“As people of faith, we believe that slavery is not a human value; we believe that no one is a slave — with no exceptions. Now is the time, to strike the archaic language and begin healing racial divides to unify, strengthen and uplift all of our communities.”
Those were the words of those from Together Colorado, one of the groups that is working for taking slavery out of the Colorado Constitution. Colorado State Constitution Article 2, Section 26 abolishes slavery except for those incarcerated:
“There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Groups want the reference to slavery edited out of the state constitution written in 1877, saying that the concept is outdated and inhumane. Those directly affected take exception too saying that large corporations are avoiding paying employment, social security, unemployment, and other taxes by using free prison labor. The issue led to a labor strike in several states this spring stemming from longtime organizing against the practice along with other alleged abuses including assaults by guards and solitary confinement. The Free Alabama Movement (FAM) has been organizing against prison slavery for years. The group is not shy about naming corporations such as McDonald’s, one corporation FAM names that profits from prison slavery.
The resolution will appear before Colorado voters on the November ballot. In Colorado the African-American community is 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Latinos are twice as likely. Addressing the disparity has involved years of work by groups including Together Colorado’s Jukome Emery-Brown who told The Nation Report that he himself was a victim of mistaken incarceration and in turn, slavery.
Senate Concurrent Resolution16-006 was introduced by Senator Jesse Ulibarri and Representatives Jovan Melton and Joe Salazar. Only a two-thirds majority was required in each chamber for the referred measure to reach voters but on May 4, 2016 the Colorado House voted unanimously for SCR16-006, the No Slavery No Exceptions Bill on third reading. The next week the resolution passed the Senate, also by unanimous vote. Since the resolution was concurrent, Governor Hickenlooper’s signature is not required to appear on the ballot.
Supporters gathered on the west steps of the Capitol in a public assertion for “freedom and equality [that] are fundamental Colorado values that should be reflected in the language of our Colorado state constitution. Removing this exception will give us the opportunity to begin a dialogue to transform Colorado and potentially what the entire country will look like for future generations to come.”
“Everyone has a right to be treated with human dignity; to love, live and thrive without fear, “ said Sharon Bridgeforth. “Slavery is not a Colorado value. We believe that no one is a slave – with no exceptions.” Bridgeforth is the Together Colorado Board President and the President of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc.
The “No Slavery No Exceptions” campaign was organized by faith leaders of Together Colorado including Pastor Del Phillips, Reverend Nelson Bock, Reverend Tawana Davis, Rabbi Bernard Gerson, and Reverend Jann Halloran. “Healing begins with removing racially dividing symbols that are no longer a part of our identity as Coloradans,” said Reverend Tawana Davis in a statement. “This process will allow us to work towards unity with an identity founded in freedom and equality.”
Together Colorado sees the measure as the beginning of a centuries-old process of healing for practices of slavery and inequality “Healing begins when symbols that divide us are struck down. It is time we abandon the inhumane language of this exception, written in the 19th century, during a period in our country’s history when not all people were treated with human dignity nor seen as human. Two centuries later we are better than that and it is time to dismantle this symbol of racial division. As residents of Colorado, we must be the leaders, to take hold of this crucial opportunity to lead our nation towards true freedom and human dignity for ALL.”
The implications for the US economy could reach proportions that could affect the tax base in states that completely abolish slavery. Groups say that they want an “economy that works for everyone.”
Voters will see the measure as Amendment T on November’s ballot.