SJR 10 passes the legislature and will now be referred to voters

June 24, 2021
PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon took a historic step today in service of eradicating slavery in the state with the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 10 through both chambers of the legislature with strong bipartisan support. SJR 10 proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances. Oregon’s constitution has banned slavery since its approval in 1857 but includes an exception when slavery is imposed as a punishment for a crime. SJR 10 proposes to amend Article 1, Section 34 of the Oregon Constitution to remove the language permitting people convicted of crimes to be subjected to involuntary servitude.

Oregon is far from alone among US states in giving legal permission to the enslavement of incarcerated people. It’s also not the only state in which efforts are underway to remove this type of inhumane language. Colorado ended its “punishment exception” in 2018, with Utah and Nebraska following suit in 2020. At the federal level, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced an amendment in Congress to abolish the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution’s punishment exception.

Oregonians Against Slavery and Involuntary Servitude (OASIS), a grassroots organization made up of Willamette University alumni and incarcerated people, was created last summer with the goal of ending slavery in Oregon. They worked with Chief Sponsors Representative Janelle Bynum, Senator James Manning, Senator Lew Frederick, and Senator Rob Wagner to introduce the resolution. SJR 10 was carried on the House side by Representative Maxine Dexter who played a key role in its passage.

“Changing our state constitution does away with outdated language that speaks to the racist legacy of slavery,” said Jordan Schott, Director of Legislative Strategy, OASIS. “But this is about more than just words: BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by our criminal legal system. Passing this legislation amplifies the message that Oregon is committed to being actively anti-racist. It is imperative that Oregonians support this amendment at the ballot to ensure that slavery is truly a thing of the past.”

The nonprofit law firm the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC) which provides legal representation to people in prison was among supporters of SJR 10.

“Updating the constitution to remove the punishment exception is a step toward a more just and equitable Oregon,” said Zach Winston, Policy Director, OJRC. “The dignity and humanity of incarcerated Oregonians is not in question, but our constitution fails to recognize that fact. The strong connections between historical slavery and mass incarceration deserve further scrutiny and action.”

Oregonians will get the chance to have their say on the decision when the constitutional amendment proposed by SJR 10 is referred to voters. That vote is expected to take place in November 2022.

Why I Fight

[T]he slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.

-W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America

It is truly a shame that we live in society during an era when for many people of color, prison, is a right of passage. Many do not understand this. Just like many do not understand how Africans were brought to America and stripped of their culture, religion, the essence of who they were before American and made into Negroes. This is not the article to talk about the horrors of slavery and why it was so lucrative that even after it was semi-abolished [See 13th Amendment, Section 1, US Constitution & Oregon Constitution, Paragraph 1. Section 34, Article I] it was kept around through Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and convict leasing. What I want to briefly talk about is why I feel the need to fight against slavery and oppression in all forms.

Many have stumbled across the racial divide trying to find some sort of peace. Unfortunately, in this country oppression, particularly slavery, has never been Black and white. It has always been about economics. Enlightened individuals have understood this concept. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X, towards the end of his life. Hewey Newton, and many others. Freedom must come for one and all or it will not come at all. This concept, these ideas must be promulgated, particularly in a democratic society. Democracy is an advanced system that requires contemplation as well as participation. Consequently, there must be those on the front lines willing to peacefully struggle for their beliefs; to talk with any and everyone, especially those who do not believe as they do. There have been many examples of this, the most recent and successful being Stacy Abrams in Georgia.

I grew up in the Bay Area surrounded by Panthers. I would go with my grandmother volunteering at the voting polls and helping to register individuals to vote when I was seven years old. I learned early on that if anybody is oppressed, then we all are oppressed. If ICE is harassing my brown sisters and brothers, ICE is harassing us all. If Big Pharma is oppressing my white sisters and brothers in Appalachia, then Big Pharma is oppressing us all. If my Native sisters and brothers are standing up because of No DAPL land & water issues, then we all need to stand up. If a situation like Stonewall can happen and then be duplicated (at least publicly) three decades later, then nobody in the LGBT community is safe. This is why in this day of mass incarceration, neo-slavery, we all are slaves. It is a matter of coming together where we all intersect so that we all can be free. Otherwise, none of us will be free.

Prison is a contemporary creation, a new evolution of thought. Punishment for criminal transgressions in past societies was banishment, corporal, or death. Is slavery a natural evolution from this? Or are we better than this? I believe we are better than this. I believe in the affinity of the human being. We have an obligation to each other. To the

In this time of mass incarceration where the crime does not meet the time and economics definitely plays a part in the bottom line of policing & corrections, Oregonians Against Slavery and Involuntary Servitude is a natural evolution of thought and evolution of action. I have to struggle. It is who I am, for better or for worse. I have no other choice until we all are free.