Tesla employees are holding a Juneteenth rally at the company’s California factory

A small group of Tesla employees and community organizers are holding a rally on Friday in the parking lot of the company’s Fremont, California car factory on June 19th, or Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The people behind the protest want Tesla employees and people from the community to “Stand with Tesla Workers for Black Lives,” according to a Facebook event.
The rally comes as people around the nation continue to take to the streets to protest police brutality and racism, and as a number of tech giants like Uber and Twitter have announced that they’re making Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
“This was brought on by a group of people who are not only calling for an end to police brutality but are also calling to defund the police,” the group said in a statement to The Verge. “We are tired of the unjust killings of people like George, Breonna, Ahmad, and every other countless life that was lost in part due to police brutality. We are tired of the lynchings and racism that’s happening around this country every single day, we are tired just like everyone else is. We decided on June 19 because it’s a day that is recognized in which slavery was ended, but truth be told, we’re still fighting the war to end racism, mass incarceration, acts of violence by police, and so much more.”


The employees who put together the rally are not comfortable revealing their identities, according to one who spoke to The Verge on the condition of anonymity. Earlier this week, a different Tesla employee was given a termination notice after organizing a protest at the Fremont factory in response to the way the company has handled COVID-19. (Tesla’s workforce is not unionized.)
The organizers of Friday’s rally say they don’t believe that Tesla’s response to the recent nationwide protests has been adequate, either.
“We know we work for a big company like Tesla and are aware of the email Valerie [Workman, Tesla’s North American HR boss] sent out, but it’s more than just listening, it’s time we act and show support not only within the company but as a community, as we continually fight to end these everyday battles,” they wrote.



 


In that June 9th email, a copy of which was obtained by The Verge, Workman announced that Tesla was launching a “Listen to Understand” series for employees that will “allow us to come together, listen to our colleagues’ stories, share learning resources, and help us all better understand new perspectives.”
“Our team’s efforts won’t end here. We remain committed to championing diversity, equity and inclusion for our people, and in our business and communities,” Workman wrote. “As we revise our 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Plan to incorporate more employee feedback into our programming, we stand committed to this work and we ask for your commitment too.”
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The Tesla employees originally planned to gather people at the factory and perform a five-mile march to Fremont City Hall and put out a call to musicians, dancers, singers, and artists to join them, according to an earlier version of the poster they put together. But the employee who spoke to The Verge said the group ultimately decided that the march would be “too long” and “might deter people.”
Now, they’re asking people to gather at the factory by 1PM PT for what the poster describes as a “peaceful protest against police brutality and a celebration for Black life,” with an “open mic” format. Attendees are encouraged to wear black, bring signs, and wear masks as well. The employee who spoke to The Verge said that they asked former Tesla employees to speak at the rally, too.
In just about any other year, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the day in 1865 that all enslaved black people learned they had been freed from bondage, would be marked by African American families across the nation with a cookout, a parade, a community festival, a soulful rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
But in 2020, as the coronavirus ravishes black America disproportionately, as economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic strains black pocketbooks, and as police brutality continues to devastate black families, Juneteenth is a day of protest.
Red velvet cake, barbecued ribs, and fruit punch are optional.
For many white Americans, recent protests over police brutality have driven their awareness of Juneteenth’s significance.
“This is one of the first times since the ’60s, where the global demand, the intergenerational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change,” said Cornell University professor Noliwe Rooks, a segregation expert. “There is some understanding and acknowledgment at this point that there’s something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone.”
Friday’s celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience, along with expressions of black joy in spite of an especially traumatic time for the nation. And like the nationwide protests that followed the police-involved deaths of black men and women in Minnesota, Kentucky, and Georgia, Juneteenth celebrations are likely to be remarkably more multiracial.
“I think this year is going to be exciting to make white people celebrate with us that we’re free,” said 35-year-old Army veteran David J. Hamilton III, who has organized a Juneteenth march and protest through a predominantly black, Hispanic and immigrant neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Hamilton, who is black, said this year is his first treating “Juneteenth with the same fanfare as the Fourth of July or Memorial Day.”
In Tulsa, a day ahead of a planned presidential campaign rally Saturday for Donald Trump, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of a black man killed by a city police officer in 2016, plan keynote addresses about the consequences of racial prejudice. Their commemoration will take place in the Greenwood district, at the site known as Black Wall Street, where dozens of blocks of black-owned businesses were destroyed by a white mob in deadly race riots nearly a century ago.
In Washington, D.C., and around the country, activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement will host in-person and virtual events to celebrate the history of the black liberation struggle and amplify their calls for defunding police in the wake of high-profile police killings of African Americans.
As of Thursday, organizers with the Movement for Black Lives said they had registered more than 275 Juneteenth weekend events across 45 states, through its website.
Rashawn Ray, a David Rubenstein Fellow at the nonprofit public policy Brookings Institution, said many now view Juneteenth as an opportunity for education and to push to dismantle structural racism.
“There’s going to be a lot of people who are also going to double down on the push for reparations,” Ray said. “There’s no reason why black people have been the only group in the United States to be systematically discriminated against, legally, by the federal government and not receive reparations.”
Juneteenth marks the day on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863 but it was not enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
The day is recognized in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the only states without official recognition. And it is not yet a federal holiday. It took roughly 18 years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his birthday was observed as a federal holiday.
Still, more workers than perhaps ever in history will have the day off on Friday: Nike, the NFL, Twitter, and its mobile payments services company Square, along with a handful of media outlets, have announced plans to observe Juneteenth as a company holiday. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees.
The abolition of slavery in the U.S. was followed by the birth of Jim Crow segregation, relegating many black Americans to poor, redlined neighborhoods with under-resourced schools. After the passage of landmark civil rights protections in the 1960s, decades of mass incarceration policy and employment discrimination eroded opportunities and economic stability for black people and families. All along, police brutality has been a fixture of the black American experience. And now, COVID-19 is killing black people at more than three times the rate that it kills white people.
Much of the systemic racism and atrocities visited on black Americans have gone unanswered. This week, the Equal Justice Initiative, which in 2015 cataloged thousands of racial terror lynchings of black people by white mobs, added nearly 2,000 Reconstruction-era lynchings confirmed between 1865 and 1876, bringing the total number of documented lynchings to nearly 6,500.
“Our continued silence about the history of racial injustice has fueled many of the current problems surrounding police violence, mass incarceration, racial inequality, and the disparate impact of COVID-19,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
“We need a new era of truth and justice in America,” he said in a statement. “We must acknowledge our long history of racial oppression and then repair the damage this history has created — including the presumption of dangerousness that gets assigned to black people by police and others.”
Juneteenth also comes at a time when the nation is at a political crossroads, and Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown said it is shaping up to be a politically defining moment ahead of the November election.
“The devaluing of black lives is built into this American system to the point that the ideas around democracy don’t apply to us the same way that they apply to white folks,” Brown said, adding black voters are demanding change.
“So Juneteenth is a celebratory event but we’re not celebrating the country. We’re celebrating our own freedom and our own ability to be liberated and the resiliency of black people.”