Blessings on the blossom…

UnknownWhen I compiled the anthology Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean, I put an excerpt from the Puerto Rican-American writer Aurora Levins Morales right up front, because what she had to say about the invisibility of working women was so powerful.

“Let’s get one thing straight.  Puerto Rico was a woman’s country….Whatever there was to be cooked, we cooked it.  Whoever was born, we birthed and raised them.  Whatever was to be washed, we washed it….Whatever was grown, we grew it…We were never still, our hands were always busy….Ours is the work they decided to call unwork.  The tasks as necessary as air.  Not a single thing they did could have been done without us.  Not a treasure taken.  Not a crop brought in.  Not a town built up around its plaza, not a fortress manned without our cooking, cleaning, sewing, laundering, childbearing.  We have always been here, doing what had to be done.  As reliable as furniture, as supportive as their favorite sillón.  Who thanks his bed? But we are not furniture.  We are full of fire, dreams, pain, subversive laughter.  How could they not honor us?

I have to admit that never, in all my years of studying the history of the Americas, had I even noticed the absence of accounts of these women from its annals.

But it’s so true.  What famous explorer could have sailed the ocean blue without his mother and/or nurse giving him the loving care he needed to survive infancy and childhood? What town could have been built without the crucial work of women supporting its foundations?

Just as we are often blind to the crucial life-giving value of women’s work, we also have a tendency to arrogantly overlook the essential work done by the foundation of the planetary biosphere. I’m talking about PLANTS.

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Without the plants—from algae and seaweeds in the ocean to trees and grasses on land—our planet would quickly become a barren desert.

Without the microbes in the water and soil digesting decayed matter and nourishing those plants, the entire food chain would collapse, with humans falling along with all other “higher” species.

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This Thanksgiving, I want to honor and thank the marvelous plants of our planet, who silently, efficiently and ceaselessly convert sunlight and water to living tissue, and give themselves without protest to nourishing the lives of so many other species on Earth.

As we enjoy our Thanksgiving feasts, let’s remember that none of this abundance would be possible without our unsung plant kingdom heroes, and let us perhaps take a moment to sing their praises, as in this simple blessing I learned from my son’s Waldorf teacher many years ago:

Blessings on the blossom, blessings on the fruit.

Blessings on the leaf and stem, blessings on the seed and root.

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For a more extended version of this blessing, see the Mohawk Thanksgiving prayer.

Amen.

 

PHOTOS COPYRIGHT JENNIFER BROWDY DE HERNANDEZ.

Honoring the wisdom of Native Americans on Thanksgiving

Before I understood the real history behind the American tradition of Thanksgiving, I used to just innocently enjoy the chance to gather with family and friends to share a delicious meal.

I believed the story taught to me in grade school, about how the Pilgrims and their Native hosts sat down to a feast together, and lived happily ever after.

Such innocence, once lost, is impossible to recapture.

Now I know that the same Pilgrims who gave thanks for their delivery from starvation by the generous Native people of the region that would come to be known as New England would be the ones to turn on their benefactors and do their utmost to exterminate them.

My own ancestors were still fighting their own battles back in Europe at this time, but as an American, this is a shameful legacy that I need to confront and acknowledge.

As I wrote in my Thanksgiving post last year, the holiday of Thanksgiving should really be more of a day of atonement than a celebration of abundance, especially as we begin to realize that the abundance of food and natural resources that Americans have enjoyed over the past 500 years is not endless.

As we hit up against the limits to growth predicted years ago by Donella Meadows and others, we must recognize that the Native peoples who were so unceremoniously shoved aside during the Conquest of the Americas had so much more to offer Europeans than corn, squash, beans and turkey.

Indigenous worldviews, the world over, privilege balance over growth and accumulation, and this is the wisdom we need to pay attention to now.

Some argue that such a conservative position would not support the kind of technological innovation in which Europeans have excelled.

But I would ask whether our technological innovations have succeeded in making us happy as a culture, or as individuals within our culture?

Isn’t it true that the vast majority of our technological inventions have been used to foment and practice ever-more violent warfare?

Even our vaunted advances in medicine are primarily used, these days, to try to heal us from the sicknesses and imbalances our own technological inventions have afflicted upon us, by the poisoning of our food, air, water and earth with toxic chemicals and the byproducts of burning fossil fuels.

