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Legislative Black Caucus Celebrates Juneteenth

Much like the story of Juneteenth, the California Black miners’ experience is largely excluded from texts and research. But one of those stories of servitude was told by the event’s keynote speaker Jonathan Burgess from the California African American Gold Rush Historical Association.

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CA Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber and Senator Steven Bradford (D-LA), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) continued last week’s celebration of Juneteenth, America’s newest federal holiday, with the group’s first in-person event since the state reopened on June 15 — and since the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order took effect in March 2020.

Billed as “CLBC Juneteenth Black Family History Event,” the commemoration focused on Black miners and the integral role they played during the California Gold Rush era of the 1850s. Family members of the miners, serving as historical experts, assisted CLBC members and research staff with information for the celebration.

The event was held at the Constitution Wall Courtyard in the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento where California’s first Black Secretary of State Shirley Weber made her first public appearance at the facility since she was sworn in to serve in that role.
Weber, whose parents were sharecroppers in Hope, Ark., shared that there is “another side of California” that should be historically told in full context.

“We think of California as a free state yet there are many examples that took place where people were brought to California as slaves and were made to stay in California as slaves,” Weber said. “And then, when there was opportunity for them to stay in California, they wanted to remain. But the government and others decided that they would pass the Fugitive Slave Act. So, if you came here (as an enslaved person) you were sent back to Mississippi or Alabama. So, it becomes important when we talk about reparations that we have a full picture of California and what took place here.”

Much like the story of Juneteenth, the California Black miners’ experience is largely excluded from texts and research. But one of those stories of servitude was told by the event’s keynote speaker Jonathan Burgess from the California African American Gold Rush Historical Association.

He talked about how his Black family’s land was taken from them. He also said that the “true history” of California has not been fully explained and, to him, it is a “miscarriage of justice to teach our kids incorrect history.”

“My goal is to educate and enlighten those who are not informed and believed that slavery did not exist in California,” said Burgess last week as he celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time in its 156-year history.

“I also want to share some of the tactics that were used to take land. This has been occurring since individuals came to what supposedly was a free state but hasn’t been completely free,” Burgess said.

Like Burgess, many Black leaders, celebrities, and activists here in California — and around the country — registered their approval of Juneteenth becoming America’s 12th nationally recognized holiday. But they cautioned Americans of all backgrounds to resist the impulse to reduce, arguably, the most significant historic moment in Black American history to an annual marketing event.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law after most of the U.S. House and every member of the U.S. Senate who voted on the bill approved it.

Juneteenth, or June 19, marks the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger of the anti-slavery Union Army traveled to Galveston, Texas, to let enslaved Black people there know that two and-and-a-half years before President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the United States – on paper.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They embrace them,” the president said, celebrating the bill’s passage and marking the end of slavery and honoring African American history.

State Senator Brian Dahle said, “We should not be afraid of learning about our history. The more truth we bring to light, the better we are at making decisions as we take on the challenges of our time. Events like this are a positive way to move forward together”.

Genealogists and members of the Sacramento African American Genealogical Society welcomed Black legislators and staff and set up laptop computers to help guests find the path to their ancestors. Black history resources were provided by FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Millions of formerly hidden records have been made available for free by the Church as a tool to help the world understand that all people are connected as brothers and sisters of God.

Mixed Reactions to Juneteenth Holiday

Other Black leaders took to social media, group chats and in-person discussions to both celebrate and “crack” on the Biden’s decision to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Some complained that while the symbolism of the holiday is important, substantial current issues such as voting rights, police violence, adding Black History to the educational curriculum, and reparations needed to be included in the legislation.

A number of postings centered their skepticism and criticism on the possible commercialization of the holiday.

“I better not see a single Juneteenth mattress sale, y’all hear me?! We didn’t stop picking cotton for it to be sold to us for a profit. Give us reparations, not capitalistic BS,” Comedian Jackée Harry posted on Twitter June 17.

Anthony Samad, the executive director of the Mervyn Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills took to Facebook.

“What do we need another GOTDAMNED holiday for, anyway? Another day to fuel capitalism by spending money Black people don’t have?” Samad fired off. “This is a distraction away from the racial hostility we’re experiencing today, and away from the reparations discussion,” said Samad, who is also an educator, columnist and author of several books.

Samad warned that the commercialization of Juneteenth could take a lot of distasteful turns.

“Juneteenth celebrated the day federal troops arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in states in rebellion against the Union,” Samad stated. “Texas ignored that the Confederacy had lost the war and the emancipation until Union troops showed up to enforce it. It’s already being appropriated with a false and distorted narrative.

