Thanksgiving was yesterday. I ate turkey and picked at some tofurkey and lots of mashed potatoes and stuffing. My father-in-law can rock a pecan pie and I made myself silly over it.
It seems almost trite, historically amnesiatic and definitely retro to focus on the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, given that the holiday is founded in the United States’ racism and territorial bloodlust and is now almost completely eclipsed by a mindless bacchanal of consumption. I am talking about Black Friday: As soon as the bird is stripped of flesh and the last fork of pie is swallowed, the family heads off to Target or Kohls or Macys to prepare for the stampede. In fact, for many the big family dinner is a quaint has-been; in Louisville, Ky., people started lining up at Best Buy on Tuesday to get their big screen TVs and iPhone 5s.
But the Black Friday swarm is just one more of America’s many traditions of which I am happy to remain ignorant. (I did at least try my hand at trick-or-treating for the first time this year, though. Not all bad.)
Instead of spending today tugging on one end of a $29.95 WWE Brawlin’ Buddy (there are more than 10 different large plush wrestlers from Connecticut Senate contender Linda McMahon’s ring that shoppers can choose from that grunt and trash-talk as you pummel them — including one named Sheamus), I will express my gratitude.
Here are a few things I am thankful for, in no particular order:
- The Nation magazine. I interned there when I first moved to New York in 1998. They paid me ($50 a week), took me out to lunch, introduced me to my mentor and (eventually) friend Bill Hartung, and gave me a launching pad for my “career” (such as it is). Even more importantly, the magazine is a platform for engaged progressive discourse. It excoriates the right constantly and the liberals when necessary (which is almost constantly). They have reporters on the ground where the stories are (read Mohammed Omer on Gaza from Gaza) around the world and dig deep with hard-hitting investigations. Lilliana Segura on the prison industrial complex, Laura Flanders on austerity, Chris Hayes on Gaza, my old friend Jeremy Scahill (he’s actually younger than me) on the Petraeus legacy… they rock and you should subscribe!
- Midwives! They helped me through a three-day labor that ended well (read: no caesarian) in the hospital. (I am also grateful for Dr. Bird and Middlesex Hospital and state insurance for low income mothers which puts me solidly in Romney’s 47 percent.) Midwives help women have babies; sounds simple, right? But, it is hard work and not legal in 23 states. This is a problem. Consider these facts: The United States spends $98 billion on hospitalization for pregnancy and childbirth per year — more than any other country in the world. Despite this massive investment, the maternal mortality rate has doubled in the last 25 years. Black Americans are three times more likely to die in childbirth than whites. These statistics are terrible — and this suffering and dying is the result of lack of access to affordable health care generally, poor prenatal care specifically, and too many drugs and too much intervention at the hospital. In some places almost half of women end up having c-sections. Attended homebirths are illegal in Alabama, which has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the in the country and very few obstetricians. Ina May Gaskin, the mother of all midwives, is only a household name in certain small circles, but she is gaining greater attention — she was profiled in the New York Times magazine this year — and her message of woman-centered childbirth is growing in popularity. Her latest work, Birth Matters, has a forward by alt-folk rock goddess Ani DiFranco.
- The Postal Service. The New London post office has a series of murals commissioned during the 1930s that pay tribute to our maritime past. They are beautiful. That is a good thing, because there is always a line at my local post office. I wait a long time for my chance with Steve or Cheryl at the counter and end up staring at men pulling on ropes in a stormy sea scene a lot. The Postal Service is in crisis in the United States; volume is down (21% since 2006), competition is up (FedEx, email, the cloud, etc) and so is debt (the USPS defaulted again in October). Red tape is endemic. (Did you know that the Post Office may be the only entity in the United States which has to have all the money for its workers’ health care in the bank decades in advance?) I know that my own commitment to the written word at 44 cents an envelope is not saving the behemoth, but I enjoy doing my part.
- You. Yep, you. You are doing great things in the world. Weeping over and organizing against the terror in Gaza. Baking cookies for your daughter’s bake sale. Helping your church with a food drive for the still needy victims of Hurricane Sandy. Planting trees. Adopting a kid out of the foster care system. Working the line at the soup kitchen. Stopping by with a casserole for someone who just had a baby. Recovering from your annual trek to the gates of Fort Benning — the School of the Assassins. Supporting the union drive at Walmart. Visiting your friend in the hospital. Organizing to shut down Guantanamo. Tutoring in an after school program. Becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister. Chatting with your neighbor. Refusing to pay war taxes. Picking up trash on your daily constitutional. Brewing your own beer. Putting the garden to bed for the winter.
Thank you for all you do, keep on doing it, do more. Happy Thanksgiving.
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