Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2021: Keep Hope Alive

Brightly colored picture of spawning activity on Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Spawning activity on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Laurie and Debbie say:

Last year, we decided not to put up a gratitude post for Thanksgiving, and instead Debbie wrote about the holiday’s shameful history, in the context of the pandemic. The pandemic is still with us and the holiday will always have a shameful history; nonetheless, we are glad to have things to be grateful for. Hope is still hard to come by … and that makes it precious.

Speaking of the pandemic, as we all so often are, it’s important to acknowledge the mRNA vaccines which are both lifesaving and scientifically extraordinary, offering the promise of further medical advances. Following in the vaccines’ footsteps are at least two oral antiviral pills to treat rather than prevent the disease. And although the global distribution of vaccines has been spotty and disappointing — especially in Africa — the current count of almost 8 billion vaccine doses administered in 184 countries, and 330+ million being added to that every day, is an unprecedented response to a global pandemic. We can — and must — do better, and we can still marvel at  what has been done in less than a year since the first vaccines were released.

In the United States, despite extreme polarization and opposition, the U.S. Congress has passed several major pieces of legislation which improve the lives of Americans, from the CARES Act during Trump’s incumbency through the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, to the recent Infrastructure Bill and (hopefully soon) the Build Back Better Act. Of particular note is that the first two bills put direct cash into individual Americans’ bank accounts, something American politicians have previously been loath to do–and of course it’s a very popular move. Also, the child tax credit in the ARPA bill, if extended, is predicted to cut child poverty in the United States in half.

The 20-year-long U.S. war in Afghanistan is over. What’s more, if you sift through the breathless news coverage, you’ll see that the tens of thousands of people who needed to be evacuated were evacuated efficiently and safely and the smaller numbers are still being helped out of the country.

While the headlines are full of the repulsive acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, let us also note that the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder in Georgia yesterday. And the same week as the Rittenhouse verdict, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger lost her second appeal, and will stay in jail for having shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment. And police officer Eric DeValkenaere was convicted in Missouri of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Cameron Lamb, a Black man causing no trouble in his own back yard. And, of course, the whole world knows that Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, and sentenced to 22-1/2 years in prison. DeValkenaere’s sentencing is still to come. We note here also that more than 2/3 of the social media posts supporting Rittenhouse come from accounts which disguise their location, and most of them are almost certainly by trolls from Russia, China, and the EU; so don’t simply swallow the “so many Americans support him” narrative.

In that vein, Sherrilyn Ifill, currently director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, reminds us that the sound and fury about everything from the misinformation about critical race theory to the videos of police murders, as awful as they are, especially to BIPOC people like Ifill, is also evidence that we are “at a moment of reckoning,” and things which have been kept hidden for centuries are getting talked about in public.

The much-talked about wave of anti-trans laws is being met by a less-publicized wave of pro-trans court decisions, though no one knows what the Supreme Court will do (other than refusing to hear a case that could have reinstated a school bathroom anti-trans law in Virginia). Meanwhile the Biden administration has both created a third-gender spot on US passports and declared that trans people don’t have to show medical “proof” to choose their passport gender.

Around the world, we see victories for farmers in India, in a very long struggle with the autocratic Indian government. And a desperately needed new constitution in Chile.

Aside from the medical breakthroughs spurred by the coronavirus, space exploration grows with 3 Mars Rovers operating, from the US, the EU, and China.

Sports figures are learning how to take their own agency and power, and not let the media and the sports governing bodies rule their lives. Two particularly notable examples are Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, coming out about her mental health and refusing to participate in activities that do her harm (!), and the incomparable gymnast Simone Biles, who has withdrawn from gymnastics and is starkly honest about her reasons.

The wave of climate protests from youth around the world extends far beyond Greta Thunberg. While they (and adults) take to the streets, many scientific advances are nearing implementation, including concrete that can capture carbon, methane-limiting by feeding seaweed to cows, and there is significant spawning activity on the Great Barrier Reef.

We could go on for pages. The news is generally so bleak that many of these things get overlooked or quickly forgotten. We tried to pick some that we think people should know about.

Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate, and if you don’t, have a good day.


