This November, Amendment A aims to improve the state of Colorado by striking slavery from its constitution. While not practiced actively, slavery is still technically legal ,and by explicitly prohibiting it in law, we can take a step toward ensuring that it never returns.
It is no doubt surprising to some that slavery could still be legal in Colorado. In public schools, most students are taught that the 13th Amendment ended slavery in 1865. While this is true, the 13th Amendment still allowed for slavery if one was duly convicted of a crime. When Colorado became a state in 1876, it modeled its own constitution after the one established federally.
Article II, Section 26 of the Colorado Constitution states that, “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime… ” (Emphasis added). In layman’s terms, one can only be enslaved if they are first duly convicted of a crime.
In many ways, this statue embodies the state of Colorado over the past century, constantly caught between progress and constancy. We are a state constantly in flux and at war with ourselves and our status as a swing state is reflective of such.
But there comes a time when old things are to be done away with. Abolishing slavery from the Constitution of the United States would be emblematic of such. It would reveal to the watching world that we have reached a period of reflection and reconciliation.
Just as importantly, a move like this could show the vulnerable, disenfranchised and minoritized communities of Colorado that they have a promising future ahead of them. After all, it can be quite worrying to reside in Colorado knowing the state once had the second largest Ku Klux Klan presence in the country.
Amendment A can also help to remove the dark cloud of political divisiveness that currently looms over the nation. If there is anything reasonable citizens can agree on, it is that any allowance for slavery is unacceptable, immoral and an affront to human dignity.
If what Martin Luther King Jr. declared is true and, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” then we ought to act. We ought to make sure that the freedom and dignity of all human beings are respected and protected, or risk jeopardizing our own.
“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
Make no mistake, allowances for slavery are anything but benign. In the wake of the 13th Amendment, many states made concerted efforts to begin criminalizing Black people. This allowed for slavery to still survive and for the mass incarceration of Black people to begin.
Mass incarceration becomes even more nefarious when one realizes the extent to which prisoner labor keeps our society running. The extent any of this labor is actually contributing to the rehabilitation of the incarcerated person is highly questionable.
Amendment A may be the first step in rethinking the American prison industrial complex. It can help us to dismantle a system which disproportionately affects people of color. It is a symbol that we as a people are committed to the freedom and equality of our fellow man.