In 2022, some states voted to ban slavery – others didn’t

Image for article titled In 2022, some states voted to ban slavery, others didn't

photo: Getty, @FOX13Memphis/Twitter

Here’s something I didn’t expect in 2022: Five states voted during Tuesday’s midterm elections whether continued slavery should be outlawed through forced labor in prison, and as of Wednesday afternoon only three had voted to ban them. Alabama, Tennessee and Vermont voted for a ballot measure that would amend their state constitutions to prohibit slavery and involuntary, enforced servitude as punishment for crimes; The Oregon results are still too close, and Louisiana flatly opposed the change.

The voting measures in Alabama, Tennessee and Vermont do not take effect immediately, but they do raise legal challenges to prison policies that force inmates to work or threaten sanctions that include the loss of certain “privileges” such as phone calls. In particular, the 13th Amendment expressly permits the enslavement of inmates as punishment for their crimes.

But the absolute WTF factor isn’t necessarily that voting measures banning prison labor were not passed – rather, there was understandable public laughter at the wording of the voting measures. Voters were literally given a choice as to whether to outlaw slavery in the year of our Lord 2022, and so far only three states have unequivocally voted in favour.

On Tuesday evening, a tweet from a local Fox station in Tennessee proclaiming “SLAVERY BANNED” in big bold letters was inundated mocking or indignant responses. How is slavery only now be banned, users asked. A fair reaction! But like some have pointed outThe real outrage isn’t that Tennessee, Alabama, and Vermont “right now” voted to end slavery and its continuation through forced, unpaid, or underpaid prison labor — it’s that only four states currently ahead of Tuesday night’s election ( Colorado , Nebraska, Utah, and Rhode Island) explicitly abolished slavery. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times Remarks that “more than a dozen states still have constitutions containing language permitting slavery and involuntary servitude for captives,” and other states have no language on the subject.

That graphic continues to make the rounds on social media as a punchline, and yet for all the dunking in Tennessee, this is a comparatively progressive move from the southern, deep red state, while it remains unclear whether supposedly blue Oregon will do the same. However many people ridicule the South for being “backward,” organizers — particularly those of color — in these states are doing profoundly important work that should not be wiped out.

Prison work is a multi-billion dollar industry upon which America’s capitalist economic system depends in order to function. Meanwhile, inmates are getting paid literally pennies on the hourand those who try to hold back their work are threatened threatened with the loss of “privileges” such as family visits or even with solitary confinement. The controversy isn’t that Tennessee voted to abolish slavery Tuesday night — it’s that not enough states joined them. In 2022, some states voted to ban slavery – others didn’t

Adam Bradshaw

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