Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Questions

I grew up loving the Thanksgiving holiday without giving it much thought. I celebrated my last Thanksgiving in 2000. The following year, while the United States was bombing weddings in Afghanistan and locking up children in Guantanamo who had the temerity to fight back, I finally realized how utterly obscene it was to participate in a holiday which essentially has its roots in invasion and occupation (not to mention the horrendous cruelty and environmental degradation of factory farming). As another Thanksgiving approaches, a few questions occurred to me.

What if Thanksgiving in the USA was a celebration of locally sourced, locally seasonal, organic food grown on small farms, home gardens, or hunted and gathered, like it was for the Puritan colonizers in 1620?

Or what if it was a day of national mourning and fasting in solemn rememberance of the genocide perpetrated against cultures that revered the land?

What if on Thanksgiving people refused to eat poisoned food sold in toxic containers? What if they invited not just family, but neighbors into their homes, shared the fruits of garden harvests and traded heirloom seeds to sow the following growing season?

What if the national dish did not revolve around the charring of a fellow animal after it lived a life of fear huddled in a tiny cage?

What if the genetic integrity of the foods Americans eat was respected, left alone, and not invaded and destroyed as though it were just another territory claimed by divine right?

What if the culture was not so apocalyptic? What if everything, all the way up to the planet we inhabit, was not so disposable?

What if the famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City didn't celebrate opulence, excess, the victory culture and affront after afront to history, but instead was marked by the determination of its participants to invade and occupy government buildings until the government ceases to invade and occupy other countries?

What if the televisions were turned off? What if we put our boots through them, and left the remains at the entryways to the headquarters of the news networks, just as a warning?

What if instead of Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving we all gave something back, besides our thanks? Better, what if we reclaimed something that has been taken from us?

What if instead of watching corporate sporting events in a food coma after dinner, we organized and played our own sports? Or used our energy to build something that's broken, or dismantle something that should never have been?

What if thanks were only offered by those who know what gratitude means - not the word but the concept, with its implications of respect and interdependence?

What if these questions were asked at American Thanksgiving tables? What if they weren't considered vulgar, or out of place, or (ho hum) unpatriotic?

What if there was no Thanksgiving holiday, no Thanksgiving parade, no Thanksgiving sports or movies or Christmas shopping or slaughterhouses or presidential messages or anything?

What would you do? How would you signal your gratitude for the good fortune, the comforts, the privileges that you have? What if it was for you to decide?

You are the pilgrim, your ship has landed, the world offers its bounty up to you. You decide.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Billie Holiday, David Simon and the War on Drugs

I am reading Billie Holiday's 1956 engaging autobiography Lady Sings the Blues (ghostwritten by William Dufty), and found a passage on the failed war on drugs that sounds like it was written in opposition to the failed war on drugs of the Reagan years, or indeed today. She says:
People on drugs are sick people. So now we end up with the government chasing sick people like they were criminals, telling doctors they can't help them, prosecuting them because they had some stuff without paying the tax, and sending them to jail.

Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market, told doctors they couldn't treat them, and then caught them, prosecuted them for not paying their taxes, and then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs. The jails are full and the problem is getting worse every day.
And here's David Simon, creator of The Wire, speaking on the subject on Bill Moyers Journal:
I would decriminalize drugs in a heartbeat. I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all the prep, all of that cash, I would hurl it, as fast as I could, into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs. I would rather turn these neighborhoods inward with jobs programs. Even if it was the equivalent of the urban CCC, if it was New Deal-type logic, it would be doing less damage than creating a war syndrome, where we're basically treating our underclass. The drug war's war on the underclass now. That's all it is. It has no other meaning.