13th Amendment and the Prison Industrial Complex

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.

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Section 1

Over the past couple of years, there have been many conversations and projects that center mass incarceration and the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution. There’s Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th to name just a couple. Celebrities like Matt McGorry and John Legend have helped to start conversations about these issues and support organizers that work to support incarcerated folks and change policy.

I was always taught that slavery ended with the end of the Civil War, with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one, as schooling here in the US generally tends to not provide a full context and understanding of history. This subject in school was always a whitewashed overview, just the bland highlights of a complicated and deeply contextual history.

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Genealogy

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been digging into part of my family history – something that I’ve been meaning to do for years but never really had the time. I’ve always loved learning more about my own family and hearing the stories of others doing the same. The story of the House on Loon Lake is one of my favorite episodes from This American Life and I’m really excited to hear more from the podcast Family Ghosts.

I grew up on the opposite side of the country from the rest of my mother’s family and the trips back to visit were few and far between. Those trips, much to my own disappointment, slowly stopped over time as more family moved out west and grandparents died. It was always hard and really expensive traveling thousands of miles with two kids so I don’t fault my parents for not going back as much as I would have loved to.

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Get Out.

Despite being an avid lover of ghost stories and haunted houses, I’m not much of a horror movie fan. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to this film genre – I saw the film Quarantine and barely slept for a few days and there were some episodes of the show Supernatural that freaked me out if I watched them too late at night. But when the film Get Out came out with wild praises, I was intrigued by and ultimately loved the film.

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Not Normal.

With Trump officially in office and already starting his term off to a bang, it’s important to reiterate that all of this is not normal. The censoring of government employees and scientists? Not normal. The Press Secretary blatantly lying about the size of the inauguration crowds, despite the fact that there is clear photographic evidence to contradict him? Still not normal, no matter if ‘alternative facts’ actually exist. The Press Secretary has even started to print out tweets that Trump has issues with and holds them up at press briefings, which is incredibly bizarre and definitely not normal. Trump and those in his administration have proven several times in less than two weeks that they are willing to lie to the American public on numerous issues.

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Last Saturday.

The Women’s March on Washington and related sister marches around the world happened this past weekend and honestly, I have some mixed feelings about it all. On one hand, it was incredibly amazing to see all the crowds that showed up in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, and more. Hell, there was even a (tiny) protest in Antarctica! And I’m not going to lie: seeing the dramatic contrast between the inauguration on Friday and the march in DC on Saturday was spectacular.

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#NoDAPL

In the midst of Thanksgiving and Black Friday this week, much of the US is deep into traditional meals, gatherings, and shopping but the camps and water protectors in North Dakota are still standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These protectors are frequently met with violence and intimidation from police and others. Just a couple days ago, those on the ground were sprayed with water cannons in the middle of the night and in North Dakota at this time of the year, that can be fatal. One medic shared his story about that night and many others countered the police’s narrative and shared that the protectors have been nothing but peaceful.

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Ways to support on going movements.

A couple weeks ago, a bunch of my friends on Facebook checked into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation in North Dakota. Knowing that the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline was still ongoing, I originally thought that a bunch of my friends had actually gone to join the fight and I had missed something big. The reality though was that people were just checking in on Facebook while not actually there as a way to stand in solidarity with those on the ground and potentially confuse anyone who was using Facebook check ins as a way to target activists.

While not something that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe had asked (and at this point, I’m not sure where the mass check in originated), the tribe did welcome the solidarity. Raising awareness by sharing videos, checking into places on Facebook, or dumping buckets of ice on our head can be important but they can’t be the only actions that we accomplish. There’s so much more work that goes into fixing the problems and issues that plague our society. Everyone’s activism is going to look different – some people aren’t able to go to marches but can help to make banners, others are able to organize community meals or do phone banks.

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Voting, the Electoral College, and Next Steps.

I’ve been wondering over the past few days if I could have done more in the last few months regarding the election. I’ve felt guilt and some sort of responsibility for not being more involved because the answer is that yes, I could have done a lot more. I could and should have had more conversations with people, especially about Trump’s racist, misogynist, xenophobic platform. 

In the past two days, people have blamed third party voters (particularly in swing states), low turnout rates, the electoral college, the gutted Voter’s Right Act, strict and inaccessible voter ID laws, and more. Honestly, I see it as a combination as all of the above and more. 

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Northern Racism.

I have lived somewhere in the Pacific Northwest for pretty much my entire life. I’ve travelled here and there and spent some time as a voluntourist in western Kenya but for the most part, I’ve lived in the mostly rainy and overcast upper left of the United States. For the most part, I love it here but it’s not without its faults.

We like to pride ourselves for being progressive and liberal here in the Pacific Northwest. Portlandia takes the liberal hipster ways of Oregon’s largest city slightly farther in its episodes, joking about feminist bookstores, local and organic food, and weird art. Pemco Insurance’s commercials of quirky stuff we do here is spot on. As a child, I learned to distance myself from my family in the South, learned to identify as a good white person.

But the reality is that racism and white supremacy is alive and well in the northern states of the US just as it is in the south. Some of it looks different, other parts of it looks exactly the same. But it’s still here and it’s really important that the white people here (myself included) not only recognize race and the racism here but we need to talk about it all and work to end it. My own experience limits me to the Pacific Northwest, but that doesn’t mean that other northern states are exempt.

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