Celebrating liberation

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As I write this column, we are celebrating Juneteenth in its first year as a federal holiday. More than a century and a half after it was first celebrated in Texas, we finally have national recognition of the holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned from federal troops that their enslavement had ended, months after the Confederacy's defeat and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

By the time this reaches you in the newspaper, we will be approaching the Fourth of July holiday, Independence Day. Opal Lee, the 94-year-old activist who fought for decades to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, said this about the relationship between the two holidays: “The fact is that none of us are free till we're all free. Knowing that slaves didn't get the word for two and a half years after the emancipation, can't you just imagine how those people felt? ... [W]e just celebrate the hell out of the Fourth of July, so I suggest that if we're going to do some celebrating of freedom, that we have our festival, our educational components, our music, from June the 19 — Juneteenth — to the Fourth of July.”

With the establishment of Juneteenth as a new federal holiday, our own local, homegrown, longstanding annual traditions took on a new meaning this year. Like so many in Denver, I celebrated Juneteenth in Five Points with marching, music, family and community. I loved soaking in all the vibes on Welton Street and seeing our people in full force.

And so during this period between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, I'm reflecting on this: We're not just celebrating freedom this year, we're celebrating LIBERATION. And that means we need so much more than a couple days off, parades and fireworks. We also need real action at ALL levels of government to dismantle systemic oppression.

At the federal level, this means passing the For the People Act to protect voting rights and expand ballot access in the face of state-level partisan efforts to restrict participation in elections. It means protecting the freedom of educators to teach our children the true and complete history of our land. It means passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to reduce incidents of police brutality and hold them accountable for misconduct. It means committing to reparations, not just forming commissions to study them.

Closer to home, this means rejecting the ballot initiative that would roll back the group-living rules reforms, which were an important, essential step in addressing the segregation and historical redlining ingrained in our city's zoning code. It means transforming our notions of community safety by implementing the 112 recommendations from the Task Force to Reimagine Policy and Public Safety. It means protecting legacy Black businesses and supporting policies that promote economic justice, including community wealth-building and models of shared equity among workers. It means supporting anti-displacement measures like community land trusts that preserve permanently affordable housing in our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

National recognition and days off for rest and joy are important parts of our journey. But there is also so much work to be done. A better world is possible, so let's all use our social and political power to continue moving our collective liberation forward.

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca represents District 9 on Denver City Council. She can be reached at 720-337-7709 or district9@denvergov.org.

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