On Roland Martin’s digital daily show, guest Carl Mack, a former president of the Seattle Washington-King County Branch of the NAACP, said hundreds of thousands of African Americans remained enslaved after June 19, 1865. Mack said while he supports the efforts, knowing the true breadth and depth of the history of Juneteenth is something all Americans have to come to grips with, he said.
Regardless of difference of opinions, lawmakers in the state of California believe that a Juneteenth holiday will heighten knowledge that was obscured beyond the Black community.

“This is a timely and appropriate step in the right direction as conversations continue around slavery and reparations to descendants of these atrocities,” said State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairperson of the CLBC “Today is an opportunity for fellowship, celebration, and recommitting ourselves to addressing the lasting impacts of slavery that continue to affect Black life’s conditions in America. If we fail to learn from this history, we are doomed to repeat it.”

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) also added that Juneteenth was celebrated last week on the Senate floor as “Freedom Day” and many of lawmakers, as well as many Black people, were also unaware of its existence.

“It is a shame that we are not talking about this in our schools, (kindergarten) through 12th grade, secondary schools and beyond,” Kamlager said. “It is really important that we know our history and for us to know who we are.”

Activism

Bay Area Officials Condemn Texas Abortion Restrictions, U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.

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Law Books/Clarisse Meyer Via Unsplash

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, Senate Bill 8, in May, but it went into effect September 1 at 12:01 a.m. local time.
Late that night, the court issued a 5-4 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices in the minority, declining to rule on the petition, which was filed by Texas abortion clinics.
The court could still strike the law down in the coming days as unconstitutional, but abortion rights activists expressed skepticism that the court would do so after letting the law go into effect in the first place.
The law effectively overwrites the precedent set in 1973 by the court’s ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade by preventing pregnant people from seeking an abortion after their sixth week of pregnancy, a time when many people are not yet even aware that they are pregnant.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, called SB 8 “one of the most severe attacks on reproductive rights” in U.S. history.
“SB 8 is an appalling violation of human rights and reproductive rights, and will put the health of millions of people in jeopardy, especially for low-income people and people of color,” Lee said in a statement.
SB 8 does not make exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and allows people to sue doctors, medical staff and even a patient’s ride to a medical clinic if they suspect the patient has had an abortion after six weeks.
Plaintiffs also are not required to show damages or have a connection to the patient to file a lawsuit under SB 8, and are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees if a judge rules in their favor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said the law constructed a “vigilante bounty system” that could keep people from seeking reproductive health care of any kind.
“This provision is a cynical, backdoor attempt by partisan lawmakers to evade the Constitution and the law to destroy not only a woman’s right to health care but potentially any right or protection that partisan lawmakers target,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Vice President Kamala Harris echoed that sentiment.
“This decision is not the last word on Roe v. Wade, and we will not stand by and allow our nation to go back to the days of back-alley abortions,” Harris said in a statement. “We will not abide by cash incentives for virtual vigilantes and intimidation for patients.”
Jodi Hicks, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, argued in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision will inevitably lead to other states passing their own abortion restrictions.
Nearly a dozen states have already passed so-called “abortion trigger laws” that would fully outlaw the practice in the first and second trimesters as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“The inaction by the Supreme Court on a blatantly unconstitutional ban has taken away a crucial right to millions of people in Texas and without a doubt threatens their ability to make decisions about their body, their lives, and their futures,” Hicks said.
On September 2, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives will formally take up legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law instead of relying on the court decision alone.
However, that bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, is unlikely to find enough support in the U.S. Senate to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.
Biden said in a statement on September 1 that SB 8 “blatantly violates” the decision in Roe v. Wade and pledged to defend abortion rights across the country, but did not elaborate on what that might entail.
California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, argued in a Twitter post that the purpose of SB 8 is clear: “to intimidate women (and) providers.”
“It cannot stand,” she said.

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Activism

President Biden, You Must Do More to Protect Voting Rights

I was proud to work hard for the election of President Joe Biden. And I was proud to protest outside the Biden White House on Aug. 24. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

I was proud to work hard for the election of President Joe Biden. And I was proud to protest outside the Biden White House on Aug. 24. 

Along with other voting rights activists, including our co-organizers at the League of Women Voters, I called on President Biden to do more to protect voting rights under attack from Republican state legislators all across the country.

President Biden knows what the problem is. He needs to do more to solve it.

We all know how Republicans have responded to President Biden beating former President Donald Trump: by trying to rig future elections in Republicans’ favor. 

In state after state, they have used Trump’s false claims of voter fraud to justify new laws that make it harder for some people to vote. President Biden has correctly called this a threat to our democracy.

President Biden has called on Congress to pass the For the People Act, which would overturn many of the new restrictions and keep billionaires from buying our elections. 

And he has called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would give the Justice Department the power to prevent future discriminatory voting changes from taking effect.

