by Joka Heshima Jinsai, founder
“Section One of the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”… Such an amendment amounted to an escape clause, a corrective loophole that left a form of slavery intact … In the very sentence abolishing slavery, provision had been made for its revival under another form and through the action of the U.S. courts. The 13th Amendment marked the discursive link between the civilly dead felon and the slave or social non person … This amendment is essential to understanding how the burdens and disabilities that constituted the badges of slavery took powerful hold on the language of penal compulsion. Once the connection to prison and slaves had been made, slavery could resurface under other names, not only in the South but also in the North.” – Colin Dayan
Amerika is a slave state – a nation whose wealth and prestige rest upon the subjugation and exploitation of other humans. The rationalization for slavery of any sort requires the enslaver(s) to dehumanize the subjects of their domination, to deny or unmake their personhood as a legitimate expression of their idea of civilization.
Dialectically, to a great extent, it also requires the enslaved to accept their dehumanization. In Amerika this process of transmuting people from humans into slaves is carried out through the “rule of law.” Slavery is “legal” in the United States. I don’t mean it was “legal,” but it IS “legal” and has always, in one form or another, been a cornerstone of the hierarchical structure of Amerikan society.
That slavery remains legal in the U.S. in 2016, though disturbing, is not as shocking as the fact the vast majority of U.S. citizens don’t know slavery remains “legal.” Perhaps the primary reason for this willful ignorance lies in the process by which the social stigma the U.S. attaches to slaves has been transferred to those convicted of a felony.
The same rationale which governed the ruling class” and states” perspective on the New Afrikan, Native and, to a lesser extent, Latinos and the poor prior to the “Emancipation Proclamation” governed it afterwards. In fashioning the basis for this next phase of “legal” oppression, the ruling class and its state, with Machiavellian calculation, embedded a pretext in which to preserve slavery in the very language of the constitutional amendment to abolish it.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the “supreme law of the land,” states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Because the ruling class and the state controlled – and in many cases was – the productive system and the judicial machinery of society, manufacturing “laws” and socio-economic conditioning which constantly exposed a particular population to criminal conviction or stigmatization based on those “laws” was as simple as flipping a switch on the assembly lines of their factories.
Amerika is a slave state – a nation whose wealth and prestige rest upon the subjugation and exploitation of other humans.
From 1862 to the present day, Amerikan criminology and legislative effect would be a series of refinements on this single theme: the systematic criminalization of New Afrikans (Blacks), other oppressed nationalities and the poor – populations designated for exploitation or disposal by the U.S. from its inception.
Political opposition to the “legal” slavery provision of the 13th Amendment is not new among NARN adherents. Comrade George, Comrade Khatari, Comrade Jalil Muntaquin and many others have called for its abolition and organized toward that end, but none have yet to succeed in forging a structure and national movement solely dedicated to abolishing “legal” slavery in Amerika and all the unequal social, political and economic relationships enforced by its attendant statutes.
Development of the concept and strategy for the “amend the 13th: abolish “legal” slavery in Amerika movement” began in November 2013 following the close of the third hunger strike here in California, after holding discussions and issuing statements with other think tank coordinators on the next logical step for our anti-prison industrial slave complex (PISC) struggle. Since that time, the centrality of the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment has gained a degree of social resonance with many, like Comrade Malik in Texas and “free” movements, including the Free Alabama Movement, IWOC, New Underground Railroad etc., across the South, sounding the call to abolish “legal” slavery in Amerika.
Development of the concept and strategy for the “amend the 13th: abolish “legal” slavery in Amerika movement” began in November 2013 following the close of the third hunger strike here in California.
The primary rationale for “amend the 13th” is simple: There are thousands of dynamic progressive groups and activists engaging the system in disparate aspects of anti-PISC work, in effect waging the same struggle at many different points. Yet this beast is so big, so powerful, so ingrained in Amerikan social life that – outside of mass social cooperation like that seen the 2011- 2013 California Hunger Strikes – it is able to ignore, absorb or superficially reform away our individual attacks, while keeping the heart of all these contradictions protected under layers of constitutional legitimacy and conditioned public support.
