By Jonathan London
After (finally) finishing the leftover turkey, I am left reflecting on what remains of the Thanksgiving Day. I am thinking about giving thanks and the state of thankfulness.
As a professional critic (that is, a professor), I tend to focus on what is wrong with the world and to wield my mind as a hatchet, to cut to the heart of the systems that oppress and divide us. This deconstruction is a powerful way to speak truth to power, to expose the emperor and so on.
However, equally important is planting seeds, and offering creative alternatives to the status quo. Without the hatchet, there is no open ground for seeds to grow: Without the seed, there is only barren ground. I see thankfulness as a common ground that can hold both the hatchet and the seed.
To be thankful is not to be naïve to injustices or to blindly accept the status quo. One can be thankful about the everyday gifts that surround us and still be passionate about social change. In fact, I experience thankfulness as part of a critical awareness of the world as it is that leads to a vision of the world as it should be.
Around our table — and, I imagine, many others — “family” was the most common answer to the question of “What are you thankful for?” For me, family represents unconditional love, support, shared history and unshakable connection. For all of this, I am deeply thankful.
What makes this feeling of thankfulness more poignant is the recognition that not everyone has the benefit of an intact family. This recognition then turns to the reasons behind this disparity between my and other’s experience of family. While there are many factors internal to family dynamics at play, there are also larger structural factors that cut against family unity. One of these is our nation’s dysfunctional and unjust immigration policy that tears apart families and frays the fabric of our society as a whole. Remember, Thanksgiving is essentially celebrating the arrival of a boatload of undocumented immigrants to these shores.
Deportation of undocumented immigrants has increased significantly under the Obama administration, taking a tremendous toll on immigrant families in California and across the country. While the U.S. House of Representatives shares the blame in not passing humane immigration reform as called for by the Senate and President Obama, the administration alone is to blame for the harsh implementation of the current policy.
A recent hunger strike by a range of civil rights, religious and political leaders has brought national attention to this pressing issue, but the deportations continue unabated. See bit.ly/ItlL6Z for Rachel Maddow’s recent story on the topic. Calls, letters and other expressions of outrage directed can be directed to the Speaker of the House John Boehner to bring comprehensive immigration reform to a full floor vote and to President Obama to halt these anti-family deportations.
After “family,” the most common response to “What are you thankful for?” was “this food!” Having cooked the turkey myself (love that dry brine rub!), I was pretty proud of the dinner. I was thankful that our family has the economic means to put this dinner, and dinner every day, on our table.
This led to the reflection on those who do not have such resources, who depend on food stamps, who go hungry, who are homeless and so on. Why is this: Why do so many in our richest of all nations go hungry when others of us have too much to eat? As Bill Clinton famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
So, looking at the economy, we see a set of diverging paths: with those few on top reaping ever greater shares of the nation’s wealth, and those on the bottom sliding deeper into poverty with little opportunity to arise. One of the most significant downward forces on the economy is the shamefully low minimum wage. This is shameful in that is beneath human dignity to work all day (and often night) and still not have the money to feed, clothe, house and care for your family. It is also shameful in that the minimum wage actually has decreased, in real dollars, over the past decades.
Proposals to raise the minimum wage to a mere $10 an hour (that’s $20,000 a year before taxes, folks) have been called radical wealth redistribution and a threat to the economy. Well, the critics have the first part right: Raising the minimum wage is one step in allowing millions of Americans to enjoy the fruits of their labor — a radical idea, indeed. But the critics are dead wrong on the second: many studies have shown that raising the minimum wage actually will stimulate the economy, as these millions of workers will now have more money to spend and will have reduced reliance on public benefits.
At the same time, it is important to maintain a safety net of these benefits, including protecting food stamps from the draconian cuts proposed by the GOP. Tying both the hunger and the wages issue together is the plight of the farm workers who produced our Thanksgiving bounty but who struggle with poverty and food insecurity.
Starting with thankfulness for the gifts that surround us, we become aware of the injustices that divide us. Wielding the hatchet of critical awareness, we uncover the root causes of these injustices. Dislodging these roots, we plant new seeds to create a world we can all be thankful for.
— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at [email protected]