A recent op-ed from Opal Lee and DeForest "Buster" Soaries reflects this American mindset for doing more, Juneteenth is meant to unite us, just like the Fourth of July.. They wanted readers to know that today is more than an event; it's an invitation.
Lee, sometimes called the "grandmother of Juneteenth," is an educator and the founder of the new federal holiday. Today they are launching the "Summer of Healing." In The Washington Post this week, they wrote:
Juneteenth is more than a holiday. It is not just a commemoration of the end of slavery. It is a day that celebrates America's incredible capacity to self-correct by applying the timeless principles at our country's core.
They write that these two holidays — Juneteenth and July 4 — represent the best of everything we are. By their re-telling, the Declaration "contains what the great Frederick Douglass called 'saving principles,'" while Juneteenth "celebrates America's journey to live by those principles."
Lee and Soaries also engage the tension highlighted as part of Civic Season, described as "both/and." They offer us a "neither/nor" proposition and our potential exists in the in-between:
Juneteenth asks Americans to recognize that our nation's principles are neither grossly hypocritical nor naively aspirational. We have inherited lofty yet practical ideals, and it falls to us to implement them as best we can.
When we understand our founding story as one that includes healing and saving principles, we prepare to use our voice to call on this capacity to self-correct. When we brush aside those principles as merely rhetorical, we risk sacrificing the logic that has made our project of self-government possible.
So, what does it look like to do this work of implementing these principles?
Thomas S. Kuhn has an answer for us. I first thought of this part of his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions when Carl Sagan made it into the newsletter last month. With this invitation to compare principles and practices, we have found ourselves in this space where "valid criticism does you a favor" (QCP for May 1).
When we engage ourselves in the work of implementing principles, we become agents of valid criticism.
Kuhn describes how scientists respond to an anomaly, evidence that a previous answer no longer yields reliable results. This potential for crisis means they "take a different attitude toward existing paradigms." The work, and their research, changes as a consequence. This new approach is not a revolution or "extraordinary science," but it is also different from what was "ordinary science" or those answers they once took for granted.
Paraphrasing Kuhn, the approach to the problem now includes:
- The proliferation of competing articulations
- The willingness to try anything
- The expression of explicit discontent
- The recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals
This work strengthens ordinary science as much as it might mark the beginning of a scientific revolution. This practice of testing the results, of making an inquiry of what we see, yields resilience as much as the potential for revolution.
When we take our principles seriously, we hold ourselves accountable for practicing them.
In 1907, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about a dilemma Black Americans face when an audience stood together to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." He asks readers, "What shall you do?" He says, "after all it is your country, and you do love its ideals if not all its realities," and then proposes a way out.
Du Bois proposes standing shoulder to shoulder in the crowd and singing of an alternate experience, a competing articulation:
My country tis of thee,
Late land of slavery,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my father's pride
Slept where my mother died,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
My native country thee
Land of the slave set free,
Thy fame I love.
I love thy rocks and rills
And o'er thy hate which chills,
My heart with purpose thrills,
To rise above.
(My Country' Tis of Thee by W. E. B. Du Bois)
Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to stand side-by-side. When we celebrate this day together, we ask one another to recall this capacity of the American people to be more than who we have been before.
We make the day an invitation that says, one day we will sing from the same page.
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For Your Reading List
Whether you have watched the public hearings of the January 6th Committee or not, we all want to know the answer to the same question: What's the purpose of these hearings?
David Plotz took up this question in the introduction to this week's Political Gabfest (Slate). I'm just going to borrow his list:
- To record what happened for history, documenting "this threat to the country and the world"
- To reach a TV reading and listening audience so that they hold officials to account
- To build up a legal case, presenting the evidence for the benefit of potential prosecutors
- To gin up voter enthusiasm and influence voters for potential political gain
His colleague, John Dickerson, added one more:
- To "salute" the idea that we are a rules-based society that can peacefully resolve competing claims, "the center of the ongoing question of American democracy."
