact with their loved ones, and put in solitary. Slavery never ended, it just evolved,” said Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises and Federal Lead for the Abolish Slavery National Network. “The abolition of slavery must be absolute and without exception. It is a stain on our national fabric — past, and present — and we cannot be comfortable in its filth. We stand strong today, empowered by our ancestors, in support of the Abolition Amendment.”
“This country was founded on the beautiful principles of equality and justice—principles that have never been compatible with the horrific realities of slavery and white supremacy,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. “The loophole in our constitution’s ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day. To live up to our nation’s promise of justice for all, we must eliminate the Slavery Clause from our constitution.”
“The Abolition Amendment is one step closer to achieving true justice and equality for all. States are amending their constitutions to finally abolish slavery in all forms, and Congress will lead the way and finally abolish involuntary servitude in America,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams. “We are in a period of reckoning with our country’s history and a lot of that history is marked with racism and systems of oppression. Eliminating the loophole in the 13th Amendment that allows for slavery is another opportunity to do that.”
Saturday’s Juneteenth event began with a powerful poetry performance by Faylita Hicks, 2021 Civil Rights Corps Poet in Residence. Worth Rises Executive Director Bianca Tylek then opened the program by illuminating the historical context for Juneteenth and the Abolition Amendment, handing it off to Ernestine “Tina” Wyatt, a descendant of Harriet Tubman, to remark on the importance of today’s continued fight for abolition.
Formerly incarcerated advocates and movement leaders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF National Criminal Justice Director and poet Jorge Renaud, Just Leadership USA President Deanna Hoskins, and Anti-Recidivism Coalition Director of National Advocacy Michael Mendoza, then held a conversation about the present realities of prison slavery.
Abolish Slavery National Network Lead Organizer Kamau Allen explained why the moment is now, followed by remarks from the amendment’s sponsors, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Nikema Williams (D-GA). Forward Justice Co-Director Daryl Atkinson and Action Center on Race and the Economy Executive Director Maurice BP-Weeks closed the program with a call to action for attendees. Jorge Renaud concluded the event with another powerful poetry performance.
“There is a bitter root that has been allowed to grow, and it is choking, and eventually will cause the demise of America, and that is slavery in any name or under any circumstance,” said Ernestine “Tina” Martin Wyatt, a descendant of Harriet Tubman.
“We abolished slavery from Colorado’s constitution in 2018. Two years later, Nebraska and Utah did the same. We are now at a defining moment in our history when we have the chance to finally address the legacy and the wounds left behind by leaving such an abhorrent loophole in our country’s most powerful document,” said Kamau Allen, Lead Organizer for the Abolish Slavery National Network.
“While the acknowledgment of Juneteenth is a step, the sheer fact that the 13th Amendment exception clause exists underscores the deep systemic racism that is pervasive within our country,” states DeAnna Hoskins, President of JustLeadershipUSA. “Within the criminal justice system, we know that legalized slavery is interwoven into the fabric of how it operates. Until we are seen as humans we will continue to be oppressed and marginalized in this country, we are not truly free until we all are free.”
“Ending the exception clause in the 13th Amendment will finally end slavery for people forced to work in prison,” states Daryl Atkinson, Co-Director of Forward Justice. “As someone who was forced to work on prison farms during my incarceration, this campaign is deeply personal to me and millions of other formerly incarcerated people.”
“America can not even begin to be considered a just nation until we remove legalized slavery. Now is the time to push for this crucial amendment and make slavery a thing of the past,” said Maurice BP-Weeks, Co-Director of the Action Center on Race & The Economy.
“For people caged in America the 13th Amendment’s exception sanctioning slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime has no limits based on race or ethnicity,” noted Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Latinos know that fully well and like their African-American counterparts they demand an end to this coercive, exploitative regime that robs their labor for corporate profit. Basta ya!”
“If we want people in prison to be rehabilitated and ready to come home, we must #EndtheException of involuntary servitude from our federal Constitution,” said Michael Mendoza, Director of National Advocacy for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. “There is no room for dehumanizing language in our laws that continue to treat incarcerated people as slaves.”