The heart of these contradictions – no matter what we, our organizations or communities are fighting against – is the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment. “Amend the 13th” seeks to unite and concentrate all our organizations and mobilize power to strike at this single point of “legal” hate and oppression – repeatedly – while simultaneously ensuring each of us can continue to pursue our own individual social progress missions, until the very basis of “legal” slavery is abolished completely.
This means striking at the nexus of its oppressive rationale: that slavery under any circumstance – even as a punishment for crime – is legal and legitimate under U.S. law is fundamentally incorrect. Such a rationalization can only exist with the acceptance and participation of the Amerikan people. Your acceptance and participation in slavery.
Why “Amend the 13th” is necessary
The maintenance of slavery in the U.S. and its constant evolution is designed to maintain both the physical structures of race and class oppression and the psychological and ideological character structures upon which the capitalist system is based. What we must understand is the modern slavery enforced by the 13th Amendment is merely a single cog in a global network of oppressive and exploitative relationships.
These exploitative social relationships manifest themselves not only in the enslavement and commoditization of those convicted of a crime, but also in the pseudo-enslavement of immigrants on rural farms and domestic workers forced to accept low wages and/or sexual harassment from employers for fear of deportation; they manifest themselves in the enslavement of women and children forced into the slave trade or domestic roles by pimps and traffickers in communities across Amerika; they manifest themselves in the involuntary or compulsory servitude of children in India, Liberia, Thailand, Congo, Bangladesh and elsewhere forced to work in sweatshop factories and mines for Amerikan corporations or interests.
When we look upon these horrors, we tend to view them in their isolation as opposed to their interconnection. In doing so, we fail to see these systems of exploitation are all in fact contiguous parts of the U.S. socioeconomic infrastructure.
Hierarchical authoritarian systems, like U.S. capitalism, cannot function without these populations forced to the bottom rung of society acting as surplus labor or human chattel. Neither can they function without the complicity of broad sections of the population in such dehumanization.
Sexism and xenophobia play just as crucial a role in the social divisions of the capitalist arrangement as do racism and classism. These systems of exploitation and hate are institutional and self-perpetuating in Amerika – so deeply rooted in the core psychology of so many of us that a corresponding systematic approach will be required to dismantle them.
Before there can be any serious talk of degrading the social foundations of supremacy and hate, we must eliminate their embodiment in “law.” Slavery and involuntary servitude for anyone – even those convicted of a crime – is itself criminal, morally repugnant and indefensible.
The United States – to my knowledge – is the only nation on the planet Earth which maintains a “legal” provision by which its own citizens can be reduced to “slaves of the state” within its national Constitution. Surely we cannot allow such hypocrisy to continue striding the world stage, declaring itself the bastion of “freedom and democracy.”
Slavery and involuntary servitude for anyone – even those convicted of a crime – is itself criminal, morally repugnant and indefensible.
But this is only half the reason “Amend the 13th” is so necessary. There is also the question of “civil death,” which, in spite of popular belief, extends the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment far beyond the prison walls. Today modern slavery is erected in “civil death” laws and social containment policies for most anyone convicted of a felony at some point in their lives.
“Civil death” laws successfully unmake the personhood and convey the social stigmatization of the chattel slave onto the criminal offender, divorcing them from humanity and the compassion humans commonly show those they empathize with. “Civil death” laws deliberately and disproportionately impact New Afrikans, Latinos and the poor, exacerbating centuries of poverty, social containment and desperate human misery – the perfect conditions for the development of the underground economy upon which imprisonment is based.
This is not by chance or happenstance, but by design. A cursory glimpse at just a few “civil death” laws reveals their intent to maximize poverty and recidivism among those subject to them: In many states, former prisoners have restrictions on driving or on making, seeking or maintaining a job very difficult. Those convicted of a felony in the U.S. are automatically banned from holding certain professional licenses, such as barber or accountant.
Today modern slavery is erected in “civil death” laws and social containment policies for most anyone convicted of a felony at some point in their lives.
