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Campaign to Amend the 13th Amendment





“ Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except 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


The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, Section 1

 The historical and cultural practice of criminalizing and demonizing Black people contributed to the system of hyper-incarceration and the unprecedented number of people in jails and prisons throughout the United States. Despite the obvious historical connections, very few make the link between the US system of chattel slavery, the “punishment” clause of the 13th Amendment, and the US system of imprisonment legalizing the continued commoditization of Black people during the post-slavery era for understanding hyper-incarceration. Fewer still call for any national action targeting the United States Constitution and its justification for the neo-slave system. Moving beyond this neglect, our effort to amend the 13th Amendment is an opportunity to reframe thinking about justice matters in the United States, its collateral consequences, and the invisible perpetual punishments, trauma, oppression, and subjugation that accrue.  It is time for public discourse to address the evil of the punishment clause of the 13th Amendment.


 The 13th Amendment, laws emerging from its ratification (namely the Black Codes), and the resultant social order are tools to enforce discrimination based on class, race, place, and gender.  There is also a relationship between justice matters and racial constructions about White superiority and Black inferiority. This relationship fuels the continued exploitation and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown bodies.  Moreover, the relationship does not permit the enjoyment of all the rights and attributes of citizenship by people of color in general and formerly incarcerated people in particular.


The 13th Amendment Campaign aims to educate and organize, in collaboration with other people and organizations, and to abolish the remnants of slavery for good.  Towards this end, Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc. proposes a working conference at Columbia University and the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to increase public awareness, fuel public discourse, and galvanize momentum to amend the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. For reasons of morality, jurisprudence and symbolism, it is essential that we abolish its punishment clause, end neo-slavery, and the politics of hyper-incarceration.







 Project Overview


AMEND THE 13th is a tripartite project to abolish the punishment clause in the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Governments from the national to local level have used the 13th to enslave incarcerated Black people and others, exploit their labor, and deny justice involved people all the rights and attributes of citizenship for over 150 years.


Part One is a three-day conference (December 7 – 9, 2017) sponsored by Citizens[1] Against Recidivism, Inc. (Citizens) at Columbia University and the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York City, that launches a campaign to bring attention to the punishment clause in the 13th Amendment for the reasons described in the preamble. The conference sessions sponsored by Citizens are working sessions where participants will discuss, present, and draft a strategic action plan. The ultimate aim is to build a national social movement, state by state, with the capacity to ratify a change to the constitutions in state legislatures. Such a capacity will require coalitions with a wide range of organizations.  The draft strategic action plan will incorporate three goals: 1) educate the public, 2) abolish the punishment clause of the 13th Amendment, and 3) establish a transformative justice agenda and methods of practice as steps toward national healing.


During the three-day conference, day one will include opening remarks at Columbia University by formerly incarcerated people, academics, community/faith-based, and grassroots activists. Day two will include a Congress of concerned citizens to debate and discuss a strategic action plan related to abolishing the punishment clause of the 13th Amendment and subsequent campaign. Conference participants and the public will receive a draft of the strategic plan created for discussion purposes before the day three workshop. To allow participation by the public at large, the Conference’s activities will be streamed via Facebook Live and other digital media. The third day will conclude with a public announcement of the strategic plan and the official launch of the campaign, with specific calls to action for people to join, donate, and participate.


The second part of the project is a grassroots campaign roundtable involving formerly incarcerated people, community/faith-based organizations, advocates, and activists to transform the strategic action plan into sustained action.  These efforts will include a combination of community organizing, guerilla street marketing, social media, and the efforts of formerly incarcerated people, activists, influencers, key legal and political allies at the local level, and expanded nationally state by state.


The third part includes the formation of a formal Transformative Justice Commission to confront the sustained legacy of slavery in the United States and outline steps toward reconciliation and healing.  There are models with varying degrees of success, for example, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the transformative planning practices of indigenous peoples in Canada, United States, Australia, and New Zealand.[2] However, we are required to chart a path “tailored to the particularities of time and place of the society in which (we) operate (if we) hope to transform” it based upon our unique experience with slavery in the United States (Daly, 2001, p. 78).[3]


To make the conference, campaign, commission and mission a reality we need to: (1) build relationships, coalition and a membership organization from which we will craft joint statements and collective action for community organizing, guerilla street marketing, social media, and other forms of outreach; (2) recruit a diverse pool of participants and spread information through traditional and digital media; (3) form alliances with prominent thought leaders in essential sectors (formerly incarcerated people, artists, writers, human rights advocates, political activists and organizations) to amplify the message; (4) insure a strong voice for grassroots, community and faith based organizations and activist, to donate and participate; and (5) seek the support of foundations and sponsors to raises funds to sustain the fight until it achieves its goals. The United States will not be a truly free and democratic republic unless we work together to make it happen.



[1] The use of the term  “Citizen” in this document describes all those who reside in and seek to make a life for themselves in the USA regardless of documentation.

[2] See Marcus B. Lane and Michael Hibbard’s(2005). Doing it for themselves: Transformative planning by indigenous peoples. Journal of Planning Education and Research25(2), 172-184, where “the authors use case studies to explore the utility, contribution, and key features of planning undertaken as a means of resolving resource conflicts, enhancing indigenous capacity to regain and manage custodial lands, and developing community autonomy” (p. 172).

[3] On this point, Daly argues, “Each country’s transitional path consists of a unique constellation of social, historical, political, economic, ethnic, racial, religious, military, and other factors; these factors distinguish each transition from the others; and it is these differences in transitions that compel different institutional responses to past wrongs. What works in one place will not necessarily work in another” (2001, p. 77).  For more on forming a transformational agenda see Erin Daly’s (2001) Transformative justice: Charting a path to reconciliation.  International Legal Perspectives, 12, 73 – 183.