Happy Juneteenth: Let’s Continue the Struggle for LiberationBy Abel Berhan
Today is Juneteenth (June 19), the day we commemorate the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the United States. Yet, on this important day celebrating freedom and progress nearly 155 years after the formal end of slavery, Black people still aren’t free. Today, Black people are still struggling and fighting to protect their very lives. The reality is: our nation has much progress to make.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve witnessed the cruel lynching of Black bodies by law enforcement and white vigilantes. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Oluwatoyin Salau and so many others are among those whose deaths have sparked uprisings around the globe. These needless killings only scratch the surface of the pain Black people have endured since the ‘end’ of slavery.
Since our nation’s founding, the oppression of Black people has been woven into the fabric of our societal institutions. Since formal emancipation, Black people have endured being targeted, criminalized and incarcerated at disproportionate rates, racial terrorism, the use of the legal system to suppress their vote, as well as injustice within our schools and health care system. With institutions that silence the needs of marginalized communities, we see that racism has evolved. Our fight for liberation must continue.
During this historic moment of protest and uprising, we must continue to reimagine and fight for true liberation: liberation from racism, discrimination, and all other forms of unjust oppression. Recent organizing has pressured legislators and law enforcement to make some changes. Congress introduced the federal Justice in Policing Act to combat police brutality and the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband the Minneapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
The hard struggle for liberation is the core of Advancement Project National Office’s Free & Safe campaign. Through legal work, organizing and strategic communications, we are working to free those who are incarcerated as COVID-19 sweeps through jails and prisons nationwide.
At this moment, we are jointly leading the national campaign to create police-free schools to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and reallocate money spent on police to more effective resources for students like social workers, restorative justice, and guidance counselors. This campaign has successfully led Denver Public Schools to end their contract with Denver Police Department and Minneapolis Public Schools to disassociate themselves from Minneapolis Police Department.
Our campaign has also focused on building power needed to protect black lives and shape our own communities. We are building power through our voter protection and voting rights restoration efforts. In Florida, we sued to ensure Black and Brown voters can cast a ballot safely during the coronavirus pandemic. We’re also working to restore the rights of formerly incarcerated community members across multiple states and launched our Democratizing Voter Protection Project to tackle the measures used to suppress these voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restoring voting rights to the formerly disenfranchised and democratizing election advocacy will empower Black people to create the thriving communities in which they can live and raise families.
If we want true liberation, we must continue to tackle the systemic racism that is ingrained in our institutions and build power in communities so that Black people have the ability to be free and safe. On Juneteenth, we commemorate the end of slavery for Black people, but let this day serve as a reminder of the progress we have made and the true liberation we have yet to achieve.
Abel Berhan is a Junior at Harvard and a Communications Intern at Advancement Project National Office.