The story and the anniversary of Juneteenth should remind us of the importance of the implementation process. It took two and a half years for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to begin to be implemented in the state of Texas with the arrival of General Gordon Granger and his army of 2,000 union troops in June of 1865.
There were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas when the troops arrived who did not know that they were supposed to have been freed in 1863. Even with the arrival of troops in Galveston on June 19, 1865, there were many slaves who were not alerted of their freedom and continued to work through the harvest season.
Similar to the Emancipation Proclamation, entities and administrations will announce initiatives or policy directives with great enthusiasm, but then will fail to sustain that energy in the aftermath of the announcement. Many will celebrate the passage of a policy, but will then forget about the nuts and bolts of the implementation process. If you take your eye off of the ball after initial proclamations, you will likely get short-changed and slighted during the implementation phase.
Monitoring the protracted implementation process requires organization and consistency. For this reason amongst others, it is critical to connect with a civil rights organization like the National Action Network (NAN), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), or other established group. It will take organizations and institutions to sustain over the long run in a fight for civil rights and an equitable share of the country’s resources.
These organizations provide the infrastructure and presence to sustain campaigns and initiatives. It will be critical for these groups and the community at large to monitor the implementation of policies that have been passed. Even legislation that is passed in Washington, D.C. has to be monitored on the ground. Many great policy achievements end up having their impact significantly limited by a bumbled or blocked implementation process. Policy is ultimately shaped by how it is implemented on the ground.
Bureaucrats who operate at the street level are often afforded broad levels of discretion in the implementation and enforcement of laws. For example, local police forces and individual officers have the power and discretion to enforce laws in a fair and equitable manner or they can help exacerbate disparities by engaging in racial profiling, brutality, and harassment.
Similarly, prosecutors and judges can alter the lives of individuals and families for generations by engaging in a pattern of behavior that consistently doles out punishments that don’t rationally fit the crime. It is therefore critical to closely monitor the implementation of different policy directives. Local organizing can greatly influence the officials and entities that are charged with the deliverance of policy to the people.
The remembrance of Juneteenth also highlights the importance of establishing reliable mechanisms to disseminate important information to people who can act on it. Many people miss out on key opportunities and services because they simply don’t know about them.
There has to be a more intentional effort to get critical information to those who need it and to follow up with them to make sure that they are proactively taking advantage of potentially life-changing opportunities. The powers that be will continue to suppress information in an effort to hoard and sequester opportunity unless there is an increased level of awareness about policies and practices that impact the masses.
Sadly, it will likely take sustained protest to create opportunity in most sectors. The barriers to access and equity won’t be removed until there is a vigorous demand to force targeted initiatives to be put in place and enforced. There will always be resistance to different directives from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. The resistance is often very much needed in the case of discriminatory or misguided policies.
Juneteenth should remind us of the importance of the need to fight to make sure that the implementation process is delivered to the people after executive orders, court directives, legislation, and other edicts are put in place.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Scholar and Activist