When Abraham Lincoln decreed the Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, the country was divided and at war. For the first time, millionaires emerged from war profits and workers and farmers knew poverty and homelessness up close and personal. Children worked in factories.
But Lincoln declared the holiday to celebrate workers and farmers who create the wealth and “blessings of fruitful fields.” The Great Emancipator wrote, “To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”
Amid the football, deer hunting, turkey, parades and sales pitches of Thanksgiving 2005, our family, friends and neighbors who gather around the table worked hard to produce the wealth associated with the U.S. Giving thanks to all workers is as good an idea now as it was when the holiday was established.
Lurking outside the window are the same shady millionaires from the 19th century, only now, they are billionaires exploiting our brains and sweat, creating not bounty, but poverty and violence from Baghdad to Houston.
Thousands line up at soup kitchens for a feast served by volunteers sensitive to seniors and children whose plates would have been empty. It is workers, not oil corporation CEOs or right-wing politicians, who dish up turkey and trimmings. The wealthy are too busy counting their rip-off profits.
This year Thanksgiving Day is celebrated against a grim backdrop. Bush’s FEMA is sending eviction notices to 150,000 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Those families worked and paid the taxes that enabled FEMA to exist, only to be kicked in the teeth.
That is one response to Thanksgiving. Working-class families have another. From around the country, families are traveling to Crawford, Texas, to join Cindy Sheehan for an honest Thanksgiving at Camp Casey. Their feast will raise relief for Katrina victims, defy bans on free speech, and send a message of peace to bring our troops home and use our enormous wealth to feed, house and provide medical care to all in need. Lincoln would be pleased with this 21st century celebration.