Notes on Juneteenth

Let us suppose you live in a small town, and in this small town, an issue of little practical but perhaps some emotive significance arises: say, whether or not to rename ‘Washington Park’ ‘Equality Park’ instead. Public opinion is divided on this issue — if apathetic. Out of the one thousand residents, 350 are for the change, 250 against it, and 400 have no opinion.

But the city council passes a measure to change the name — unanimously, 11-0. Would you say they are responding to the wishes of their constituents, or perhaps responding to something else? Arguably, their motives would be laudable. It would be difficult to claim their vote accurately reflects the sentiments of their constituents.

As a friend of mine pointed out, who wouldn’t vote for another holiday? When Britons were polled on whether there should be a public holiday for Saint George, more than 73% thought there should. ( After all, assuming the occasion is at least plausible, we’re all for days off. Presumably, well over eighty percent would be all for for keeping the Fourth of July. Ditto for President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and all the rest.

But ‘Juneteenth’? The response to the idea was certainly lukewarm: a Gallup poll conducted between May 18th and May 23rd of this year found that only 35% of American adults were for it. 25% were against it, and 40% weren’t sure. White adults were opposed; 29%-27%; many states and Congressional Districts in this country are still overwhelmingly white, and I’d guess opposition there was even more pronounced. Half our Senators and nearly half our Congressmen were voted into office as Republicans; respondents who identified as Republicans were opposed 43%-7%.

One would therefore expect the vote to make ‘Juneteenth’ a federal holiday to at least reflect that ambivalence to some extent: the bill might pass, but there would be votes for and against it. There would be some debate. Our representative are, after all, our representatives. They are expected to respond to our sentiments and opinions.

The vote in the House was 415-14. In the Senate it was unanimous.

I’m not sure precisely who these people are representing — but it seems reasonable to question if it’s us.

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