Dover Bitch

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A reference point

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

Today is Juneteenth. Happy Juneteenth!

It's a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery, but also to remember that there remains quite a bit of road ahead on the path to true equality under the law in America. The hard work left to do is especially glaring this year, in light of the fact that the Department of Justice seems hell-bent on making a U-turn.

Nancy Pelosi issued an eloquent statement today about the holiday:

"In his famous Gettysburg address, President Abraham Lincoln promised a new birth of freedom in our nation. And today we commemorate the day of new birth in which all people in America were made free: June 19, 1865.

"Known as Juneteenth, this is the day when Union Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas to issue the President's executive order, known to us as the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, it took almost two and half years for the Proclamation to be enforced throughout all of the United States.

"Juneteenth has evolved into a national day of reflection and celebration for millions of Americans across the country. Juneteenth is America's reminder of a past of inequality, and a future of justice for all citizens. It is a reference point from which to appreciate the progress made in our society, toward the ideal of equality that is America's heritage and hope."

Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker published a post last Friday detailing how clearly the DOJ Civil Rights division has been undermined by this administration. Every week, it becomes even more obvious.

I'm going to deviate a bit. It's not the true intention of the holiday, but I can't help thinking also about the way the world has advanced physically since 1865 and how news travels. Of course, part of the reason it took so long for word of the Emancipation to be delivered to the slaves in Texas was the fact that the Confederacy was in control and had no motivation for spreading that particular news item.

But news didn't travel so fast, anyway. Radio was still a generation away. And even sending a person somewhere wasn't that easy. There was no interstate highway system. When the 19th Century began, First Lady Abigail Adams got lost in the woods just trying to get from Baltimore to Washington D.C.

As with equal rights, it often seems that progress is "an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move," to be presumptuous enough to borrow from Tennyson. We just never seem to get there. You might be reading this post 10,000 miles from where it was written within minutes of its publishing. But a police officer still can't reliably tell a firefighter to get out of a collapsing building with an interoperable radio. The federal government couldn't even figure out help was desperately needed at the Superdome after Katrina. And the signal-to-noise ratio is so low these days that information doesn't penetrate even after it arrives, hence the Saddam was behind 9/11 poll results.

I think the good news is that we're close enough technologically that a simple change of leadership might be all it takes to get our nation communicating the way we ought to be. Just getting Ted Stevens away from a gavel was a good start. With enough pressure on the FCC, the Internet just might survive the threat of corporate control.

Equality under the law? Well, electing a president who will reverse some of the damage to the Justice Department will get us back on the road, at a bare minimum. I doubt there will ever be a Juneteenth when we can float out the Mission Accomplished banner. But as Pelosi said, today is a reference point and a chance to evaluate where we've been, where we are and where we are headed.

Labels: , , ,