With these five purposes in mind, this week's recommended reads include:
For the sake of documenting what happened and collecting the evidence
"January 6 Clearinghouse" published and maintained by Just Security and Protect Democracy. They are collecting EVERYTHING—timelines, witness lists for the hearings, Congressional documents, votes in Congress, criminal cases, civil cases, relevant government documents, and other research materials.
Just Security also offers a "Primer on the Hearings of the January 6th Select Committee" with a color-coded presentation aligned to the "key prongs to overturn the election." When I look for what I missed during a hearing or how a key fact developed in the days that followed, I look for Just Security's co-editor-in-chief Ryan Goodman on Twitter.
For the sake of understanding the threat and how it compromises our ability to peacefully resolve competing claims
Politico published former judge J. MichaelLuttig's opening remarks as prepared. Judge Luttig is no stranger to many of the people who have promoted President Trump's election lies, but he is doing his level best to warn the American public about the peril we face:
By constitutional order, We the People of this great Nation confer upon our elected representatives the power that they are then, by solemn constitutional obligation, directed to wield on our behalf and on America's behalf. But today our politicians live in a different world from the rest of us, and in a different world than that ordained by the Constitution. They live in a fictional world of divided loyalties between party and country, a world of their own unfaithful making.
The judge also had the last word during that day's hearing. He is the person Vice President Mike Pence turned to for a final answer about his authority on January 6th too.
For the sake of building up a legal case
The committee, of course, has no authority to make criminal charges of its own. Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade participated in a Q&A with The New Yorker Magazine to answer all kinds of questions about what criminal charges might look like, The Two-Pronged Test That Could Put Trump In Prison
She offers an important reminder that "the Justice Department will be the first to tell you that it investigates crimes and not people." She then discusses two potential crimes suggested by the evidence so far:
- Conspiracy to defraud the United States
- Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding
On Just Security, you can read McQuade's responses to specific questions about the latest evidence that President Trump attempted pressured Vice President Pence to overturn election results. Ryan Goodman provided prompts to McQuade and seven other "former prosecutors and senior DOJ officials" and published their responses.
The responses cite statutes, address specific evidence, and discuss legal standards like "willful blindness."
If you are also concerned about the pressure on the system coming from groups like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, you might want to read McQuade's article in the Texas National Security Review instead, "Not a Suicide Pact: Urgent Strategic Recommendations for Reducing Domestic Terrorism in the United States."
For Believing in Democracy
The Juneteenth Flag includes familiar colors, a new horizon, and the idea that "new beginnings take effort."
The banner at the top of Vox's "The Juneteenth flag, explained" is bold enough to stop your usual scroll through headlines.
This isn't the first explanation of the flag and the decision to stick to a familiar motif—using red, white, and blue. What makes it more powerful than other explainers is that it includes the words of "Boston Ben," a community activist who created the flag. He worked with Lisa Jeanne-Graf, an illustrator, to finalize the flag in 2000.
On the question of using the familiar colors of the U.S. flag, Ben said:
"For so long, our ancestors weren’t considered citizens of this country... But realistically, and technically, they were citizens. They just were deprived of being recognized as citizens. So I thought it was important that the colors portray red, white and blue which we see in the American flag.”
Another powerful moment happens in the discussion of the star at the center, the outline around it suggesting a nova or new star, and the arch that runs across the flag. The nova represents:
"both enslaved people being free and a new beginning for Black Americans, Haith said."
And the arch or curve that separates the field of blue from the field of red represents a new horizon. Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, told Vox he hoped that this design will remind us that "new beginnings take effort." He shared:
“I tell young people, ‘you are free... You might have obstacles, you might have hurdles, but you are free. … And you need to exercise that freedom, which is liberty.”
Janay Kingsberry, writing for The Washington Post, recently offered this list of "4 meaningful ways to observer Juneteenth this year." You'll learn more about Opal Lee there too.