On Wednesday, lawmakers voted 415-14 to pass legislation that would make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday, meant to celebrate the end of chattel slavery in the country. The vote has stirred controversy because of the name of the holiday — Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Critics say “independence day” was deliberately chosen to stoke divide by diminishing the actual day Americans declared independence from the crown. Those who opposed the bill said it would have been a unanimous vote had lawmakers simply named it ‘Juneteenth National Emancipation Day.’
Indeed, calling it independence day is not fully accurate as emancipation is literally defined as “the freeing of someone from slavery” — which is what happened on that day.
While both sides continue to argue, however, they are missing the point entirely — slavery never really ended, it was merely redefined.
According to the National Registry, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.
Though the official end of slavery was declared on June 19th, it would be many years until Americans were willing to give up their free labor. This is in spite of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which declared that slavery shall no longer exist in the United States.
Despite the 13th Amendment vestiges of racial discrimination and inequality would continue to exist in America well into the 20th century. What’s more, thanks to the language included in the amendment coupled with the subsequent criminalization of normal behaviors over the next century, the 13th Amendment would eventually be used to expand the potential for slavery to all United States citizens.
The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified on December 6, 1865, provides that:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Pay attention to the bold text above and now think about all the things that are considered “crimes” in the land of the free in 2021. This is not some covert conspiracy theory either. The Louisiana State Penitentiary of Angola operates exactly like a slave plantation did 150 years ago. In fact, the slave plantation which occupied the land previously, was converted into the prison. As a report from the Atlantic titled ‘American Slavery, Reinvented’ points out:
Angola’s farm operations and other similar prison industries have ancestral roots in the black chattel slavery of the South. Specifically, the proliferation of prison labor camps grew during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, a time when southern states established large prisons throughout the region that they quickly filled, primarily with black men. Many of these prisons had very recently been slave plantations, Angola and Mississippi State Penitentiary (known as Parchman Farm) among them. Other prisons began convict-leasing programs, where, for a leasing fee, the state would lease out the labor of incarcerated workers as hired work crews. Convict leasing was cheaper than slavery, since farm owners and companies did not have to worry at all about the health of their workers.
This prison labor has since morphed into a slavery-for-all type scenario, which is why the ostensible land of the free has more prisoners per population than any country in the world. In fact, about 1 in every 110 U.S. adults is currently incarcerated and 1 in every 38 U.S. adults is under some form of correctional supervision. The prison industry is booming and so are the profits from forced labor.
Prisoners across the country make little to no money to do everything from processing poultry to making license plates. One such product that prisoners make, however, is utterly disgusting and speaks to the nature of modern day slavery.
The very people who kidnap and cage people over victimless crimes like marijuana possession or unpaid traffic citations, are reaping the benefits of prison labor in the form of propaganda. Prisons in Massachusetts are using prisoners to make Blue Lives Matter merchandise and sell it for profit.
When the prison industrial complex ensnares its victims through the enforcement of immoral drug war laws and predatory policing and then forces them to make propaganda for that very system, there is no other word to describe this other than depraved.
Thanks to the war on drugs and the criminalization of damn near everything in this country, the US now has 2.3 million people locked behind bars, with many of them forced into labor. In fact, as Diego Arene-Morley, president of Brown University Students for Sensible Drug Policy stated in 2014, “There are more African American men in prison, jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850.”
At any given time, a little less than half of the entire US prison population is behind bars and forced into slavery for crimes which have no victim. In fact, the criminalization of American life has become so profitable, that it’s spawned an entire prison industry dedicated to enslaving Americans.
Though the term Private Prison is a farce from the get-go, it is these corporations that continue to lobby the government to make more things illegal, thereby increasing their prison and de facto slavery populations.
A truly Private prison would not be solely funded by taxpayer dollars. These Private prisons are nothing more than a fascist mixture of state and corporate, completely dependent upon the extortion factor of the state, i.e., taxation, as a means of their corporate sustenance.
A truly Private prison would have a negative incentive to boost its population for the simple fact that it is particularly expensive to house inmates. On the contrary, these fascist, or more aptly, corporatist prisons contractually require occupancy rates of 95%-100%.
The requirement for a 95% occupancy rate creates a demand for criminals. Think about that for a second; a need or demand for people to commit crimes is created by this corporatist arrangement. The implications associated with demanding people commit crimes are horrifying.
People, who are otherwise entirely innocent are labeled as criminals for their personal choices and thrown in cages. We are now witnessing a vicious cycle between law enforcement — who must create and arrest criminals — and the corporatist prison system that constantly demands more prisoners. And people are clearly growing tired of it!
Sadly, many people dismiss the fact that there are nearly a million people in prison for victimless crimes saying things like, “well they shouldn’t have broken the law.” Ironically enough, the people who say these things simply don’t even realize they are likely breaking the law too.
Former NSA official William Binney sums this myth up quite accurately, “The problem is, if they think they’re not doing anything that’s wrong, they don’t get to define that. The central government does.”
Attorney Harvey Silvergate argues that the average American commits three felonies a day without even knowing it. Most of these crimes have no victim either — like possessing marijuana, driving a car with dark windows, or a burned out license plate light.
So, while it is certainly heartening to celebrate the “official” end to slavery in the U.S. this Juneteenth, we would be irresponsible not to continue fighting for freedom by ending the drug war and prosecution of victimless crimes, which allow modern slavery to continue without protest.