A mockup of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Placing a portrait of Harriet Tubman on our $20 bills was one of the best ideas to come from any branch of the U.S. government thus far. Placing the portrait of a woman who had escaped from slavery and later became a prominent advocate of abolitionism, as well as an activist in the womens' suffrage movement in the U.S., can send a message of tolerance and diversity throughout the 2020s.

Many Pavlovic Today readers may recall back in January of 2015, the Women On 20’s website first appeared.  The idea had initially begun in 2012.  Through the Women On 20’s website, people from throughout the U.S. had suggested hundreds of possibilities of famous women from throughout U.S. history as possibilities for the portrait which will appear on the next series of $20 bills.    

 In March of 2015, the administrators of the Women On 20’s website configured a voting feature on their website, which allowed for people from throughout the U.S. to vote on whose portrait we want to see on the next series of $20 bills. In May of 2015, the voting feature of the Women On 20’s website ended, and Harriet Tubman had received more votes than the other candidates.  

April 2016. Then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announces that the $20 bills will be redesigned and that a portrait of Harriet Tubman will appear on the new $20 bills.

Good idea? In Scott’s opinion, this was one of the best ideas to come from any branch of the U.S. government thus far. It’s a symbolic gesture, we’re removing the portrait of our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, who had been a slave owner, and we’re replacing it with a portrait of a woman who had escaped from slavery, who became one of the leading proponents of abolitionism, and who later became one of the leading proponents of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S.

 And you may have also noticed that we’ve not heard much about the next series of $20 bills in the news recently.  The project has not been shelved entirely, but releasing the newly redesigned $20 bills has been postponed.  The release date has been moved from 2020 to a date which will possibly be as late as 2026.

Yes, the Federal government of the United States of America was ready to show the rest of the world that we understand some of the most disastrous moments from our history, and we’re now trying to move forward towards a world which embraces tolerance and celebrates diversity.

Yes, we were.  We were ready to let the world see that in the 21st century, we’re ready to place a portrait of Harriet Tubman on our $20 bills.

We really were.  Until August of 2017.  On August 31st, 2017, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the Treasury is delaying the new bills and that they might not release new $20 bills with a portrait of Harriet Tubman on the front.  In 2016, the new $20 bills had been intended to be released into circulation in 2020, timed to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  The new release date of 2026, means that we’ll still be using the $20 bills which have a portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front for seven more years.

Five Years To Redesign Currency Notes Is Necessary, Ten Years Is Excessive

American currency has been one of the most counterfeited currencies in the entire world for many decades.  It does take a lot of time to redesign bills.  When designing new currency notes, people who work in the U.S. Secret Service, in the U.S. Department Of The Treasury as well as in the Bureau Of Engraving And Printing need to analyze bills which have been counterfeited in recent years, they need to research the equipment that counterfeiters have been known to use and they interview convicted counterfeiters who are serving prison sentences.  

No currency in history has ever been 100% counterfeit-proof, but it is possible to design bills that will be so difficult to replicate that counterfeiters won’t want to copy them because the amount of money that counterfeiters would have to spend on the equipment that would be necessary to replicate bills which have complex design features embedded within them would exceed the money that they’d recoup by producing counterfeit bills.  Therefore, it usually takes approximately five years from the time that the Treasury opts to redesign a bill to the time that they’re able to release new bills into circulation that the U.S. Treasury, the Mint and the Bureau Of Engraving And Printing are confident that people will have an extremely difficult time counterfeiting. 
 

A Symbolic Gesture Delayed- Not Only For The U.S, But For Numerous Other Countries As Well

The decision to delay and possibly cancel the release of the $20 bills which feature a portrait of Harriet Tubman also sends a message to the entire world.  This delay says that the U.S. government is opting not to make a statement about how we’re attempting to move forward into a world which embraces tolerance and diversity a priority at the moment. 

I wrote an article which appeared in the July 10th, 2016 issue of The Pavlovic Today, in which I discuss “dollarization,” or the effects of other countries throughout the world which either use the U.S. dollar as their own currency or in which people use U.S. dollars in addition to their local currencies.  

In the article which I wrote back in 2016, I’d suggested that the International Monetary Fund could work with the governments of the 25 countries in which people are using the U.S. dollar as their currency to establish a stable national currencies for some of those countries, and to have the remainder of them join regional currencies (such as the West African CFA Francthe East Caribbean Dollar, etc.) 

 I do still believe that this is a good idea, but the International Monetary Fund has done absolutely nothing whatsoever to work with the governments of any of the 25 countries which are presently using the U.S. dollar as one of their currencies.  The Trump administration is not asking our UN ambassador or our representative to the World Bank to work with the governments of any of those countries, and as far as I know, this issue has not even been mentioned even once by any of President Trump’s economic advisors since President Trump assumed office in January of 2017. Therefore, it appears that the U.S. dollar will continue to be used as a currency in 25 other countries throughout the course of the 2020s, and possibly into the 2030s.

 I’d pointed out in the article which I wrote which appeared in the July 10th, 2016 issue that approximately two thirds of all of the bills which the Bureau Of Engraving And Printing prints every year as well as approximately two thirds of all of the coins that the U.S. Mint produces every year will end up in circulation in countries other than the U.S. Therefore, people in 25 other countries throughout the world will be handling as well as seeing the next series of $20 bills when they go shopping in their marketplaces.  

By replacing the portrait of our seventh President who had been a slave owner with a portrait of a woman who had been born into slavery, who escaped, who later became a prominent abolitionist as well as a prominent advocate within the women’s suffrage movement, we’re sending a message to the rest of the world that we understand our past, we acknowledge some of the most disastrous civil and  human rights violations from our history, we’ve learned from history and we’re ready to move forward into a world which embraces tolerance and diversity.  And by postponing the introduction of the new bills for another 5 or 6 years, with no explanation from our government as to why we’re postponing the printing of the new bills, we’re also sending a very clear message to the rest of the world.  

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...