A number of Vermonters believe the Vermont Constitution has not gone far enough to ban slavery, so a new amendment has been proposed that will be discussed Thursday at the Courcelle Building at a meeting hosted by the Rutland Area NAACP.
Known as PR.2, the proposal would amend the state’s Constitution “to clarify that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”
Article 1, Chapter 1, would be amended to read, “That all persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety: therefore, slavery and indenture servitude in any form are prohibited.”
Tabitha Moore, director of NAACP Vermont, said the amendment probably makes sense for a state that takes pride in being the first to outlaw slavery.
She said the state should have a Constitution “accurately reflecting a true and total ban on slavery.” Under the existing Constitution, there are a group of people who could be slaves, if they agreed or if they needed to pay a debt or fines. Moore said the change would also ban forms of slavery some people may not consider, like human trafficking.
Guests at the panel, like Mark Hughes, director of Justice for All, and Curtiss Reed, director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, as well as legislators like Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden County, who is chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie. D-Hartford, and Rep. Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, will explain and answer questions.
“The purpose of the panel is to help people become aware of the fact that there is a proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution related to slavery. It’s also to educate people about the process of how you would even propose an amendment,” she said.
Moore said she was talking to people at an NAACP branch meeting a couple of months. She said the discussion revolved around two theories, one where all references were removed and one that kept the references but made it clear that Vermonters rejected any idea but that all people had a right to be free.
Moore said she found a lot of the people at the branch didn’t know much about the proposed amendment so she wanted to create an educational event so that people could develop their own informed positions.
Moore said the proposed amendment came about after Hughes took a closer look at the Constitution.
“He said, ‘Wait a minute. We’re not quite as awake as we think or at least our Constitution isn’t reflecting what Vermont has purported to be the truth for so many centuries. Let’s get on the right side with that,’” she said.
While the proposal was approved in the Senate during the most recent Legislative session, it must also be approved by the House and, again, the Senate during the current biennium and again in the next before it is put before the voters. It is currently before the House Committee on Government Operations.
The discussion will explain the process of creating and approving an amendment.
“One of the critiques we’ve had about the process is it’s not really very accessible to lay people. So this is our attempt to make it more accessible. And since it will go on the ballot to a vote, hopefully, once it passes, we want to make sure voters are as informed as possible,” Moore said.
Discussions like the one the NAACP will host on Thursday will help get the amendment as vetted as possible by Vermonters, she added.
Thursday’s free event begins at 6:30 p.m.