President Biden now needs to back up those words with stronger actions. Senate Republicans have already used filibuster rules to block the For the People Act. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting ready to use the filibuster to block the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as well.

Senators using filibusters to protect state voter suppression laws takes us back 60 years. In fact, I just saw a guy who works for a big right-wing think tank complain that these federal voting rights bills are “an invasion of state sovereignty.”

Well.

Early in my career, I worked for a crusading Black community newspaper in Mississippi. A paper that survived multiple fire bombings. I think about that ugly history when I hear the phrase “state sovereignty” used to defend restrictions on voting.

As I told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after the White House protest, I fear that President Biden believes he is called to be an FDR for this moment, when he is actually called to be the LBJ of this moment. 

When President Johnson was faced with intense opposition to federal civil rights and voting rights laws, he used every bit of his persuasive power and knowledge of the Senate to overcome those obstacles.

Like President Johnson, President Biden is a master of the Senate. We have seen him build support for an infrastructure bill. Rebuilding roads and bridges is important. But not as important as saving our democracy.

When they had the power, Senate Republicans changed filibuster rules so that Trump could pack the Supreme Court. 

Those rules are not sacred. They are not in the Constitution. They can be changed, and they must be changed to prevent Republicans from doing Trump’s bidding once more and blocking voting rights protections. Senate leaders have not yet built the support to make that change happen.

President Biden must publicly call on Senate Democrats to do what they need to do—remove the filibuster as an obstacle to voting rights protections. That is why I stood at the White House fence with League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase-Solomon and all of the organization heads, faith leaders and young elected officials demand that Biden do his job.

At the White House we were blessed by the presence of prophetic religious voices who reminded us that we are part of an honorable history and sacred struggle for voting rights.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism invoked the names of murdered civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, “two young white Jewish men and a young Black Christian man who gave their lives for the right to vote.”

Rev. Timothy McDonald, co-chair of People For the American Way’s board, also grounded our protest in the history of voting rights struggles. “This fight is not a new fight,” he said. Rev. McDonald promised, “We will come back again and again and again, until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amen.

We and our allies across the country are building a broad direct-action campaign with a profoundly moral purpose. Mr. President, it is time to show faith with the voters who put you in office. It is time to lead.

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Airbnb Offers to Temporarily House 20,000 Afghan Refugees for Free

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has helped house healthcare workers on the front lines. For the past four years, the company has also helped provide temporary housing to 25,000 refugees around the world.

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AirBnB image with twitter caption; Photo courtesy of Annie Reneau

As tens of thousands of Afghans flee Afghanistan in the wake of a Taliban takeover, people around the world are scrambling to help.

But providing help in a war-torn country with the chaos of U.S. military withdrawal and violent extremists seizing power is a bit complicated.

Simply getting people out of the country is hard enough. Figuring out what happens is even more complex. Where do these refugees go right now? How long do they stay? What countries will allow them to settle permanently? How do the necessary security screenings get handled? Who provides for their basic human needs as those details get sorted out?

While governments and refugee agencies work through the various moving parts and logistics, short-term rental company Airbnb has stepped up to provide a potential answer to one immediate need—where refugees will stay in the meantime.

For several years, Airbnb’s non-profit arm Airbnb.org has provided temporary housing for people displaced by natural disasters and other crises.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has helped house healthcare workers on the front lines. For the past four years, the company has also helped provide temporary housing to 25,000 refugees around the world.

Earlier this year, Airbnb announced the creation of a $25 million Refugee Fund to expand their efforts to house and support refugees in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), HIAS, and Church World Service.
With that fund and the company’s experience hosting refugees, Airbnb is in a position to provide housing assistance in Afghanistan’s newest refugee crisis.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the new Afghan refugee initiative on Twitter:”In this past week, it has become abundantly clear that the displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees here in the United States and elsewhere is a significant humanitarian crisis – and in the face of this need, our community is ready to once again step up,” the company announced on its website. “Today, Airbnb and Airbnb.org are announcing that Airbnb.org will provide temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees worldwide – the cost of which is funded through contributions to Airbnb.org from Airbnb and Brian Chesky, as well as donors to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund.”

Dave Milliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, praised Airbnb for its support.

“As the IRC helps to welcome and resettle Afghans in the U.S., accessible housing is urgently needed and essential,” said Milliband in a statement. “We are grateful to our partners at Airbnb.org and Airbnb for once again offering their support and infrastructure to meet this moment, providing safe and welcoming places for individuals and families as they arrive in the United States and begin rebuilding their lives.”

Airbnb acknowledged the complexities of the situation, but also called upon other businesses to make their own efforts to support the immediate needs on the ground:

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