In California alone there are over 212 “laws” preventing ex-offenders from getting certain jobs or professional licenses, and there are similar statutes across the U.S. at the state and federal level. This constitutes the deliberate application of poverty and recidivism. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2013-2014, 87 percent of all criminal offenders live near or below the poverty line.
Prisoners cannot own or operate a business under U.S. law. This is wholly irrational. If it is the contention of the state that a debt to society is owed as a consequence of violating their “law,” why would anyone erect laws which bar them from making a contribution to the economy and labor market if they possess the business acumen to do so? You wouldn’t unless your intent was to deliberately impose poverty and dependence on those subject to your control.
Slaves under U.S. “law” are “non-persons,” and thus cannot vote. Disenfranchisement “laws” have crippled the electorate in New Afrikan and poor communities. One in three New Afrikans cannot vote due to a felony conviction, and 1.4 million of them are New Afrikan males.
In California alone there are over 212 “laws” preventing ex-offenders from getting certain jobs or professional licenses, and there are similar statutes across the U.S. at the state and federal level.
These communities are subject to laws they have little to no influence over, such as “gang injunctions” and “stop and frisk” statutes, because so many are removed from the process by which “laws” are made or opposed. The combined impact of these, and many other “civil death” laws is to reduce those subject to them to a subhuman state; a social, economic and political position outside and beneath that of others in this nation.
To be a slave in modern Amerika is a study in limited options, codified stigmatization and the absolute despotism of the state in every aspect of social life. This continued legitimization of slavery in any form, for any population, is to enforce social alienation on that population so severe that the state often produces the very anti-social attitudes and actions the “law” is supposed to be intended to remedy.
Abolition of the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment would reactualize the personhood of those who have had their very humanity stripped from them and in so doing create a vested interest in the former slave to participate in the progress of their communities. As such, the scope of “Amend the 13th” will encompass the development of autonomous institutions which will empower the communities of former slaves socially, politically and economically – which is in the interests of society as a whole.
Movement strategy and structure
The “Amend the 13th: Abolish “Legal” Slavery in Amerika Movement” is an all-inclusive, coalition-based national campaign and community-based organizing effort which is determined to remove the “legal” and social basis for the dehumanization of those subject to the judicial machinery of the United States – and finally abolish slavery in Amerika once and for all. The movement has three basic aims:
- To amend the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remove its “legal” slavery provision for all persons: including those found guilty and sentenced for a felony offence.
- To abolish and/or repeal all “civil death” and social containment statutes and ordinances which do not afford prisoners, ex-offenders and their communities full human, political, economic and participatory rights in social life in Amerika that derive their power from the 13th Amendment.
- To develop and implement as quickly as possible autonomous community-based economic, political and social infrastructure capable of eliminating, mitigating or diminishing to the greatest degree the negative impact of mass incarceration, criminalization and “legal” slavery on our communities.
We will seek to accomplish this end via a three-pronged strategy designed to raise social awareness of and public opposition to the continuation of “legal” slavery in Amerika, while simultaneously undermining its basis.
- Organize a national petition drive to amend the 13th Amendment to remove its “legal” slavery provision at the federal level, and a corresponding petition in each state to rescind all “civil death” and social containment “laws” which derive their powers from the “legal” slavery provision of the 13th Amendment.
- Carry out targeted demonstrations which highlight both the negative social impact and continued existence of “legal” slavery in Amerika.
- Promote and seek formal authority for the implementation of community-based parole, pardon and clemency boards based on the concept of “strategic release.”
The structure of “Amend the 13th,” in keeping with its aim to forge a national coalition inclusive of every group, activist and individual opposed to “legal” slavery in Amerika in all its guises – i.e., criminalization, mass incarceration, disenfranchisement, “civil death,” involuntary servitude, the deliberate applications of poverty, etc. – will seek state coordinators from already existing organizations and/or activists in each state.
These state coordinators will be responsible for creating their own state coordinating committees reflective of the activists, organizations and affected communities in their state. They will also be responsible for recruiting city coordinators to conduct signature drives, organize community participation in development and stability initiatives, organize demonstrations, garner support for community-based parole, pardon and clemency boards – and “strategic release” – and expand political and material support for the movement nationally.
