Reparations activists rally for federal action by Juneteenth: "The time is now"

Washington DC - As the second federally recognized Juneteenth approaches, activists across the nation rallied on Wednesday to demand that Congress and the Biden administration take the next necessary step of establishing a reparations study commission.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is the primary sponsor of HR 40, a bill that would create a federal reparations study commission.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is the primary sponsor of HR 40, a bill that would create a federal reparations study commission.  © Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The virtual rally gathered activists and advocates across the country with one shared goal: passing HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, by June 19 of this year.

Holding up a copy of HR 40, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill's primary sponsor and the author of legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, pointed to the historic amount of support for a reparations study commission in the lower chamber.

For months, advocates have insisted there are enough "yes" votes in the House to pass HR 40. Now, they are urging President Biden to commemorate Juneteenth by enacting the commission through executive order.

Given the historic and ongoing injustices perpetrated against Black Americans, and the economic success the federal government and other institutions have built off Black labor, "Who are we to say that we will wait?" Jackson Lee asked. "We want Congress and the White House to join us in raising their voices and getting this done now."

Her colleague, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, echoed, "Juneteenth must not become just another holiday. Juneteenth must become a day to organize action on the unfinished racial justice agenda of Black America, which is reparations."

"Black voters are demanding that candidates not only say, 'Black lives matter,' but also support these policies if they mean it," she continued. "If they don't, they don't get our vote."

"We cannot wait any longer. We need HR 40. We need reparations now."

Beyond a celebration

Kamm Howard speaks at a press conference on HR 40 outside the US Capitol.
Kamm Howard speaks at a press conference on HR 40 outside the US Capitol.  © Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The message at the rally was clear: Juneteenth is more than just a day of celebration. It's a day of action.

As National African American Reparations Commission Convenor Dr. Ron Daniels put it, "It's not just going to be a party day, a day just to hang out. We want Juneteenth to be Reparations and Racial Justice Day."

The stakes are too high for the US government to let another Juneteenth go by without taking steps toward transformative action, activists explained. If HR 40 does not pass by the end of the year, they will have to begin from scratch gathering co-sponsors on the bill, potentially in a very different Congress after the midterms.

Kamm Howard of Reparations United said that Black Americans "cannot wait for another generation, cannot wait for another administration, and certainly cannot wait until after another midterm election in order to engage in repair."

"This nation's salvation lies in the righting of historic and contemporary wrongs committed against Black people in America," he added. "Without our vote, America will sink deeper into an amoral, unjust, ultra-tribal system of escalating hatred and violence as we are experiencing this very moment."

"To steer this country away from that future, we say to this government: HR 40 must move into enactment now, and Juneteenth is the opportune day to make that announcement."

Author and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux agreed, pointing to the white-supremacist terrorist who earlier this month targeted the lone supermarket in a Black community in Buffalo, New York, killing ten: "Buffalo is the extension of the economic envy that caused Tulsa to burn. It is an extension of the economic envy that caused 600 or more people in Wilmington, North Carolina, to be killed."

"We can't wait because they don't wait," she said. "As soon as they see the slightest bit of Black economic progress or any other kind of progress, they go crazy."

"Joe Biden, do the right thing, dude."

An urgent call to action

HR 40 advocates are calling on everyday Americans to join the call for justice leading up to Juneteenth.
HR 40 advocates are calling on everyday Americans to join the call for justice leading up to Juneteenth.  © Guillermo Arias / AFP

When it comes to getting HR 40 passed, there is no going back.

"We have reached a point of no return," said Dr. Amara Enyia of the Movement for Black Lives. "The drumbeat for reparations is only going to grow because it is known and understood that the harms that have been committed have to be remedied."

"This administration has made commitments and has a responsibility to go beyond rhetoric to action," she continued, noting that it is grassroots advocacy that drives the movement forward.

In her closing remarks, Jackson Lee affirmed the importance of building a groundswell of support behind HR 40.

Everyday Americans of all backgrounds can contribute to the movement by "appeal[ing] to the United States Congress and the White House" for the bill's passage by executive order. She also encouraged people to spread the word on the streets, in community spaces, and on social media.

Another easy way to join the call for justice is sending a letter to the Biden administration through a form on the Human Rights Watch website.

"There is no more waiting," the congresswoman said. "The time is now: Juneteenth 2022."

Cover photo: Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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