Project No New Slaves is hosting a series of community film screenings each Friday of Black History Month. On February 12 they’re screening Ava Duvernay’s 13th, followed by a discussion on the 13th Amendment’s complicated history and how we can pressure Congress and the Senate to enact legislation to remove slavery from the Constitution once and for all.
The 13th Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except [emphasis added] as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
On December 2, 2020, Democratic lawmakers introduced a resolution to amend the 13th Amendment to end slavery and forced prison labor. Project No New Slaves is mobilizing to insist lawmakers pass this much-needed legislation rather than deferring it, as they have done in the past.
In a country that outwardly claims to embody the principle of freedom, the United States — coming up on its 245th year of existence — has still failed to fully abolish slavery, and boasts the highest incarceration rate in the entire world with 698 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents, according to nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative’s 2020 report. California is no exception to this, even though it is presented as a progressive enclave by the national media and, conversely, a liberal hellhole by the right. If California was a country, it would rank as the 5th highest incarceration rate in the world with 518 prisoners per 100,000 residents, according to the World Prison Brief’s latest worldwide data — a stark reminder that ostensibly “liberal” politics do not account for the rights of prisoners.
The exception within Section 1 of the 13th Amendment never ended slavery. Through this intentional loophole, slavery has lived on through the prison-industrial complex (PIC). So what happens at the intersection of mass incarceration and capitalism when coupled with slavery? If you guessed “the exploitation of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and the working class to create a multi-billion industry of prison labor” then you guessed right!
Many facets of our society rely on exploitatively cheap incarcerated labor, including public universities, fire departments, and even our very Capitol. Incarcerated labor incentivizes the government to continue giving oversized budgets to the police, both depriving communities of the resources they need to prevent crime and increasing the already overreaching power of the Police State. The PIC necessitates criminalizing and exploiting the various side effects of poverty. Meanwhile, mass incarceration generates tremendous and lasting financial harm to communities, especially working-class, Black, Indigenous, and POC communities.
Interpreting the 13th Amendment as strictly an economic or class issue is problematic and shortsighted on any day, but especially so during Black History Month. These systems function as a critical political tool for upholding and maintaining the white supremacist delusion. It would be a gross misstep to ignore that the incarceration rate for Black people is over 5 times higher than for white people. Harsher sentencing for the same crimes, recidivism, losing the right to vote, and creating barriers to employment and housing are some of the oppressive outcomes of this system that disproportionately affect Black people.
If all of that is not enough to anger you, here are some other startling facts:
- There are 33 state prisons in California alone, and L.A. County’s jail system has the largest incarcerated population in the world.
- It costs $80,000 a year to incarcerate one person in prison.
- An estimated 83% of released prisoners were arrested again within 9 years.
Large portions of the population are unaware and uneducated about both the history of slavery in our country and its living heritage today. Yet, abolishing slavery completely is possible within our lifetime, and should have been accomplished far sooner. With the collective power of the people, we can knock down an oppressive pillar of systemic racism and economic exploitation. At the very least, it will be entertaining to watch shady politicians’ rhetorical contortions arguing against ending slavery when we hold their feet to the fire. Luckily, more people are wading into the long tradition of abolition by joining this fight for racial justice and liberation. A group of these people started Project No New Slaves to abolish slavery with no exceptions.
Project No New Slaves is honoring Black History Month by sharing unapologetic truths about our shared history that give context for where our country is now. You can tune in by following @projectnonewslaves on Instagram or TikTok. You can also join Project No New Slaves and check out their Linktree for more information on how to get involved, and come to the screening of 13th this Friday, February 12, at 7:30 pm.
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