Each state coordinator will coordinate their efforts with the “Amend The 13th” national coordinating committee, which will include founder Joka Heshima Jinsai and an executive director, deputy director, chief inside coordinator, deputy inside coordinator, secretary, national treasurer, community development coordinator, national spokesperson and executive legal consultant.
The primary function of the National Coordinating Committee is to see that the three basic aims of “Amend the 13th” are realized via its three-pronged strategy, and ensure sufficient human and material resources are available to state and city coordinators to realize these goals.
Building a successful movement begins with developing a competent and effective structure capable of being the living counterpoint to the existence of the prison industrial slave complex. We understand conditions and points of resistance differ from state to state.
Building a successful movement begins with developing a competent and effective structure capable of being the living counterpoint to the existence of the prison industrial slave complex.
The struggles being waged in Georgia and Alabama in the 2010s were successfully waged in California and New York in the 1970s. However, what is constant across every state is the “legal” and political basis for all the various forms of abuse, exploitation and dehumanization experienced by those subject to the judicial machinery in the U.S.: the “civil death” and slavery provisions of the 13th Amendment.
Striking at these as one will undermine the entire dehumanization rationale of U.S. penal policy and jurisprudence which stems from the conscious preservation of the slave system in its modern, punitive form. Social attitudes flow from social conditions, and social conditions are influenced by social attitudes; as such, the minds of the people – your minds – are the primary battleground for social progress.
The unfortunate truth is that most U.S. educational institutions teach what to think, and rarely how to think. “Amend the 13th” seeks to provide the people with an opportunity to not only explore critical thought, but to also confront the hate which continues to cast a pall over social relationships at every level of Amerikan society. It allows us to not simply alter the basis for inhumane “laws” and codified hate, but to also alter the institutions and social life in the most desperate and besieged communities in such a way that it strikes at the very origins of crime, criminalization and human misery.
If we can agree the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege, access and opportunity in a society is the origin of all crime and the gateway to enslavement in the U.S., then the most prudent course is to invoke its opposite – to create independent wealth, access and opportunity in those communities which enjoy so little of it. Stable and prosperous communities produce stable and prosperous people. Therefore, “Amend the 13th’s” intent is to empower the modern slave socially, politically and economically in the social interests of society as a whole; conversely, opposition to it would run contrary to those interests.
“Amend the 13th” seeks to provide the people with an opportunity to not only explore critical thought, but to also confront the hate which continues to cast a pall over social relationships at every level of Amerikan society.
In the final analysis, the complete abolition of slavery in the United States is a historical imperative. It is our responsibility as principled people to finally end this willful hate, this intentional social containment and the tissue-thin façade that it is not willful and intentional. The U.S. state must be held accountable by the people – and the world – for preserving the vilest practice in the history of civilization in the body of “the supreme law of the land.”
When we speak of fascism in Amerika, we are speaking of the maintenance of authoritarian ideology, the perpetuation of hate, under the guise of “national security, national interests and patriotism.” U.S. pronouncements of “freedom and justice for all” in the face of “legal” slavery is not mere political hypocrisy, but an ideal manifestation of the rationalization of fascism, and we must reject it, oppose it and overcome it.
In the final analysis, the complete abolition of slavery in the United States is a historical imperative.
We must all recognize that any social force which opposes this movement’s goals are forces which support the maintenance of slavery in Amerika. They must be exposed as such. Our social cooperation and unity of purpose at this critical juncture in history are capable of accomplishing what should have been realized over 100 years ago: the abolition of “legal” slavery in Amerika.
If you believe us correct in this lofty goal, join us, build with us, demand and enforce through our collective action a society free of institutional hate and oppression – and build it.
We look forward to building with you all toward this historic change.
Until we win or don’t lose.
Joka Heshima Jinsai, founder, “Amend The 13th: Abolish ‘Legal’ Slavery in Amerika Movement”
To register your organization or yourself on the “Amend the 13th” affinity charter, please contact us via Amendthe13th@riseup.net. Our website is under construction; find us soon at Amendthe13th.wordpress.com.
Send our brother some love and light: J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, KVSP B2-117U, P.O. Box 5102, Delano CA 93216.