It’s easy to sit back and snark at the many hoary Thanksgiving Day traditions venerated across America — presidential turkey-pardoning ceremonies, depraved Black Friday madness, gluttonous indulgences. The Christian Right regularly attempts to arrogate Thanksgiving unto themselves, imbuing it with a kind of vaguely divine significance. I can recall attending Thanksgiving “services” at my hometown “Our Lady of the Suburbs” Catholic parish in northern New Jersey.
But really, the essence of Thanksgiving as celebrated today by most Americans is secular — an opportunity to take stock of life’s blessings, forge communal/familial bonds, rest in the company of valued companions, etc. Much as Thanksgiving might be associated with ritualistic Christian Nationalism and commercialism — two mainstays of American civil life — the holiday need not take on those unsavory overtones.
Last year, I delivered a turkey to Military Park in Newark, New Jersey, where the newly-formed Occupy Newark collective was facilitating a Thanksgiving meal for those without any place to go. That core spirit of Occupy — service, community, mutual aid, non-coercion — is what spurred the decentralized relief efforts currently operating under the Occupy Sandy banner. Hearts and minds are more effectively won with blankets, assistance moving supplies up dark stairs, and mobile phone-charging devices than blusterous street-corner spiels alleging the inevitable demise of capitalism.
Organic, social media-led organizational structures are the way of future, as massive inefficiencies inherent to bureaucratic top-down management continue to hobble post-Sandy recovery throughout New York and New Jersey. Neighborhood groups started by one person on Facebook have come to supplant municipal agencies, taking on responsibility for supervising relief efforts in, to name one example, Jersey City.
Secularists should be heartened by the existence of these emergent mutual-aid networks for any number of reasons. One, they help answer a question that has long dogged those active in the 2000s-era “Secular Movement” — how do we replicate feelings of communal solidarity so often reported by adherents to organized religion?
So this Thanksgiving, consider Occupying — whatever that might mean to you.