Columns

Happy Juneteenth—if You're a Federal Employee, That Is

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Happy Juneteenth, the latest federal holiday!  I can’t imagine a more worthwhile day to celebrate than the end of the institution of slavery in the United States.

I might have preferred the more grammatically accurate “Emancipation Day,” but what can you do?  It’s 2021.

You might be surprised to learn that Juneteenth was already a state holiday in places like Texas and New York. Someone I spoke with today didn’t even know that Congress had passed federal holiday legislation this week.

“Juneteets?” they asked through a scratchy cell connection.

Such is the lightning-fast pace of reparative racial justice legislation.

Nearly every state already commemorated Juneteenth. But not the feds.

June 19, 1865, was the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally freed by Union forces.

Yet the surrender of the last Confederate wouldn’t happen until four days later. Confederate General Stand Watie didn’t surrender until, June 23, 1865. He probably didn’t have any slaves to be emancipated that day.  Watie was an allied Cherokee Indian and… well you can figure out the rest.

It would really bollix up talk about holidays if a Cherokee Confederate general had slaves to emancipate.

If there is anything federal employees desperately need right now, it’s another federal holiday. After all, they’ve been on one big long holiday working from home since March of 2020. There is no end in sight.

Cue the Go-Gos, circa 1982.

Last Friday, a record 2 million people flew on airplanes. As one of those 2 million, I can tell you that airports were packed with wall-to-wall people.

Many thanks to all the pilots and airline employees who bravely returned to work so that federal employees could fly to Aruba and Orlando.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Americans have returned to work. People dine out, grocery shop, attend baseball games and go to the dentist, even federal employees. They just don’t have to go to their jobs like the rest of America.

It’s good to be a federal employee. Before Juneteenth, they already enjoyed ten federal holidays. That doesn’t count December 24 or 26, a day the president almost always declares a holiday at the last moment. Juneteenth now makes eleven federal holidays.

Every month, as a Trump-appointed member of the United States Commission for Civil Rights (for which I very much am not speaking here in any official capacity lest the agency ethics officer be forced to waste time at home researching and issuing an ethics opinion) I receive a memo detailing how the federal Office of Personnel Management has deemed it far too dangerous for federal employees to return to work.

Every month, the song remains the same. Stay at home, federal employees! It’s too dangerous to leave the house for work.

Ignore those Uber drivers scrapping for a living to pay your salaries. Bell-hops and bus boys are braving the dwindling threat of COVID so the country can travel and dine. Grocery workers still stock shelves in dangerous stores where these same federal employees shop.

Just down the street from where I sit now in a filled office building – maskless, no less – is a small coffee shop run by immigrants from Asia. They didn’t have the luxury of working from home for the last fifteen months like Department of Agriculture or State Department employees did.

America has returned to work, unless you work for the federal government.

Maybe we can entice the government employees back to work with more federal holidays in addition to Juneteenth.  But what to add next?

We already have two federal holidays dedicated to America’s long churning racial history. If you thought we had three, you might be confused about President’s Day celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s (slave emancipator) birthday. It’s actually George Washington’s (slave owner and slave emancipator) Birthday we celebrate in February.

Expect Columbus Day to be the first federal holiday to be undone, or at least renamed. It’s too much to expect the congressional staff who write laws in Washington to give up a paid vacation day. Already, ridiculous municipalities like Alexandria, Virginia, have passed preposterous woke replacements such as “Indigenous People’s Day.”

That leaves only March, April, and August without a federal holiday.

The dirty secret inside the Beltway is that August is already one long federal holiday. Consider it our American version of Spain. The city virtually shuts down and the pace of government slows to a crawl.

Maybe the next federal holiday can be April 19. We could celebrate the day that Americans, finally fed up with a government that was detached from their values and a long string of abuses, took up firearms and rebelled. April 19, 1775, was the day that brave patriots at Lexington and Concord got sick and tired of a distant, far-off ruling class and decided to fight back. We could remember when armed Americans defeated the most powerful military in the world at North Bridge. Without April 19, there would be no 1776, and no America.

On second thought, that will never happen.