Juneteenth 2017


June 19, Juneteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Major General Gordon Granger and United States troops landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and many slaves had heard the news then and had walked away from slavery. Many of them, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather among them, walked away from slavery and joined the Union army.
The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolishes slavery having already passed the Senate in 1864, passed the House of Representative on January 31, 1865. It was well on the way to confirmation by the time Maj. Gen Granger reached Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated from that day to this as a moment to pause and to remember the meaning of freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to education and to self-improvement.
However, on this Juneteenth, I think it is important to think about the character of freedom. The Juneteenth story is a tale of human beings remaining in bondage because they did not have the information that they were legally free. Masters kept that news from their slaves. Further, even after the enslaved human beings learned the news, military force was necessary to allow the reality of their freedom. This was also the case during Reconstruction, and at the end of Reconstruction, when federal troops left the South in great numbers, a kind of neo-slavery in the form of share cropping  and legal apartheid became common.
Freedom is a determination. It is not only physical, but it is a spiritual effort as well. It is a spiritual acceptance. Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus a prophet of Islam, Jesus the moral philosopher taught that those who follow his teachings would be free: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The Apostle Paul writes: “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (3:17) When we become aware of the existence of Divine Love in our lives that is not only beyond us but that also dwells within us, we are free.
Such an awareness gave enslaved persons the courage to walk away from slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth or the 13th Amendment. They recognized that the Creator of All loved them and wanted them to be free. However, freedom is not free. Free people have an obligation to work for the liberation and for the dignity of all of humanity because the image of God lives in humanity. A divine life force lives in all of nature and creation.
On this Juneteenth the United States is still in bondage to gun violence. We have reached a point in the nation where mass shooting happen so often that they barely rate discussion. On Wednesday, June 14, a lone gunman opened fire upon Republican lawmakers, some of their staff members, and members of a congressional security detail. It seems that the gunman targeted this group because they were Republicans. As of this writing, no one has died from that shooting.
On that same day, there was a mass shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco where an employee killed three of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Since that day, there has been precious little discussion about the horror of mass shootings, about the easy availability of guns, about the incredible number of mass shooting that happen in the United States. The discussion has been all about political discourse, how our political rhetoric is too heated and too divisive. Some of us have been making that case for years, especially since congress member Gabby Giffords was shot in January of 2011.
There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the United States so far this year alone. (See: https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data) Our lawmakers are in bondage to special interests who pressure them to vote against gun regulations that would keep military style weapons out of the hands of private citizens. We as free people, ought to remind our lawmakers that they work for us — We the People. Gun violence is a threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As I write this essay, the Democrats in the Senate are on the floor talking about health care. Republicans in the Senate are working in secret on a health care bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act. The Dems are on the floor giving facts and figures about health care in the United States before and after the ACA. They are talking about the harm that would come to millions of Americans if the Senate bill is anything like the bill passed by the House of Representatives.
Free people ought to demand a single-payer healthcare system in the United States because health care is a universal human right. It is a right that ought to be guaranteed by our government. Free people ought to exercise their right to vote, and then they ought to vote for lawmakers who will pass health care legislation that provides healthcare for everyone.
Finally, on this Juneteenth, let us not forget that slavery is not over. The problem of human trafficking still exists all over the world, including in the United States of America. Women are brought here to do domestic work; the families who have bought their services take away their passports, and the women are kept in bondage. Free people have a moral imperative to work for the liberation of all of humanity. We have a moral imperative to report wrong-doing when we see it. (See: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/human-traffickers-trap-women-domestic-servitude/)
When we recognize that our freedom comes from the Spirit of God who is Divine Love, we understand what a precious gift it is, and the only way to say thank you to the Creator who has given us this gift is to pay it forward insisting on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

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