by J.A. Myerson
Well, it’s Juneteenth, on which we commemorate the liberation of the last remaining enslaved Americans from their captors in Galveston, TX, where the white ownership class had deliberately kept mum the news of emancipation. I stopped by the Juneteenth celebration in Peekskill, NY yesterday. Not much was going on, but one couldn’t help noticing (strike that: one could; one does all too often) that the celebrants were black to a man, the policemen white. It called to mind Faulkner’s famous declaration that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” in Requiem for a Nun, which appropriately takes place in Mississippi.
That the cops were all white was sort of a given, lamentably; the uniform blackness of the attendees threw me a bit more. Do white people think that we have no reason to celebrate the end of slavery, the most horrifying feature of American history? In our absence from these celebrations, is there an implicit mourning for our slave-holding past? If there is no solidarity with the decedents of emancipated slaves?Is there not at least some sense that the liberty of others is a precondition for our own liberty, that others’ enslavement portends our own?
My mind turns to the theocracies where slavery is not only a national feature, but the organizing political principle. In Iran, for instance, the governmental doctrine that provides the basis for the national politics is the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Velayat-e faqih or “Guardianship of the Clerics.” It’s culled from an old-school Islamic doctrine that provides state supervision over lost souls — the insane, the emaciated, &c . Khomeini extended this guardianship to the whole of Iran, making all Iranian citizens wards of the state, i.e. the personal private property of the reigning mullahs. Lest I give the impression that this sort of thing only happens in states against which America adopts a hostile posture, it is worth noting that a very similar arrangement exists in Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah, whose title is Guardian of the Two Mosques (a reference to Mecca and Medina, both cities in his kingdon), exerts totalitarian (read: slave-holding) reign over all Saudi denizens.
This sort of paternalism — the type that engineers a state of affairs wherein driving is a dangerous act of civil disobedience — is nothing like the fatherhood that we celebrate on Father’s Day, also today. The fatherhood that is worth celebrating is the one that recognizes that love and affection for offspring requires the exertion of no claims to ownership. To the contrary, the best fathers foster growth by subordinating their own wills in the interest of the complete self-fulfillment of their children. I am proud to honor my father today. Here, I reprint the final page of his first book, These Are The Good Old Days. Happy father’s day, daddy.
To remake society so that power resides in the people, after thousands of years of elites and epic inhumanity, is a task not lightly undertaken and not easily accomplished. Not in ten years. Nor in 50. The mishegoss of violence and the ingrained racism in our own country will be legacies any new society constructed here will have to deal with for a long time to come. But that is just what we are about the business of doing; building a United States of America where people come first.
I think the most important conversation I’ve ever had was with Premier Pham Van Dong in Hanoi. We got to talking about the antiwar movement in this country and at one point the Premier turned to us Americans and said, “You know, we thank you for what you are doing for us. But of course we expect it of you; that is your responsibility as human beings.” He said, “That is our relationship with all our friends around the world — the Soviets, the Chinese, the Latins, the French. We thank you for what you are doing for us. But at the same time you must thank us for what we are doing for you.” He was saying that the Vietnamese fight and the democratic movements in our own country are part of a common struggle against a common enemy, that each Vietnamese victory is a victory for all of us, that their final victory will be for all of us. Two days before the interview, we were handed an invitation to the DRV Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee rally “in defense of the American Negroes’ struggle against discrimination and police brutality in Watts, Los Angeles.” This, while bombs were dropping on their own land.
Premier Pham repeated his words, “We thank you for your help but you must thank us.” In fact, he was saying, we are helping defeat your enemy for you. The people who kill us will kill you too; those who own the mines of South Africa also own the fields of California. And when Maxwell Taylor or William Rodgers speaks of losing Vietnam, to whom is he losing? To the Vietnamese. They lost China to the Chinese and Cuba to the Cubans. They are losing Laos to the Laotians, Mozambique to the Mozambicans and Syria to the Syrians. What we must say is that some day they will lose the United States to the people who live and work here. Power to the people.
This Juneteenth/Father’s Day, I repeat:
Power to the people.