June 16, 2016

It’s time for Wisconsin to ban slavery

Senator Lena C. Taylor

Did you know that Wisconsin’s Constitution allows slavery?

Take a minute, because I didn’t believe it when I heard it at first either.

Article I, Section 2 of Wisconsin’s Constitution states, “There shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Our constitution leaves the door open for both slavery and mandatory unpaid labor in prisons. It’s bad enough that our constitution allows people to be sentenced to involuntary servitude (labor without pay), but to allow the state to own someone is just immoral!

I don’t care what you’ve done, slavery is never okay.

I want to say right off the top that even though Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections could use slavery, they currently do not. But do you want to trust the current group of politicians running Wisconsin with your freedom, or do you want it put into the state constitution?

My bill would ban slavery and involuntary servitude as a constitutional amendment in 2017, when the Legislature reconvenes. If it passes, it would have to pass the next legislative session in 2019 and then it could appear on the 2020 ballot before it would become law.

I know that’s a long time, but my Senate district includes the 53206 zip code, which is the most incarcerated zip code in the nation. I’ve got more constituents living behind bars and far away parts of the state than any other legislator in Wisconsin. Most people just write them off because they can’t vote. That’s not my style. I believe inmates are people too and my goal is to help them come back to 53206 one day and help our community get stronger and better. I don’t know a single person who would think that slavery would make that process more effective.

Just picture slavery. Often people think about picking cotton on a plantation or working on a chain gang on the side of the road. Do you want that for Wisconsin? In Louisiana, inmates work on the same plantations their ancestors worked as slaves. Louisiana law permits them to be forced to work for free. On the other hand, Rhode Island bans all types of slavery in their constitution and Colorado will soon vote on a similar ban. If we are going to start reforming our Department of Corrections, shouldn’t we start by banning slavery within DOC?

Through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the South. Notice of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t make its way to Galveston, Texas until June 19, 1865, when history acknowledges the final slaves were freed in America. June 19, known as “Juneteenth,” is recognized as an official state holiday as a result of a bill I authored.

We are not free until everyone is free. I feel it is my obligation to make sure that when we talk about liberty and justice for all, it truly does mean for all!   

Connect with Senator Lena C. Taylor on social media on Facebook.com/SenLenaTaylor, Twitter.com/SenTaylor or follow her at Instagram.com/Lena.Taylor.