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Lori Wilson Picks Up Baton to Remove Slavery Language from California’s Constitution

Samual Nathaniel Brown said he is not surprised that Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City) picked up the baton to carry on the fight to eradicate the phrase “involuntary servitude except as a punishment to crime” from California’s Constitution. This time around, Brown, Wilson and other supporters of the End Slavery in California Act say they are determined to retire the constitutional clause that allows labor imposed on felons as criminal punishment in California prisons.

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Asm. Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), in an orange outfit, was among those attending Asm. Lori Wilson's announcement at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 15, 2023.
Asm. Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), in an orange outfit, was among those attending Asm. Lori Wilson's announcement at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 15, 2023.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌
California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

Samual Nathaniel Brown said he is not surprised that Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City) picked up the baton to carry on the fight to eradicate the phrase “involuntary servitude except as a punishment to crime” from California’s Constitution.

Brown, who contributed to writing Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 3, the California Abolition Act, while he was incarcerated in prison, stood on the west steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento with Wilson when she reintroduced a new iteration of the legislation that failed to pass in the state Senate last year.

This time around, Brown, Wilson and other supporters of the End Slavery in California Act say they are determined to retire the constitutional clause that allows labor imposed on felons as criminal punishment in California prisons.

“To be honest, we didn’t have to lure her in at all. She was a more-than-willing participant to pick up the baton,” Brown said on the Feb. 19 edition of Abolition Today. “Championing the causes of Black people is something she has been doing for a long time and has done in almost every position she has held. It’s a no-brainer for her to continue this fight.”

Abolition Today is a weekly online radio program with a specific focus on “modern-day slavery” as it is practiced through the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is hosted by Max Parthas and Yusuf Hassan.

California is one of 16 states with an “exception clause” for involuntary servitude in its state Constitution, Wilson said. Should the state Legislature pass the End Slavery in California Act, voters will decide during the 2024 general elections if it will become state law.

Three states — Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska — have voted to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude. Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont have approved similar ballot measures.

“I am introducing this legislation because in every position of leadership (I’ve held) from (parks) commission to councilmember, from vice mayor to mayor, and now a state legislator; one of my responsibilities was, and is, to end systematic racism and root out discrimination,” Wilson said on Feb. 15 at the state Capitol.

Wilson added, “We only make up 6% of the overall (California) Black population but we make up 28% of our incarceration population. The allowance of slavery in our prisons disproportionately impacts Black people.”

Article 1, Section 6 of the California Constitution currently allows involuntary servitude as a means of punishing crime. U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager (D-CA-37) authored ACA 3 in 2020 as a California State Assemblymember.

Kamlager said involuntary servitude is “forced labor.”

“By removing this language from our Constitution, we are moving our state into the 21st century and taking steps to ensure that no Californian is ever put in a position of involuntary servitude again,” Kamlager said last year.

On June 23, the California Senate rejected ACA 3 with a 21-6 vote. It fell short of the two-thirds vote requirement, 27 or more, needed to move the bill to the ballot as a proposition for Californians to decide its fate.

June 30, 2022 was the last day ACA 3 could have gained the votes it needed to have been placed on the 2022 November General Election ballot. It was not heard on the Senate floor that day. Five Republicans and one Democrat, Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), voted against the amendment.

“Slavery was an evil that will forever be a stain on the history of our great country. We eliminated it through the Civil War and the adoption of the 13th Amendment,” Glazer said in a statement.

“Involuntary servitude — though lesser known — also had a shameful past. ACA 3 is not even about involuntary servitude — at least of the kind that was practiced 150 years ago. The question this measure raises is whether or not California should require felons in state or local jails and prisons to work.”

“I feel like this is something that not only needs to get done but must get done,” Parthas said during the Abolition Today podcast. “How can you talk about freedom, reparations, economic equity, equality in law and education while state slavery is still legal?”

Brown wrote the language in ACA 3 while he was in prison. He was released in 2021 after serving a 24-year sentence. The language of the bill was brought to the attention of Kamlager by Sacramento activist Jamilia Land.

Land is a member of the Anti-Violence Safety, and Accountability Project (ASAP), an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights. Wilson said she was “proud to carry on the work” of Brown and Kamlager and ensured that she is committed to striking the word slavery out of the United States constitution.

“This constitutional amendment is now a national movement,” Wilson said.

The chairperson of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), Wilson was the first Black female mayor to serve in Solano County. First elected to the Suisun City Council in 2012, she served as vice-mayor for six years before winning the mayoral race in 2018.

Wilson was sworn into office to represent the 11th Assembly District after a special election last April following the resignation of former Assemblymember Jim Frazier. She serves as the assistant Majority Whip and is chair of the Select Committee on Transportation and Emergency Preparedness.

Wilson’s has the support of several statewide organizations in favor of removing the involuntary servitude clause: the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Legal Services with Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None of Us and the Anti-Violence, Safety, and Accountability Project. Sisters Warriors Freedom Coalition, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice are sponsors.

“California was founded as a free state,” Wilson said. “There is no room for slavery in our Constitution. It is not consistent with our values.”

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