This image, from the PBS series “American Experience,” depicts members of the Wampanoag tribe meeting a white settler.

Before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and started their inexorable push west, the indigenous people living here were happy, healthy, strong and long-lived.  They enjoyed the abundant food stocks of the ocean, rivers and forests, and lived in harmony with the land.

Yes, there were territorial skirmishes, but there were also strong intertribal councils and confederations, in many cases led by matriarchs who valued peace and did not want to lose their sons and grandsons to needless warfare.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks that the Native peoples of this continent are still with us, despite all the brutality visited upon them by the European conquerors.

This Thanksgiving, I pray that all Americans begin to honor indigenous people as they deserve to be honored, by giving credence to the Native value of harmony with the Earth, and actually trying to live it.

Honoring Native Americans on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in the U.S. is about gathering together with friends and family and giving thanks for being able to stuff oneself with a huge meal.

It’s one of the most important holidays of the American capitalist religion, second only to “Christmas.”

Its founding myth is the fateful meal shared by the indigenous peoples of Massachusetts with the starving English Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims “gave thanks” at that meal for the generosity of their hosts, and thus was born the tradition of a November Thanksgiving feast.

To my way of thinking, Thanksgiving should actually be a day of atonement marked by fasting, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, Lent or Ramadan.

We Euramericans should be reflecting and repenting on this day for the way our ancestors turned on their Native hosts, once the time of starvation was past.

We repaid their kind welcome with a shameful record of stealing, swindling, enslavement, displacement and deliberate infection.

We waged vicious war that slaughtered children and old people along with warriors both male and female.

We occupied their lands without a second thought, and proceeded to cut the primeval forests to make room for our livestock, roads and cities.

This pattern started with the Puritan Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and spread inexorably West, all the way to California and Texas, where indeed the brutal work had already been begun by the Spanish.

I don’t really expect Americans to give up the tradition of the jolly Thanksgiving feast.

But we do need to be mindful of the real historical background behind the custom of gathering to celebrate with family and friends.

American Thanksgiving is a holiday that honors the spirit of sharing the bounty.  When we dig into that heaped plate today, we should be giving thanks to the rich Earth that has nourished human beings for millennia, and for the Native peoples of this continent, who learned how to live in harmony with the flora and fauna of this place, cultivating the first corn, beans and squash, and craftily culling the abundant indigenous turkeys.

And we should pause in our feast to reflect on the ignoble history that unfolded after that original Thanksgiving in Plymouth MA, where America repaid her hosts not with honor, but with persecution, scorn and hate.

In the act of repentance springs redemption.  The indigenous people of this continent are not gone–they are alive and well and living among us.  Let us raise a glass to them today and give them the honor and thanks they deserve.

Wamponoag leader Massasoit

This Thanksgiving, Imagine Another World…

The idea of Occupying the Malls on Black Friday, which I first posted about here, is gaining momentum day by day.

Occupy Seattle and other Occupations in various cities will be protesting WalMart this Friday, and I have a feeling that between now and Nov. 25, Black Friday, the idea will continue to gain traction.

The movement is not just protesting against what it objects to (in this case, excessive consumerism); it’s also offering positive alternatives, like the massive Occupy Thanksgiving that will take place in Liberty Square tomorrow, offering free Thanksgiving meals to all comers.

On Thanksgiving, it’s traditional for the privileged to donate food to the needy, so that they can celebrate this foodie holiday too.

This Thanksgiving we need to be thinking about more than turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, and simply extending charity is not going to make the grade.

We should be asking why it is that some people have so much, and others nothing at all.  It’s not about laziness or inherent intelligence, as some social analysts have tried to suggest.  It’s about a society in which the playing field is sharply tilted from the beginning in the favor of those who already have certain characteristics.

People who are tall, thin, fair-skinned, attractive, Judeo-Christian, male and born into educated families are far more likely to succeed in America than anyone else (with attractive white women a close second).

For these privileged people, extending charity on Thanksgiving or Christmas may make make them feel better about themselves, but it does nothing to change the circumstances for those born on the other side of the playing field–the other side of the tracks.

In 2010, 46.9 million people were in poverty, up from 37.3 million in 2007 — the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty .  This is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty rates have been published (USDA Economic Research Service, 2011). 

In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States (US Census, 2010). 

These numbers are unconscionable for the wealthiest nation on earth.

