On Thanksgiving, we’re supposed to reflect on the things in life that we care about, and that we are thankful to have in our lives. Most of us take time to think about and recognize our families, our friends, and whatever other parts of our life give us pleasure and meaning.
But in many ways the holidays in general, and this holiday season 2023 specifically, should also push us to ask what it is that we really have to be thankful for?
In the United States there is tremendous suffering and hardship. Officially, at least 38 million people (nearly 12% of the population) live in poverty, and even that is a huge undercount given that the federal poverty definition ($26,000 for a family of four) hasn’t been significantly adjusted in decades. According to the same federal data, at least 17% of Black families live in poverty, and child poverty actually doubled in just the past year as Covid supports from the federal government ended! Indigenous people in the U.S. (often celebrated at Thanksgiving) are even worse off, with an average poverty rate of nearly 25%, and this doesn’t even mention the genocide against them that took their land for the expanding United States! While the official unemployment rate looks good on paper (about 4%), we also know that that doesn’t count millions who have stopped looking for work, or millions who are underemployed, or the millions who work a lot yet don’t earn nearly enough. And in the past months, as guaranteed eligibility for Medicaid during the Covid emergency has been removed, about 9 million people, 2 million of them children, have lost health care coverage. And none of these statistics even mention the inflation that ballooned in the past three years. While the increases in costs have slowed recently, it will still take years for workers’ wages to catch up! We could continue.
To add insult to injury, many workers during the holiday season work longer, often mandatory hours, with growing pressures to keep shelves stocked, get packages to people’s homes, and meet the needs of rushed and stressed customers who have seen their purchasing power eroded by inflation and are desperate to buy things for their loved ones at the lowest price possible. The constant scramble to work, work, work and buy, buy, buy destroys our ability to take time and enjoy life and the friends and family we care about.
And internationally, in Palestine, the U.S.-financed Israeli regime is conducting a campaign of genocide in Gaza. Along with the intensifying theft of land in the West Bank, this is an extension of the 75 years of Nakba (catastrophe) that Israel has visited on Palestinians since at least 1948. Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine are stuck in a grinding war of attrition with Russia, an invading force that bludgeons residential neighborhoods with bombs and missiles, while our government finances Ukraine’s war effort, dragging on the bloodletting well into the future, in its efforts to expand its hegemony in Europe. In both of these conflicts in just the past months, tens of thousands have been killed, tens of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of thousands have become refugees from violence and poverty. Other major conflicts, like civil wars in Sudan and Congo, also simmer and have caused the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands or more. In East Africa, years of intense drought have given way to destructive flooding, destroying the homes of millions. Again, we could continue.
This is a world dominated by corporations, their endless pursuit of profit, and the poverty, inequality, human suffering, and the wars and conflicts that they give us. Living undignified lives desperately trying to make ends meet or stay alive amid bombardment are not things to be thankful for.
Yes, many of us are grateful for family and friends. But that’s not the whole story. We can envision a different world. And we can make it happen.