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End the Exception: Senator Merkley Calls for Passage of the Abolition Amendment to End Legalized Slavery; Highlight Wide Support from Across the Country

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley called on Congress to pass the Abolition Amendment. He was joined by Worth Rises and MoveOn, who presented a petition with over 200,000 signatures from across the country echoing the call. This event occurred just before Constitution Day (September 17) and 157 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery for most. The exception in the 13th Amendment makes slavery legal “as punishment for a crime,” forcing predominantly Black and brown people to work for little to no pay behind prison walls. It is time to End the Exception and abolish slavery for all.

Watch the event here

This country was founded on the beautiful principles of equality and justice—principles that have never been compatible with the horrific realities of slavery and white supremacy,” said Senator Merkley). “The loophole in our Constitution’s ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day. To live up to our nation’s promise of justice for all, we must eliminate the Slavery Clause from our Constitution. We must pass the Abolition Amendment.”

“In states all over this country, there are people laboring in prison—in Texas, picking cotton at a net loss for the state—because the cruelty is the point. In five states, incarcerated people are not even paid for their labor,” said Dyjuan Tatro, #EndTheException advocate and formerly incarcerated individual. “That is an abomination in the United States of America, and we need to end slavery—fully, finally, and without exception.”

“As the country celebrates Constitution Day on September 17, we must not forget that many still lack the constitutional rights that many of us hold sacred, including our right to be protected from slavery. There are currently hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people across the country—disproportionately Black and brown—who are forced to work inside prisons and jails for little to no pay under the constant threat of torturous punishment due to the exception in the 13th Amendment that still allows slavery to be used as punishment for crime,” said Worth Rises Executive Director Bianca Tylek. “This exception has enabled the criminalization, incarceration, and re-enslavement of Black people throughout history. And today, it still allows those who work in our nation’s prisons and jails to be exploited by a rigged system—one that was designed to prioritize profit over people. I hope that people pay attention to the stories of those who have suffered under the exception and that lawmakers move urgently to pass the Abolition Amendment. Along with bill sponsors Senator Merkley and Congresswoman Williams, we’re calling on Congress to take action this year. It’s way past due that our nation’s leaders put an unequivocal end to slavery for all. Slavery is wrong, all the time.”

“The fact that prisons in most states are still able to force labor on incarcerated people, oftentimes for the profit of private corporations, is cruel and exploitative. Prison labor is one of the worst aspects of a criminal legal system that dehumanizes millions of people every single day. MoveOn members have been lobbying their members of Congress to end this antiquated, inhumane practice once and for all,” said MoveOn Campaign Manager Arvin Alaigh.


MoveOn is a people-powered force for progress. MoveOn mobilizes the left to elect Democrats and enact progressive change. We are the homebase for millions of members who refuse to accept the status quo and are moved to take action. For more than a generation, MoveOn has been a bulwark against the radical right, channeling our voices to end wars, protect democracy, and advance justice for all.