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.

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