The Forgotten Amendment

by Bucky Elliott (Note: This post represents the author's personal opinion, not an official position of End Slavery TN as an organization.)

I watched the film Lincoln on Blu-ray this week and I loved it.* As you may know, the movie's plot centers around the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That amendment was perhaps as controversial as it is powerful, but I fear the zeal pertaining to it has greatly waned to the point that it is all but forgotten.

The 13th Amendment seems antiquated since its immediate motivation and result was the abolition of the enslavement of Africans by Southern Plantation owners. However, as Lincoln expresses in one particular scene of the film, it was intended to do away with slavery within America's borders once and for all.

"The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come" - Abraham Lincoln

The principle text of the amendment follows:

Section 1. 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 jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This indicates that the United States government, not just private citizens and organizations, has a responsibility to maintain the abolition of slavery in America. It's more than a social justice issue; it is a Constitutional issue. And despite the words of Lincoln and this amendment, slavery does still exist in America.

Each year, between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. from other countries. Eighty-three percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are citizens. [sources]

"How can this happen? Unfortunately, it’s quite simple. There are people motivated by greed and profit who are willing to use others for their financial gain, regardless of the hardship imposed on the person being used. The fact that few of us suspect—or even believe—that it is happening here gives the traffickers an unparalleled leg up. Even when trafficking is exposed, the proof required to bring the perpetrators to justice makes prosecution of traffickers very difficult." - Nita Belles, "In Our Backyard"

Great strides toward the legal protection of human trafficking victims have been made through legislation such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, but no offenses against the Thirteenth Amendment have been prosecuted since 1947. The truth is that modern slavery - or human trafficking - is a difficult crime to prove and prosecute for a variety of reasons. Among those are the reality that relevant law enforcement training is still in a young stage of growth, that evidence is difficult to procure, that crime rings can span several states, and that most victims do not self-identify,  are taught that police are untrustworthy, and are afraid to testify against their traffickers and sometimes show loyalty to them.  With that motivation, I'd encourage fellow freedom fighters to speak up - and more importantly, step up - to capitol hill, to their own communities, to their own churches, and to their own streets for the sake of abolition. We The People, working together, can put an end to slavery in our nation "for all coming time" as Lincoln dreamed.

[*One exception: I was slightly offended by one inaccuracy. In the movie, a "Chilton A. Elliott" votes no on the Thirteenth Amendment. According to my research, nobody by that name was recorded in the chamber that day, but  there was a Thomas Dawes Elliot and he voted "Yea"! Not a bad legacy for my Scots-Irish clan.]

How to Set People Free by Writing a Letter

By Sindy Lee Ho 866071-map-of-the-state-of-tennessee-and-their-flag

I never really paid attention in my high school government class, and really, I’m one of the people they make fun of on those snappy political commentary shows because I don’t know who the Secretary of Defense is.

It’s funny how caring about something that is affected by legislature changes your view of these things.

Since human trafficking is such a lucrative business often backed by organized crime networks, laws enforcing and prosecuting activities that crack down on these criminal organizations are tantamount in putting a halt to trafficking. In the area of human trafficking, an environment that punishes the source of demand and individuals peddling goods for that demand will be infinitesimally more effective in stopping the problem than prosecuting the one providing the services to meet said demand.

In the last couple of years, Sweden’s legislative body is one that has taken great interest in passing laws that discourage sex trafficking. In the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, Sweden is listed as a country that fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. With laws in place providing temporary residency for victims of sex trafficking and criminalizing the sale and brokering of sex, Sweden has one of the lowest trafficking rates in Europe.

What if, with our collective voices, we could make the United States a country with the lowest human trafficking rate in the world? What if, with our heads held high and our hearts poured out in the form of lobbying for anti-trafficking laws to be passed, we could make the beautiful state of Tennessee completely uninhabitable by traffickers?

There are bills being laid on the table now in our state capitol. You can find the talking points, the senator and house representative supporting each, and the bill in question by clicking here .The senate and the house will be voting soon. As citizens who can influence the decisions of our decision-makers, we can make a difference. In fact, we invite you to join us in making a difference.

The first step is to write a letter, on paper or in digital form, to the representative and senator from your district. You can find the appropriate individuals delegated to your community by clicking here.

Doing a little bit of research on each person can be helpful when deciding where to direct your efforts – for instance, the senator in my constituency has been an advocate for and assisted in passing many bills related to domestic violence; whereas my house representative is focused on matters fairly unrelated to human trafficking. We must do our due diligence and do the absolute most with the resources we have.

If you want to be even more involved, here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  1. Print out a large number of form letters addressed to the appropriate legislator and leave a blank space for a signature and printed name at the bottom. Attach to an appropriately addressed envelope and affix a stamp. Give to as many people as will commit to sending them. Make it nearly effortless for people to do their part.
  2. If you are a teacher with curriculum related to modern-day slavery {or olden day slavery}, U.S. Government, state history, etc. – do a class project that allows your students to write and send letters to the appropriate assemblyman.
  3. Create a petition for a specific bill you feel particularly passionate about and get as many signatures as you can, then send it off to the right person.
  4. Make a phone call to your district assemblyman’s office and voice your support on passing human trafficking bills.
  5. Spread the word! Get as many people interested and involved as you can.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I know you can come up with even more ways to spread awareness and raise support to get these bills passed. We are lucky to live in a country where the voice of the people still matters. You matter, I matter – and together WE matter. Together we stand to fight for those who have no voice.

Our founding fathers had a vision for our country to provide “unalienable rights” for everyone who dwells under the shelter of the flag. Among these were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Abraham Lincoln poured blood, sweat, and tears into passing legislature such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Let us honor these visions for justice and freedom as we push to declare independence and proclaim emancipation for the slaves of our generation.

For as Mordecai told Queen Esther, we live in a time such as this, and to keep silent will mean a destruction of our people. Not only a destruction of our brothers and sisters trapped in the chains of slavery, but a destruction of the justice that houses our nation and our state.

Sometimes it can seem hopeless and overwhelming. It feels like we are just one little drop of salty water in a giant ocean, being drowned out by the crowd. And that may be true in some ways. But collectively, we are the ocean. Let the roar of our waves be heard as we pound the shore in our fight for freedom.