This isn’t a soggy attempt to pluck on your Thanksgiving heartstrings, to fanatically announce the Western World’s overnight transition into an Ovaltine ad. The United States faces systemic inadequacies that didn’t piffle out just because Macy’s happened to float an enormous Kermit the Frog balloon through midtown Manhattan yesterday. Nonetheless, I have found with a greater fervor and more honest passion than ever before that I am truly thankful to be living in the United States this Thanksgiving.
I know the rhetoric of the Occupy movement backwards and forwards, and can rail off its common supporting statistics like an auctioneer. In October, the Congressional Budget Office reported a 275% increase in income for the top 1% of American income earners over the last 30 years, compared to an increase of 40% for the middle 60% and an increase of 18% for the bottom 20%. A 2008 study from the University of California-Berkeley revealed that the bottom 90% of U.S. households have an average annual income of $31,244, while the top 1% of households take in over $1.1 million, on average. And it’s become nothing short of statistical mantra in the Occupy movement that the top 1% of earners control about 40% of our nation’s wealth.
The United States’ unemployment rate – as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – still hovers at just over 9%. Given that this measure doesn’t account for things like part-time workers who want to work full-time or people who have been unemployed for too long to receive unemployment benefits, I can assuredly say that the underemployment rate in the U.S. is much higher (about 18.4% in July, according to Gallup).
On top of this, we also have a lack of access to inexpensive medical treatment and insurance; we rely on environmentally unsound, imported energy sources from a number of nations governed by autocratic or oppressive rulers; and our elections – the one shining hope for true equity amongst all individuals who make up the United States – have become mind-bogglingly expensive affairs funded in no small part by multi-billion dollar corporate entities.
I’ll say this much: Giving thanks for living in the U.S. may not, on the surface, be an especially inspired decision. My family back in Milwaukee would probably prefer I give thanks for Aaron Rodgers’ throwing arm.
But being down at Occupy Boston over the last two months has imbued me with an inordinate sense of hope. Every day, as I walk the seven blocks from my school through Chinatown and right into the heart of the Financial District, I’m struck by the notion that I’m headed to do something right.
Although I may – and regularly do – squabble ideologically with many of the people at Dewey Square, it was just a few months ago that I was not having these conversations at all. I had been living in an intellectual limbo, interrupted only on those occasions when Dad would have an extra glass of wine during my visits home or when a conservative friend from Tufts would drop me a text reminding me that I was a Socialist.
My ideas may not have been any more revolutionary than every other twenty-somethings’ political musings; nonetheless, the basic inability to constructively engage my political consciousness took its toll. Previously I had felt isolated, feebly attempting to host well-rounded discussions with the egregious and anonymous polarity of those who frequent Internet forums. But now, the situation is vastly different.
I once took what C.W. Mills said to be universally true – that “people aren’t always interested in what’s in their best interest.” But now I am able to sit knee-to-knee with people who are willing to actively fight for what’s in their best interest, people who strive to prove Mills wrong on a daily basis.
In a way, this touches on what I’m most thankful for: activity.
The proverbial armchair, from which students and professionals alike will readily wax philosophic over the ‘death of the American dream’, is completely soporific, and contributes to a stagnancy of action. ‘The whole system’s messed up, so why get up to try and fix it?’ I’ve admittedly cozied up in this chair a few times during in my twenty years on this planet, and wondered out loud whether the Poet Laureate gets to write America’s obituary, when the time comes.
But it no longer seems to me that we have entered rigor mortis as a nation. On the contrary, through actively covering and talking with the members of this movement, I have seen a new life blossom out of a few simple ideas: ‘equality’, ‘fairness’ and ‘compassion’ among them. Moreover, I’ve felt more comfortable expressing and being myself. Because ‘myself’ was always a politically active person waiting to happen; I just never had anything which could coax that out.
To be certain, I’ve got a hell of a lot more to be thankful for on this day than intellectual fulfillment– food in my cupboard, a roof over my head, and a family that is able to help send me to college. However, I can now add to the list that I’m thankful to live in a country where a freedom of expression and speech isn’t just a vague possibility, but an active opportunity.
Though thousands have been arrested in the last two months for seizing this opportunity, I’m not shaken. For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to see and experience a powerful, trenchant example of ‘free speech’, something that I’d only ever known as an abstraction.