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What Is Thanksgiving to a 2020 American?


autumn leaves surrounding a surgical mask

Debbie says:

To begin with, Thanksgiving means something different to everyone. Some people hate the holiday and don’t celebrate it. Some people, for completely sound reasons, find it offensive. Some people are used to observing it alone, or with one or two other people. Some people come from other traditions, and just don’t get the point.

For all the years of this blog, Laurie and I have done a gratitude post for Thanksgiving: good things that have happened during the year. We have tried to make sure that our list is international and multi-subject (science, art, sport, health, politics). We decided not to do that this year. While there are things worth appreciating, this country is just in too much of a shambles, and our government caused so much pain, suffering, mental health challenges, disability, and death to so many, that general gratitude seems … hypocritical. Laurie and I both know we’ve been very lucky so far in this pandemic.  We may both have things to be grateful for–but we all have so much to lament. Frankly, we all also have a great deal to resent, and people to blame.

Since I’m feeling the lack of having (some of) my closest people with me this year, Laurie and I also decided that I should write something about 2020 Thanksgiving.I understand why the holiday is offensive, and in some ways the poster child for white supremacy celebrations. I also understand that it can easily become a paean to gluttony–the groaning board table, the expectation that we will eat too much, the inevitable waste. Nonetheless, I love the holiday. I love the food and the abundance (and I try to minimize the waste). I love the gathering with friends and family, the sense of togetherness and connection, sometimes the conscious attention to gratitude.

For many years, I have wished I had a fixed Thanksgiving plan, with mostly the same people every year, in mostly the same place. That just hasn’t worked out. For some years, my partner and I ate with friends who have small children. One year, we had a big meal in our house, which isn’t especially well designed for it, but we had a great time. Last year, he and I brought a small Thanksgiving to a friend recovering from surgery, and invited a few other friends. None of them have been my perfect Thanksgiving, but they have mostly had something of the flavor I care about.

And so will this Thursday. We’ll eat with our downstairs neighbors, who have been a pod with us since March. The food will be excellent and yes, the table will be abundant. The conversation will be pleasant, if somewhat predictable. The 8-year-old who lives downstairs will fidget until he’s allowed to play with his electronics.

But it will all happen in a context of rising cases, full ICUs (not where we are yet), the people Nikole Hannah-Jones accurately calls sacrificial workers taking chances for the rest of us. You and I, reading and writing this, may not know anyone whose loved one is dying of COVID in a hospital where no one can visit them, but we know they are there. We may not know anyone who is still unable to walk across a room four months after “recovering” from the virus, but we know they are there. We may not know anyone who has completely lost the business they gave their lives to, or the job they fed their families with, but we know they are there. In the hundreds of thousands, in the millions. We may not know anyone who refuses to wear a mask, or demonstrates for the right to large public gatherings, but we know they are there too. We also know how many people, who may be otherwise protected and fortunate, are eating alone tomorrow. Nonetheless, humans tend to cling to some kind of hope in hard times.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are a ray of hope, but it is hard to be grateful for their election when we worked to hard to get them where they are, and we know how much opposition they face, and how many ways they will fall short of our hopes — even while they turn the country’s response to the coronavirus around. Electing Biden and Harris will be the end of the Trump catastrophe, but it won’t solve any of America’s pre-existing, now exacerbated, problems. It only gives us a springboard from which to keep pushing for what we believe in.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines aren’t just rays of hope, they are beams of expectation–and they will be slowed down at least some by distribution inequities, technical issues, supply-chain failures, and people who are committed to the belief that all vaccines are conspiratorial devices.  The experts are hoping that these vaccines, and the ones behind them in the pipeline, will free us up by next late summer or fall, with far too many deaths, disabilities, failed businesses, lost jobs, and drug overdoses between here and there.

It does seem worth mentioning the landmark news out of Scotland: free menstrual hygiene products for everyone! Laurie had been following the campaign, but it came as a complete surprise to me, and another bright ray of hope on the horizon. It’s just the kind of thing we would showcase in a happier post.

I’ll be trying to enjoy what I have, keep thinking about my own efforts to heal the world, writing postcards to Georgia voters, helping amuse the 8-year-old, and not eating too much. I hope you will be doing your version of the same.

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