More than two and a half million Americans slipped into poverty this year bringing the total number of Americans in poverty to 46.2 million. There are millions more Americans near or in danger of going into poverty because they could lose their job, their home to bank foreclosure, or contract a disease or illness that leads to a medical bill they will be unable to pay.
Americans have made it a habit of taking time every Thanksgiving (and Christmas) to appreciate how lucky they are despite how poor or worse off they might be this year. This avoids having to show empathy toward Americans, who are struggling and have become victims of economic, political and social structures of America. Thankfulness is about you as an individual, not we who are all in this together and should be sharing in each other’s struggle so we can become a country that does not have so many millions of Americans in poverty.
Occupy Wall Street and other occupations around the country plan to hold feasts for the community. Five thousand meals are being donated to Occupy Wall Street. Other camps are holding potlucks.
The whole idea of “We are the 99%,” the motto Occupy Wall Street has made ubiquitous in political discussion, asks us to focus on what we have in common and what can unite us as we work to re-imagine, renew and revitalize society. This Thanksgiving, thanks to a Tumblr with a collection of images, we have human faces to go with statistics on poverty and hunger in America. We can say that we have been talking about poverty and social injustice more than just Thanksgiving this year. [In fact, the media has been talking about income inequality more and more since Occupy began.]
Broadening Americans’ understanding we can see photos of people who need Social Security and food stamps for their income. We can see parents crying out for compassion because they have children, whose lives are being impacted by their inability to prosper. We can see students drowning in debt crying for someone to help them tread water because they did not expect to leave high school and become a slave to some financial institution for the next ten to twenty years of their life. And, we can see veterans asking why the benefits they were supposed to be afforded under the GI Bill are being adjusted to make it more difficult for them.
Some of these Americans pictured are individuals who greatly benefit from the holiday season and the annual food drives, which charities, schools and other organizations or businesses hold, but there are obviously many more than those with pictures on this website. After all, how many poor people would still have access to Internet and other technology so they could post their photo and show Americans why the Occupy movement is so important?
Each of the encampments that have sprung up around the country (which I have been visiting) are communities. The way that people are living is the solution. The inclusiveness and compassion shown toward every individual, no matter how troubled they might be, gives these camps the kind of inspirational quality that makes you root for all those in it to succeed.
A portion of the population can be thank for the Occupy movement this year. Not only has it widened the conversation and opened up new political possibilities for change, but, tangibly, people are no longer going hungry. They will be able to have a Thanksgiving meal in New York and other cities and share in the company of people, who will warmly welcome them and treat them like human beings. They will be invited this Thanksgiving to talk about their struggle and how American can be a country where it is not such a chore to live, where they have equal protection under the law and can flourish.
And tomorrow, on Black Friday, they will not be forgotten as people go out and buy cheap stuff they cannot afford on the other 364 days of the year. They will be able to return and participate in showing the powerful how society could be if we were not primarily concerned with profit and American superiority.