And it is August. I still feel that sense of COVID-blur… Where did 2020 go? What happened to July?
Today is a real landmark day for Canada. It is the first time that we, as a nation, observe Emancipation Day. On this day in 1834 the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into effect throughout the British Empire. The campaign to abolish slavery was long and fraught. The champion of the abolitionist movement in the Parliament of Westminster, Lord William Wilberforce, joined the campaign in the 1780s. The petitions, pleadings and campaign spanned a half century. Wilberforce died three days after learning the act would at last be passed. His biography, God’s Politician, by Garth Lean, is one of my favourites. It is a real education in social movements. In fact, Lord Wilberforce invented the use of petitions as an activist tool.
On March 24, 2021, the House of Commons passed a motion to mandate that Emancipation Day be marked in Canada. Both Paul Manly and I seconded the motion, initially brought forward by Majid Jowhari (Liberal, Richmond Hill). To our great joy, the motion passed unanimously!
August 1st has been marked as Emancipation Day in countries around the world, although primarily in the Caribbean. The United States had a longer history of legal, institutionalized, human rights abuses in the system called “slavery.” That system’s end in the United States has been commemorated for the first time by President Joe Biden. Known as “Juneteenth,” June 19th is marked as the end of slavery in the U.S., tied to a declaration by the Union Army in the state of Texas in 1865.
As Canadians, we tend to be a tad self-righteous about our abolitionist past having supported the Underground Railroad, bringing people to freedom from 1834 to 1865. But as my friend Senator Wanda Bernard has been pointing out, our own history is not to be so easily sanitized. The Human Rights Museum has posted the deep connections to enslaving our fellow human beings in Canadian history. https://humanrights.
Thinking about slavery beings to mind a brilliant essay by Robert Kennedy Jr. My search through archives has failed me. I was certain it was in Harper’s magazine around the time of Barak Obama’s inauguration. But can I find it? No.
The essence of his essay was this. We tend to forget that the exploitation of human beings in this monstrous project of abduction, colonialization, murder, torture and erasure was the engine of economic growth. Human beings, deprived by force of their basic freedoms and dignity, were the “energy” that drove the 19th century economy. And it has been replaced by fossil fuels.
Historians are working to correct the distorted version of the economic importance of the system of slavery to the growth of the US economy. “In the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, slavery—as a source of the cotton that fed Rhode Island’s mills, as a source of the wealth that filled New York’s banks, as a source of the markets that inspired Massachusetts manufacturers—proved indispensable to national economic development.”
That engine of capitalist economic development that was slavery was replaced with fossil fuels. That was Kennedy’s key point. We managed to put an end to a tremendously lucrative source of energy on purely moral grounds. We must do the same with fossil fuels. There is no justification for dependency on a form of energy that steals our children’s future.
There is another link between fossil fuels and slavery. And that is that we still have slavery and we are still dependent on fossil fuels while politicians pretend to be committed to climate action.
First to slavery. There are more human beings living as slaves today than in all of human history. One in every 200 people is a slave. Forty million people are estimated to be living without basic freedoms. https://www.
They are found in children picking cocoa beans for wealthy nation’s chocolate bars. https://www.theguardian.
They are found on enormous trawlers plying the ocean for fish for fish meal for shrimp farms, where workers are tossed overboard if non-compliant; where these poor souls labour year after year without seeing shore. https://www.
They are on-shore peeling those same farmed crustaceans for the cheap shrimp rings in North American supermarkets. https://www.
International human rights organizations work to end slavery. https://www.
The Sustainable Development Goals commit to ending both climate chaos and slavery. Among the 17 SDG key goals:
Target 8.7 of the SDGs calls for States to: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers ..”
Sustainable Development Goal 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”
All the SDG’s are due by 2030.
So on this Emancipation Day 2021, with nine years left to end all slavery and human trafficking and to end our dependence on fossil fuels and make a sharp turn to our own survival, we should avoid the temptation to think we are marking a day steeped in history. True, we are. Lord Wilberforce won step one in 1833. The rest of us are left to pick up his tools, advance the cause of human rights, freedom and of our own and the biosphere’s survival.
Following on a personal note from last week- yes! I did get to hug my daughter – but we both wore masks. No one is sure of the rules anymore, but my daughter does not take chances. I celebrate the zillion ways in which we are miles from Jason Kenney’s world view!
Take care, be careful and hug as much as possible!
This week I hope to see more people in real life!
On Friday August 6th, I will join the commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima at the Ganges Peace Park on Salt Spring Island.
On August 7th, I will be enjoying seeing people – and buying local organic veggies – at the Ganges Farmer’s Market.
On Monday, August 9th, I will be in Victoria for the Rally against logging Fairy Creek.
And on an unspecified date coming up soon, it looks like I will be running for re-election. Paul Manly and I wrote our new Governor General to explain our reasons for believing she should not dissolve parliament if asked to do so.
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens