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Thanksgiving: A Place at the Table

Posted on Sunday, 20th November 2011 @ 12:06 PM by Text Size A | A | A

On Thursday, November 24, the United States celebrates the annual feast of Thanksgiving. This tradition has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November and an official tradition in the United States since 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26 in the unlikely and bloody midst of the American Civil War.

On November 23, 2009 President Obama declared that, “What began as a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities nearly four centuries ago has become our cherished tradition of Thanksgiving.”  He went on to mention “President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured Nation in the midst of civil war.”

While today in the United States we are not suffering the bloodshed of the American Civil War, our society can certainly be described as fractured

For many Native Americans, a National Day of Mourning is observed on Thanksgiving.  To these indigenous Americans, Thanksgiving Day serves as a reminder of the genocide of millions of their ancestors and the theft of their lands. For the Native Americans among us this is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection but also a protest against the prejudices that Native Americans continue to suffer.

As we all know, other Americans continue to suffer as well.  Most recently, hundreds of people have been arrested during violent clashes between police and Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York during the week preceding Thanksgiving. Several protestors were injured, including a 19-year-old Romanian-American protester, Frances Goldin, 87, an Occupy Wall Street protester who was caught in a mob being pushed by police and 24-year-old Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen who suffered a life threatening injury to the head by Oakland police during the recent Occupy protests.

Growing severity in income inequality in the United States and abroad and a corresponding pent up demand for its reversal have created the main impetus for the organized protests that show no signs of abating despite an eviction of the New York group from Zuccotti Park and other encampments around the country.

Making our way through the second decade of the new millennium, we face a national effort to roll back civil rights, environmental devastation, a poverty rate that has risen to 16 percent, and rampant racism.

At the same time, there’s an insidious malaise that has been lurking across America. While a decline in our sense of American exceptionalism might be viewed as healthy, it has a dark side. Rather than a healthy identity that has finally grown out of its childishly narcissistic exceptionalism, our national frame of mind is taking on a cynical mood given to abandoning the common good, resulting in real, not just imagined, decline.

But while there have been sustained efforts to kill the American Dream, it’s still alive.  It’s time for America to abandon those efforts and invite all to a Thanksgiving table that promises liberty and justice for all.

We can make it easier for undocumented immigrants to become productive citizens.   Congress can revisit the Jobs Act, purported to create 1.9 million jobs. We can provide further investment in our ailing infrastructure to provide over 20 million people jobs who need them, we can stand up for the fact that health care, even for the 50 million uninsured, is a right for all people, and we can make sure that mortgages for 15 million struggling families are restructured so the mortgage principle better matches the current market. Finally, we can restore Native Americans’ full rights, work toward allowing them to reclaim their land where feasible and provide full access to the best our nation has to offer including education.

It’s time for a Thanksgiving celebration to recognize that while the American Dream has been shaken, and to some it remains a stranger, we still have it. It’s an aspiration that should be available for all to pursue and achieve.

Abraham Lincoln mustered the inspiration and support to establish a national day of Thanksgiving even while our nation suffered from the deadliest conflict in American history.  The Civil War resulted in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers, waging North against South, labor against capital, rich against poor.  But despite those odds, he correctly envisioned a long period of Reconstruction and beyond.

We have dropped that ball.  Let’s pick it up.  It’s time for the struggling 99 percent to become the 100 percent who thrives in America.   There’s a harvest waiting in the wings of unity. There’s room at this table. There’s reason for Thanksgiving.

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