What Juneteenth means to us at SEIU Local 721

Juneteenth is a special holiday, a newer holiday for most Americans, but an important one for all of us to observe. It commemorates the start of actual emancipation for Black Americans, with federal troops arriving in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, to announce that the Civil War was over – two months after the war actually had come to a close – and that slaves were now free. President Joe Biden made Juneteenth an official federal holiday in 2021.

In modern times, honoring Juneteenth is our way of reckoning with our nation’s past while simultaneously looking forward to what possibilities lay ahead for us when we leave racial prejudice behind and work together. For many members of SEIU Local 721, Juneteenth also represents a day of service and giving back to the community. True freedom is fully felt when our community and the people around us are healthy, supported, encouraged and loved.

At our union, SEIU Local 721, working together for a better community is precisely what we seek to achieve. It’s even in our motto: “Together, we win.” We know our members come from all kinds of backgrounds, and sometimes from groups that have a history of direct conflict with one another in the past. But we don’t let management exploit those differences now. Instead, we do our best to understand one another – in our professional interactions at our worksites and in our personal relations, too.

And when we overcome our challenges, when we work in harmony, the results are glorious.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about deep divisions and political polarizations among Americans. But the history of organized labor in America and our union specifically – which stretches from Santa Barbara to Santa Ana and all the way to the Inland Valley, too – proves that we still have plenty of common ground. When we work together, we achieve greater prosperity and no amount of fear-mongering or demagoguery changes that fact.

We’re celebrating Juneteenth now because civil rights activists made it a priority, keeping the torch lit for decades while galvanizing mass public support. Many of us in the labor movement were a proud part of this effort. We know that in order to overcome a challenge – to get to the mountaintop – we need to face it first and walk the path. Our nation’s past is written but the future is ours to make. This Juneteenth, let’s celebrate how far we’ve come as we keep the faith for a brighter future.

In Solidarity,
David Green, President of SEIU Local 721 

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