Juneteenth: Celebration of democratic struggle

BY:Communist Party USA| June 19, 2024
Juneteenth: Celebration of democratic struggle


We celebrate Juneteenth: a freedom won by the freed themselves when one-half million former slaves conducted a general strike and joined the war against the Confederacy. Then, African Americans were called upon to “save the Union, abolish slavery, and establish democracy,” wrote Dr. Du Bois. Now we must unite all oppressed to defeat today’s MAGA neo confederates. The stakes are no less high.

Great leaders — Frederick Douglas, Charlotte Forten Grimké, Sojourner Truth along with others — initiated and built a united, Black and white struggle that propelled human society forward, ending chattel slavery in the U.S. over the course of centuries of protracted struggle.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, which declared that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” ended slavery in the rebellious states.

Almost three years later, on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. This exception must be removed.

Texas ignored the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865, when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order 3, freeing the slaves in Texas, the last state with institutionalized chattel slavery.

Mary H., who grew up in Texas, remembers that the “most important part of Juneteenth,” for her, “had to be how descendants of slaves often traveled to find their families after they were freed. My grandmother told me about how her father took a journey to find his mother. They had been separated when she was sold to another plantation. The joy of the story is that he was able to find his mother in Texas. The holiday of Juneteenth is about freedom, but it is also about rebuilding what was lost because of chattel slavery.”

Rebuilding, protecting, and extending the democratic power won by enslaved people in the U.S. civil war continues as a mighty struggle. More than 2 million incarcerated people in the U.S., disproportionately people of color, are used as slave labor and denied democratic rights. U.S. workers remain wage slaves, struggling to meet their rent or mortgage payments, feed themselves and their children and loved ones, and to thrive. Women and trans siblings have had body autonomy ripped away from them in many states. Indigenous peoples continue their struggles for recognition of their rights and to win concrete responses to their demands for justice, self-determination, land back, and more. Asian peoples continue to fight racism and xenophobia. All workers struggle for union representation and economic justice. Latina/os and other migrants fight ICE,  draconian and inhumane deportations, language and other forms of oppression.

The struggle to move human society forward continues, still demanding broad unity while encouraging workers to develop new avenues of struggle fit for the current material conditions of life in the U.S.

As Joe Sims said in United We Stand to Defeat the MAGA Right!,

“New circumstances have produced new ideas and demands. Take the freedom movement’s call for a Third Reconstruction: Now that is one powerful idea! Think about it. The first Reconstruction resulted in state power to the former slaves which they helped bring about by means of a general strike. It expropriated property without compensation. It instituted what they called abolition democracy.

“What then, on the heels of a mass movement, could a Third Reconstruction accomplish? What would it look like in terms of new forms of democracy? What would it look like in terms of a redistribution of resources and wealth? Will the banks be nationalized? What about the military corporations, the pharmaceuticals or Big Oil? The point here is that new circumstances have created new ideas – a Third Reconstruction – which raise new questions that our party should help answer.”

The Poor People’s Campaign, with the slogan Forward together, not one step back!, has issued a Third Reconstruction Agenda with which masses of workers can engage. Their agenda “reflects an omnibus vision to restructure our society from the bottom up, recognizing that in order to build a true Third Reconstruction we must simultaneously deal with the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of health care, militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism that blames the poor instead of the systems that cause poverty. It is one part of a broader movement to realize a Third Reconstruction, which we are building across the country in the Poor People’s Campaign’s 45 state coordinating committees and network of more than 250 labor and organizational partners and hundreds of faith partners, and dozens of national faith bodies.”

Texas’s historical attempt to prevent emancipation signaled the beginning of the “states’ rights” strategy to preserve white supremacy. It became the racist rallying cry during the civil rights movements and continues to be used to advocate for anti-human and anti-worker policies. “States’ rights” is also used to oppose policies that have broad, national democratic support but, due to the limits of bourgeois democracy, gerrymandering, and other distortions of democracy, must be enacted at the federal rather than the state level. The efforts by states to restrict women’s access to health care, including abortion services, is a present-day example of using states’ rights to undermine democracy.

Today, the Trump presidential campaign and MAGA-right, building off Project 2025, use white supremacy as an ideological foundation to push for effective enslavement of oppressed peoples and to undermine existing bourgeois democratic rights. They must be stopped through peaceful mass action in the streets and at the ballot box.

The youth-led uprising against the Israeli genocide of the peoples of Palestine echoes the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1930’s through the 1990’s, building up international consensus against the genocide of Palestinians, and demanding a just peace in Palestine that meets the democratic demands of the Palestinian peoples. This movement continues and is part of the broader movement for democratic rights and people’s power in the United States, and to prevent fascism from taking power.

Joe Sims wrote “The African American freedom movement, led by workers and women in their overwhelming majority, is in the thick of the fight not only against the MAGA right, but for peace and justice generally. … Let’s recall that the movements of the Latino peoples, now the single largest racially and nationally oppressed group in the country, remain an indispensable force for progress.” Asians, women, the indigenous and LGBTQ communities, and white workers all have common interest in the struggle for peace and justice, and for a humane world.

Celebration of Juneteenth takes many forms, from backyard bar-b-ques to cleaning up neighborhood parks to protests against ongoing oppression and exploitation of people of color, indigenous, Asian, migrant and oppressed workers. We know that the struggle for democratic power and against oppression and exploitation flares bright in the hearts of all who take time out to remember our ancestors in struggle, and to stand in solidarity with their siblings in struggle today.

Juneteenth is a celebration of people’s struggles for economic justice and democratic power. United we stand to defeat the MAGA right and protect and expand people’s democratic power!


Images: Charlotte NAACP Protest on June 8th, 2020 by Leslie Cross (Unsplash); Juneteenth2020_PortOfOakland_IMG_2038-1 by (Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed); Let’s End Israeli Apartheid by Alisdare Hickson (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed); Juneteenth by Tnicole Brant (Facebook); Happy Juneteenth; Juneteenth celebration and march through Uptown Greenville, North Carolina (Creative Commons).


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