We’re often reminded that the U.S. spends more on its military than the next FOURTEEN military powers combined–seven times more than China, the nearest competitor.

Imagine if even a portion of those billions of dollars being spent on bombs, mines, drones, fighter planes and tanks were redirected to civil society.

Imagine if we thought not in terms of charity and “food aid” but restructuring social systems so as to stitch together a global safety net.

Imagine if the U.S. really got behind the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, announced in 2000, calling for an end to world poverty by 2015.

This Thanksgiving, let’s usher in a new era, in which competition and consumerism give way to collaboration and a focus on using the wealth of our nation–and our planet–for positive, life-enhancing purposes.

Whether we occupy the malls this holiday season or serve soup in a food kitchen, we should be thinking seriously about how to reshape our society to bring our national spending in line with our ideals.

On Black Friday, a New Target: Occupy the Malls!

What’s so effective about the Occupy movement is how it makes creative use of public space to get its message across.

For instance, the terrific techno-graffitti unleashed last night in New York, where protesters projected their message on to the Verizon Building without leaving a trace.

I have a idea for continuing this strategy, but with a new target: the great American MALL.

As you know, it’s just one week until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when all good patriotic Americans are supposed to line up at the big box stores at dawn, credit cards in hand, ready to start the mad Christmas shopping rush.

This year it seems that the whole capitalist enterprise that fueled those crazy Christmas shopping binges has started to crack and sway.

I dimly remember why Christmas is associated with gift-giving–it had something to do with the Three Wise Men bearing gifts to the baby Jesus, right?  But this American tradition of giving mountains of gifts to one another, competing with each other to buy the biggest, shiniest, best gift of all–that has nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas.

Myself, I prefer to celebrate the winter Solstice in this season, the day when the deepening darkness turns the corner of the equinox and we begin the long slow return to light and warmth.

I propose that this Black Friday, Americans should link arms with our family and friends and Occupy the malls of America.  Instead of driving ourselves ever deeper into debt with those credit cards, we should protest the corporate policies of outsourcing that have made it so unusual to see American-made products for sale in American stores.

If we want to put America back to work, we are going to have to reinvent the whole economic model of globalization. It had a nice ring to it, back in the 1980s and 90s when it was being implemented, but it has turned out to be a catastrophic failure on more levels than I can count.

What’s needed now is a re-locallization: a return to locally based economies, all over the world.  Let the Chinese manufacture goods for themselves while we get American factories humming again.

But this time, let those factories be worker-owned cooperatives rather than top-down corporations–just like Gore-Tex or Clif Bar or Eileen Fisher, all big brands that are actually owned by their employees.

Let’s gather in malls and shopping centers all across the U.S. on Black Friday and use the Thanksgiving holiday to push the corporations represented there to do what’s right for America.

When they start listening to us, we’ll all be giving thanks.

Let’s take back Black Friday, and change history!

I have a suggestion for the Occupy America folks all over this country.  Let’s take back Black Friday.  You know, the Black Friday after Thanksgiving Day, supposed to be one of the biggest shopping days of the American year?

It’s a great day for a decentralized national protest, because nearly everybody, including all those college students, is on holiday.  It’s also a great day for an anti-Big Money protest, because it will hit the corporations where it hurts most: retail sales.

What if instead of swiping those credit cards and running up our consumer debt on Black Friday–making it a black day for consumers, but a golden day for corporations and financiers–we deliberately boycotted the malls?  Instead, let’s declare a day of participatory democracy in action, a chance to meet with our neighbors and fellow citizens out on the public square, in cities and towns all across this country, to collectively envision a new society based on the true ideals of Thanksgiving: joining together as human beings across superficial differences like ethnicity, nationality and creed, nourishing each other with the bounty of our natural world and helping each other through lean times.

We live on a rich and abundant planet where there are sufficient resources for all of us to live well–the problem is the inequitable distribution of those resources.  On the original Thanksgiving, the native hosts were kind enough to give their Puritan guests a helping hand.  The rest is history, and it’s not a happy history at all.

We are standing at a crossroads where we have a chance to step off the path we began as a nation when the Europeans colonized this country and the capitalist machine began to roar.  We may not get another chance, given the precarious state of our global climate.

Now is our time.  Let’s step up and change history together.  Black Friday organizers, let’s get busy!

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