Field Tripping: Thanksgiving

Wow, November was a rough month, and sticking Thanksgiving at the end of it sure didn't help things. I'm all for a day set aside for gratitude—I've got a lot of it for so many things in my life—but Thanksgiving's so wrapped up in ugly histories, it's hard for me to get really pumped for it. At this point I hope we all know that the story of the Happy Indians coming to help the Grateful Pilgrims is a total myth, but the part where the country gathers around television sets to watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Racist Epithets suggests to me that no matter what we think we know, the mass of us is still willing to continue playing into all that bullshit. I love the day off work, the time spent outdoors with people I love, but the cognitive dissonance is real for me on that day.

And it was even realer this year than it usually is. At the very same time as I was making a last trip to the grocery for more butter for the ladyfriend to make more pie, my government was spraying water, mace, and rubber bullets on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their allies as they continued to refuse an easement to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline through their land. Thanksgiving myths tend to do what the U.S. has long done—cast American Indians as a historical artifact, a past rather than present "problem." But American Indians are still here, still on land that is, by treaty, theirs. And here we go again, the U.S. reneging on yet another treaty because it makes economic sense to break it. I'm looking forward to the Charlie Brown version of this year's Thanksgiving.


It is also just hard to feel like celebrating since the election. Every day since then has been a reminder of the shit show we're in. Trump appoints Steve Bannon guy as an "official advisor." The guy headed up one of the ugliest racist, sexist, homophobic media organizations in the business before quitting to be Trump's "campaign CEO." And nobody bats an eye at that "CEO" business, because we all know politics is just that: business.

He appoints billionaire Cathy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. She has been trying to gut public schools for decades in various nonprofit leadership roles. When you're the one with the money, you get to set the agenda, and the rest of us often get swept up in it. Our own University of Maryland was pretty excited to become the new home for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, and it takes some poking around, but yep—same DeVos family, and I'm guessing we're all under their thrall more than we even know.

More ugly appointments and more ugly policy talk, from privatizing social security to cutting Medicare, from big tax breaks to corporations to raising taxes on single moms—it almost feels gross to celebrate in the midst of all this. But here's the thing: these policies aren't new, and these kinds of appointments aren't, either. I know, I know—we can't normalize Donald Trump. This isn't normal. These are not normal times.

But it also is normal. The United States has been running roughshod over treaties since making the very first one and putting white supremacists in charge since the very beginning. This country is founded as a racial slave society that counts African Americans as 3/5 of a person. It's not like Bannon's a totally new kind of dude. We've been gutting public education since there was public education, and that amped up as soon as white people were told to share with Black folks. The period after Brown vs. Board of Education mandated desegregation saw a massive movement of white children to private religious schools, and those students took their public funding with them. DeVos's redirection of public funds to private schools is just the latest in a long history of struggles to make public education truly public—and another loss.

But the fight isn't over, and we should all be looking to the people who've been fighting these fights all along for guidance. For those who have basked in the privilege of ignorance to the ongoing struggle, it's time to get our heads out of our asses and put them on the line.

And it's also time to get comfy with cognitive dissonance. Because here's the thing: we are still here, still living our lives, amidst it all. And that means that we might find ourselves on a Thanksgiving field trip with people we love, walking on trails named in memory of people we've lost, and that is just as real as the terrible stuff.

So this is how I spent my Thanksgiving: I slept in next to the ladyfriend, lazed around in the morning before joining the hordes at the grocery for a few last minute things. I panicked when I thought they were out of the sweet potatoes the ladyfriend needed for her pie, and felt the rush of gratitude when I found them on an end cap. I got in an argument on Facebook, donated some cash to the camp at Standing Rock, took some pictures of my cats, and chatted with my sister on the phone about nothing. The ladyfriend and I met up with good friends for a drive out to the Irvine Nature Center and a walk around their grounds. We hit up a hibachi grill for dinner, stopped home to stash leftovers, and headed to see friends for pie and donuts and a scratch of a dog. We gave thanks for the luck we have—and there's so much of it in my life, and I am always aware of how much is the luck of being born where, when, and as I am.

I also spent the day thankful to have made my life with so many people who, when I ask how to stay balanced in all of this, will keep me out of balance—because that's where we are and need to be. It isn't normal, and it is, and we might not know what to do, but we have plenty of starting points. Pick yours and listen hard, I say.