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Opinion | The enduring promise of Juneteenth

On this Juneteenth, we renew our commitment to all Alabamians who have the right to know
that their voices are heard.

Celebrating Juneteenth

As our nation gradually emerges from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the
social upheaval and civil unrest that has exploded over widespread systemic racial injustice can
no longer be ignored or silenced. Across the country people are standing up, loudly speaking
out, and taking bold action. Over the last year, we have come to understand the complex
meanings and cultural implications of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. Many
are finally learning the sickening truth about the indescribable atrocities and cover-up that
occurred a century ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as the Greenwood Massacre.

In Alabama, we are experiencing these types of racial and social justice issues first-hand. For
example, in Huntsville, a police officer was recently convicted of murdering a suicidal suspect,
but the mayor and police chief have inexplicably kept the convicted cop on the city’s payroll.
Their defense of the officer’s clearly criminal and unnecessarily lethal behavior simply defies
comprehension. Of course, Huntsville is not alone, and the examples of racism, police brutality,
and excessive use of force are sadly much too common and pervasive in Alabama.

Simultaneously, across our country, bills are being introduced that are clearly designed to
suppress the vote, particularly the votes of African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority
groups. Republicans collectively made the decision to perpetuate Trump’s Big Lie and continue
to claim the last election was rigged and that somehow there was widespread voting fraud. Both
claims have been disproven multiple times by bipartisan and independent investigations and
they are simply part of an extremist and cynical right-wing political narrative. Under the false
pretense of “preserving election integrity”, Republicans are making it more difficult to vote,
discouraging participation, and blatantly disenfranchising people.

Context matters, it is the primary lens through which we clarify our focus and find understanding
and deeper meaning.

Last year, everything was turned upside down. As a nation, we began to see what had been
deliberately kept or obscured from view. The footage spoke for itself, and it simply could not be

Now, it’s suddenly June and masks are coming off. And the celebration, the joy and jubilee we
know as Juneteenth is almost here. It seems to have a much deeper meaning this year and it
feels like it resonates more powerfully than ever before due to our undeniable and collective

It is the convergence and confluence of all these events that share the common denominator of
racial discrimination and injustice that make this Juneteenth more significant and urgent than
before. Juneteenth began as the enduring promise of freedom, but the long and arduous
journey to equality and equal opportunity had only just begun. The struggle is real today, right
this very moment, and it remains far from over. We keep this in mind as we joyfully celebrate Juneteenth and the enduring and explicit promise of freedom, always mindful that the right to
vote is integral and indispensable to that sacred promise. Indeed, black lives matter.

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Black votes matter, too.

On this Juneteenth, we renew our commitment to all Alabamians who have the right to know
that their voices are heard, their words matter, and their votes count. Alabama House
Democrats stand for policies that aim to ensure fair districts and increase turnout at the ballot
box, not discourage and disenfranchise voters. Archaic and unnecessary barriers to voting must
be removed so that no eligible voter – regardless of age, ability, income, or geographic location
– is denied the right to vote.

House Democrats passionately believe that voting rights should be expanded to allow “no
excuse” absentee voting, allow early voting, create automatic voter registration upon the age of
18, eliminate the requirements to pay fines and fees to regain the right to vote, and expand
eligibility for the restoration of voting rights.

As we celebrate Juneteenth and the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, let us not
lose focus on the fact that the freedom we cherish is protected by our sacred right to vote and
the precious guarantee of our civil and human rights. These rights are under assault, and they
must never be taken for granted. That’s what this Juneteenth is all about and it is long past time
for that enduring promise of freedom to be fulfilled completely.

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