The Hawaii Legislature is about Tuesday to make civil rights historical past by formally recognizing Juneteenth – June 19, the date that marks the end of slavery in the USA – with a ultimate ground vote on Senate Bill 939.
Launched by Sen. Glenn Wakai, the invoice doesn’t make Juneteenth a state vacation, however does grant the historic advantage of including in Chapter 8 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes a quotation that reads, “June 19 of every 12 months shall be identified and designated as Juneteenth to commemorate the top of slavery in the USA and in honor of the numerous roles and contributions of African People within the historical past of the USA.”
Hawaii, which at current is one in all solely three states that doesn’t but acknowledge Juneteenth, has, in earlier periods, unsuccessfully tried to cross measures that may honor the day. Final 12 months, Sen. Stanley Chang introduced SB 3056, which might have made June 19 a state vacation, however the measure by no means obtained a listening to.
Chang, who can also be a co-introducer of this session’s SB 939, reintroduced the language of SB 3056 as Senate Bil 16 this year, which likewise didn’t get heard by any of its committee referrals.
The key sauce to getting Juneteenth to progress by means of the Legislature and out of the crab bucket of concepts seems to be pitching the day not as a vacation however merely as an honorary point out within the statute, possible as a result of fiscal and administrative implications of making one other break day. Nonetheless, creating one other named day in Hawaii has been no simple process.
Within the Home, Vice Speaker John Mizuno led the push for Juneteenth with House Bill 1308, the an identical companion to SB 939, and the measure made it by means of the Tradition, Arts, and Worldwide Affairs Committee earlier than stalling and not using a listening to within the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
However final week, the Legislature granted Hawaii a ray of sunshine in an in any other case dismal session when the conference committee for SB 939 handed out a “clear” convention draft.
By pure coincidence, the SB 939 committee made its announcement of a convention draft on Juneteenth inside minutes of the Derek Chauvin responsible verdict within the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a fortunate alignment that gave native supporters of the Black Lives Matter motion hope that change was taking root all throughout America.
As a former committee clerk and long-time observer of politics on the Capitol, I have to admit I have watched the Juneteenth laws advance with crossed fingers and clenched tooth. Far too many other well-intentioned ideas are strangled or neglected by the circuitous and typically unjust sausage-making course of on the large sq. constructing.
In years previous, I’ve seen Democrats and Republicans work collectively as “associates” on admirable, feel-good measures, solely to kill payments on ultimate studying by recommitting them on the ground. In different periods, I’ve seen payments that shouldn’t have been handed leapfrog over payments that ought to have, however by no means obtained a listening to.
Should you watch this legislative dynamic for too lengthy, it may harden your coronary heart with cynicism and trigger thorns of remorse to embitter you over the way in which legislators prioritize issues, however seeing Juneteenth make it this far this session is an excellent factor for Hawaii.
I’ve heard criticisms that different minority populations want days to honor them in Hawaii and that Hawaii has higher issues to do than to give attention to the historical past of slavery on the mainland. However one factor I want to say to Hawaii is that Juneteenth is nice for all of us as a result of it demonstrates that we will change the long run after we bear in mind the previous.
I sincerely hope this week, when Juneteenth comes up for a ground vote, that SB 939 is enthusiastically handed, and that each legislator makes it some extent to talk, for the historic file, in favor of this invoice and what it means for the way forward for not solely Hawaii, however our nation as an entire.
I’m reminded of one thing Robert F. Kennedy said: “It’s from numberless numerous acts of braveness and perception that human historical past is formed. Every time a person stands up for a perfect, or acts to enhance the lot of others, or strikes out towards injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing one another from one million totally different facilities of vitality and daring, these ripples construct a present which might sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”
Juneteenth is a small victory for Hawaii, however passing this invoice into legislation will probably be an enormous step, as a result of it exhibits that after we work collectively, we will change historical past, and we will change Hawaii. It exhibits that even amongst our faults, our disagreements, our typically aggressive ambitions and even our political divides, good causes can deliver folks collectively.
We’d like extra “wins” on this state, the place so many people are sadly diminished to losers by an unfair and unbalanced political and financial system. Juneteenth may be the ripple of hope that begins that present.