5 things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

This Thursday, the United States and its citizens around the world will celebrate our day of thanks, known as Thanksgiving. The tradition’s origins are often disputed. Some say it was a European harvest cycle tradition that immigrated to the “New World” with the explorers. Others dispute whether the tradition began in Plymouth, Massachusetts or in Florida or Virginia. Of course, the image of Native Americans sitting together with European colonists – actually, occupiers – is disputed as well.

Fast forward to today, and most dictionaries describe Thanksgiving as:

1) the act of giving thanks

2) a prayer expressing gratitude

3) a public acknowledgement of celebration of divine goodness

I am aware that the way we Thanksgiving is celebrated today runs contrary to the historic origins of the New World. There are so many Thanksgiving myths, and any actual story or history has been white washed. To make the holiday even more discouraging, the focus of Thanksgiving for so many Americans is on Black Friday, football, and holiday shopping. None of the dictionary definitions of Thanksgiving fit with contemporary consumerist and indulgent activities.

This Thanksgiving, I gratefully acknowledge the people who risk their lives and stand steadfast in their demands for dignity, justice and economic equality. And for all the authentic journalists who tenaciously follow them and report on their work, and the tools that help them achieve their goals.  I am grateful that an interesting combination of forces and human ingenuity is showing the world what democracy looks like.

1) Leaderless nonviolent movements: The Arab Spring, Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, students’ calls for educational reform in Puerto Rico and Chile, the miners protests in Bolivia, Tar Sands action, and Occupy Wall Street offer fantastic examples of a breaking of a persistent stereotype that people can only come together with one voice and vision if they have a charismatic public leader (who is usually male). This has been an amazing year for civil resistance. As a student, writer and educator of nonviolent social movements, I have felt like a lone voice declaring the potential of people power. And after January, all that changed.

2) Arab women front and center: One of the most inspiring features of the Arab Spring was the exposure of the strength of Arab women. Their participation, leadership, reporting, video documentation, and public representation in each country undergoing political reformation was an education for their countrymen and for the world.  In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, women are actively involved in their countries’ struggling amidst deeply patriarchal societies. From Asmaa Mahfouz of Egypt to Tawakul Karman of Tunisia, women have acted with boldness and determination, and they have been organizing and participating long before their faces became known to the Western world.

3) People-powered news: Anyone can go on the internet each morning and within five minutes, with a global network of interesting and active Facebook friends, get authentic news from around the world rarely offered by mainstream journalists. This is due in large part to the blogger activists taking risks to expose injustices and frame stories honestly, without marketing gimmicks or commercial influences. This site, for example, has been a key source for on the ground news related to the Tar Sands Action and Occupy Wall Street.  Many bloggers are activists who, in stark difference to mainstream news journalists, work not for profit or a salary, but out of concern, passion and a desire for truth telling on issues simply not covered in nightly cable television newscasts.

4) Technology tools: The forces I mention above are continually benefiting from easy-to-use tools like smart phones, SMS, You Tube and Twitter.  Many of these basic tools are being integrated with more sophisticated human rights tracking/reporting and crowd sourcing tools like Ushahidi, Martus, Frontline SMS, and Mobile Accord.  The combination of technology, authentic voices, nonviolent education and exchanges of information among activists, and social sharing platforms like Facebook have served as a kind of catalyst for social movements this year. Technology tools must be harnessed for public good rather than only for profit, consumerism or nefarious causes.

5) Al Jazeera English: One of the great things about living in Washington, DC is having access to Al Jazeera English news service on television. For the rest of the U.S. and the world, Al Jazeera English makes most if not all broadcasts available on the web. I remember many days in January when I could not pull myself away from the television as Al Jazeera covered events in Tunisia, Egypt, and later in Bahrain and Yemen. While U.S. and perhaps European commercial news outlets must cater to its citizens’ apathy and attention deficit disorder, Al Jazeera was steadfast in its coverage of Middle East events. For example, months before Takawal Karman of Tunisia women the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Al Jazeera was featuring her in its People and Power program, episode Yemen: A Tale of Two Protests.  To learn more about Al Jazeera, the documentary film, Control Room (2003), investigates the ethics of media-managed wars and offers insight into Al Jazeera reporting and vision.

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