Slavery in Colorado is fully abolished after voters approved Amendment A on Tuesday.
The measure changed the state constitution to say simply, "There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude," and removed the language, "except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."
While the amendment seemed like an easy decision to some, the road to victory wasn't a straightforward path. Voters had rejected a similar measure in 2016. And the day before the election, someone left a pile of smoldering pro-Amendment A brochures outside the home of campaign organizer Jumoke Emery. And more than 700,000 people still voted no to Amendment A.
Emery talked to Colorado Matters about his years-long fight for the amendment and what's next. He also answered questions concerning Amendment A that were submitted to CPR News through the Colorado Wonders project.
On why Amendment A was so important to him:
"Slavery as an institution should never be, shouldn’t live codified in our laws. No matter how we feel about the criminal justice system, whether it’s doing a good job or a bad job, we should be pretty clear on the fact that it shouldn’t be slavery. The constitution rests as the moral and legal basis of all the other laws in our state and in our country. We don’t want the language of slavery continually institutionalized there as a backdoor for that to be used and abused again."
On his next moves, considering the language exists in other state constitutions:
"The dream is to go across the nation and to build this moment where we can address that in the 13th Amendment. Whether that’s on a state level or a national level, that language needs to go. Slavery needs to be abolished, once and for all."
On equating the smoldering campaign papers at his home to a cross burning:
"That’s exactly what I equate this with. As I’m working on a campaign to abolish slavery, that connection would be impossible to escape. The obvious attempt to intimidate and terrorize my family because of my work.
It was important to us to document this, to make it known to the world that you don’t just get to terrorize folks working for justice, we won’t be deterred."
On concerns that the amendment would have limited work programs in prisons:
"That was a huge concern to us going into this, because, although the language of slavery needs to go, we’re very clear that work-release programs, community service, those things actually help. So we wanted to make sure that those programs wouldn’t be eliminated in the course of our work. We did our due diligence ahead of time through the legislature, with the ACLU, making sure that abolishing slavery in our constitution has nothing to do with voluntary community service or work-release programs.
My hope in passing this amendment is that we continue to have a larger conversation both legislatively and judicially, and a social conversation, around what corrections looks like in this country, what does prison look like in this country."
On why people might've voted no to abolishing slavery:
"At this point it’s all speculation. There could be numerous reasons why folks chose to vote no. Either they were still confused about the language, either they didn’t have their concerns cleared up adequately enough around work release and community service. I’d like to hope in my heart of hearts that very few people voted to keep slavery in the constitution just for kicks."
Answers edited and condensed for clarity.