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Thanksgiving

A GOOD SEASON TO BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING

And keep it up through the hard times to come

 

November 21, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

It’s Thanksgiving this week. More correctly the National Day of Mourning. A holiday fraught with contradiction, as I’ve written repeatedly in the past. And what is one to make of it? Originally an opportunity for the descendants of the European colonists who seized Massachusetts—the country it eventually sat within, and the continent that surrounds it—from Native American nations through a combination of deadly diseases, grand theft, and genocidal violence to celebrate their good fortune. Now one of a number of nearly indistinguishable chances throughout the calendar year for (most, not all) people to take a day off from work, eat too much food (often prepared courtesy of women’s unpaid labor), drink too much alcohol, watch sports on TV, and maybe catch up with friends and extended family in the margins somewhere.

 

Once a harvest festival inaugurated by a Christian theocracy, it has morphed into a secular affair. Though its nationalist overtones remain strong. Nevertheless, it kicks off a period of the year—however commercialized—where people are encouraged to think about other people. To talk to each other, and to give each other gifts.

 

So, Turkey Day is as messed up as the warmongering capitalist republic it celebrates. But it does bring out some good behavior in Americans that I believe should be encouraged. An attitude that continues through to another secularized Christian holiday, Christmas, and beyond to a hopeful and libidinous New Year’s Eve.

 

Which is why it’s a fine time of year to make a few suggestions of things readers can do to make the world a better place. Whether you’re religious or not, and regardless of your politics… or lack thereof.

 

Help Someone Less Fortunate Than Yourself

I’m talking on an individual level here. One on one. You’re walking down the street. You see a homeless person. You see a hand being held out in supplication. So, give that person some money. Some food. Some coffee. Whatever they need in the moment. Look that person in the eye. Talk to that person. That fellow human being in need in front of you. A person you may have passed by a dozen times without raising your gaze from the sidewalk. Maybe ask a question or two. Think about the circumstances that resulted in that person ending up on the street. Then reflect upon how you might help build a society that will not allow anyone to lose their home to begin with.

 

Volunteer

Now help a bunch of people. For a couple hours a week or a couple hours a month. Donate your time, labor, and experience. Give a workshop at a local school on something you’re passionate about. Work in a homeless shelter. Build a community garden. Visit with folks in a nursing home. After a fashion, mull over how much can be done outside a system of market transactions. Look for ways to network volunteer efforts together into a front for social betterment.

 

Donate to Charity

Finding a nonprofit organization that really does the good work it says it does can be tricky. So, ask around. Check the news media for background. Go to the website of any organization that looks decent and read some of the group’s materials. Your basic litmus test should be whether the charity in question spends most of the money it raises in the service of its chosen community of interest. Groups that do that are generally worthy of your support. Donate annually… or, and I say this as someone who runs a nonprofit alongside a commercial newspaper, donate monthly. Keep it up as long as you can. And if you can afford it, give to many solid organizations. Set a percentage of your income to devote to good works and give that sum consistently. Note the power of giving, and think about how to expand the gift economy to become the dominant mode of exchange.

 

Day of Service

Too late a plan for this year, but in the years to come try converting your Thanksgiving from just party time into a time to both party and help others. Tell your friends and family that you’re going to spend part of the day helping people in need in your community, and invite them to come along. Over time, this could become a tradition. And the more personal networks that do it, the more the idea will catch on. Not that such a service day is a new notion. But it is something that could stand to be spread nationwide. Perhaps supplanting the current majority view of the holiday at some point. Inspiring many people to make such activities part of daily life—and ultimately baking them into our culture.

 

In closing, I make these suggestions for what I consider to be obvious moral reasons. But also for reasons as political as anything I’ve ever written. Because we’re entering what may well be the most difficult period that the human race has ever faced. And if our species is going to survive and thrive in the decades to come, it will be thanks to simple human solidarity. Based on the kind of actions I suggest above at base.

 

And if humanity is going to stop genocides like the one that was committed against Native Americans—and far too many other groups of people since—from ever happening again, such solidarity is not optional. It is essential.

 

Apparent Horizon—winner of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2018 Best Political Column award—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

REMEMBRANCE AND PROTEST: THANKSGIVING THEN & NOW

Brookfield1

November 23, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The following passage is excerpted from a piece I wrote in 2005. It recounts the story of King Philip’s War—which was fought across southern New England 340 years ago, and started not far from where I attended a Thanksgiving dinner that year at my cousin’s place in North Attleborough. Read it. Think about it. Discuss it with friends and family. And, if you can make it, join the United American Indians of New England and allies for a day of remembrance and protest at the 46th National Day of Mourning on November 26 at noon at Coles Hill in Plymouth. Get all the information, and a more accurate version of the history of  “Thanksgiving” at the UAINE website.

In 1675, a Wampanoag sachem named Metacomet (or King Philip to the English) launched—somewhat reluctantly—a war against English colonists in what is now Massachusetts that came closer than any other war launched by America’s native peoples to ending European domination in at least one corner of the “New World.” It was the last colonial war in which the two sides had relatively equal numbers, and used basically equivalent technology.

Had not disease already decimated the native population of the area decades before, the English never could have won.

The grievances of the faction of the Wampanoags that began the war—and the other nations that joined them including the Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, and Nipmucks—were fairly straightforward. The English unceasingly attempted by foul means and fair to convert the native nations to Christianity. And they continually overstepped the bounds of various treaties and contracts with native peoples in taking land that wasn’t theirs for their own exclusive use.

Two years later, roughly 800 colonists and 6000 Native Americans were dead. Dozens of towns and settlements on both sides were wholly or substantially destroyed. Atrocities were committed by all parties to the conflict—though the English outdid their opposition in that respect, unsurprisingly.

Most of the fighting took place in what are now Plymouth and Bristol Counties in southeastern Massachusetts, in much of Rhode Island, and in the Connecticut River Valley in both western Massachusetts and Connecticut—but it raged throughout modern day New England, and smouldered on for over 100 years with no official end date marked. No treaty, broken or otherwise, was ever signed by either side.

A number of Native American nations were for all intents and purposes destroyed—at least as political entities. The rest were assimilated or marginalized.

The war forever cast Native Americans into the role of “savages”—a subhuman status fit only for subjugation or extermination. For 300 years after the war, most American historians gave short shrift to native justifications for the conflict, and exulted in the glory of a holy war won against the forces of darkness.

After you absorb that Native American history, I recommend you delve into some local Black history that activists at Harvard Law School have unearthed. It seems the school was founded with money from a vile family of slavers by the name of Royall. Making matters worse, Harvard Law then adopted the Royall family coat of arms as its crest. The protesters are calling for the decolonization of their campus, the symbols, the curriculum and the history of Harvard Law School. Readers can find out more by following #RoyallMustFall on Twitter and Facebook.

And a big shout out to the #ConcernedStudents2015 student activists at Brandeis University occupying their administration building for racial justice on their campus as we go to press. Stay strong!

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.