Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nothing To Be Thankful For

Traditional fare consisting of stuffed turkeys with all the trimmings will adorn many an American home this Thanksgiving. Beer and wine will flow in copious amounts as families gather round their televisions to watch two of the most mismatched games ever to be televised since the Detroit and Dallas franchises somehow became the default teams to be thankful to be watching on a day of merriment and gluttony.

Celebrating the day is amusing in and of itself, owing to the fact that we are reveling in the dire straights our ancestors found themselves in, ie; abject poverty and near starvation. Without the Native Americans and their knowledge of the lands, we might not even be here to celebrate anything at all. And so fowl and pigs will be slaughtered wholesale across the land as Americans desperately try to forget that our money is being stolen right in front of our eyes, people are losing their jobs in ever increasing numbers, and the Thanksgiving dinner that used to cost about fifty dollars to prepare will now set a family back almost two hundred bucks.

Of course, having that money to spend on a day that celebrates not the bounty of our land, but the fact that the pilgrims didn't starve to death is probably a gift in and of itself. Because across this so called land of bounty and equality for all, there are untold millions who will go hungry this Thanksgiving, untold millions who will give their children peanut butter sandwiches, hoping against hope that they don't ask why they can't have a turkey dinner like everyone else.

Despite what the idiots that run the Duluth News Tribune may write, people are not choosing to become frugal and live in poverty because 'they like it that way'. People are being forced into poverty because our government could care less about the citizens who are starving, refuse to help the poor and the middle class, refuse to enforce the very minimum wage they themselves signed into law, and are giving all, not some, but all of our nation's wealth to jet setting fat cats that should be thrown in jail for grand larceny of world class proportions.

Take for instance some statistics that Kim Bobo has put together in her book entitled 'Wage Theft In America'. Bobo's investigation of companies across the spectrum found that sixty per cent of nursing homes all over America 'stole' workers' wages by not paying them for overtime, underpaying them by a dollar or more less than the minimum wage, charging them for benefits such as health care never received, and firing those who complained. To go further into this murky world where the Department of Labor refuses to tread, Bobo found that 89 percent of unmonitored garment factories in Los Angeles and 67 percent of unmonitored garment factories in New York City stole workers’ wages. 25 percent of tomato producers, 35 percent of lettuce producers, 51 percent of cucumber producers, 58 percent of onion producers, and 62 percent of garlic producers hiring farm workers stole workers’ wages. 78 percent of restaurants in New Orleans stole workers’ wages. Almost half of day laborers, who tend to focus on construction work, have had their wages stolen. 100 percent of poultry plants steal workers’ wages. Stealing from the poor. Uniquely American.

Many of those poor are eligible to receive food assistance from the government, but that's become almost a waste of time in this economy. Using income scales that date back to Bush number One, most recipients still receive less than $100 per month, or about $3 per day to feed themselves. No raise in food assistance allotments will be allowed by the Republicans in Congress, who, since September, have blocked any increase for the poor, but enthusiastically gave trillions away to corporations. Let's see anyone buy a feast with the money the poor live on.

To make matters worse this year, so many families, poor and middle class alike, signed up for the food baskets that are usually given away by food banks in the days before the holiday that virtually every single food bank across the country ran out almost immediately. Turning people away is the hardest thing in the world for volunteers at a food bank or a shelter, but this year, it's become common place.

In Detroit, where no one wants to help out the auto industry, food banks ran out of turkeys so quickly that Gleaners, The St. Joseph Closet, and Goodfellows turned away hundreds. At Gleaners, they were scrounging around attempting to find anything to give to the hungry, anything at all, but in the end just closed their doors. Dejected mothers and fathers wondered at what they would feed their kids that night, forget the coming holiday.

In Craigsville, Virginia, the local food bank took some of their monthly operating budget to go and purchase extra turkeys, knowing the demand would be higher this year. Stunned at the turnout, they ran out of food entirely within the first hour and had to turn away at least 50 families that were waiting outside.

New Bedford, Massachusetts pantry P.A.C.E. did the best they could trying to keep up with all of the hungry people who stood out in the cold waiting for the chance to get a meal package for the holiday. They handed out 550 food boxes while a pool was gathered between the volunteers, one of whom then ran to the market to buy 50 chickens. But it wasn't enough. More than 100 families were eventually turned away into the freezing dark night.

The St. Louis Area Food Bank Network, a clearinghouse for food donations in the greater metro area, handles and distributes Thanksgiving meal packages every year. They collect, package, and deliver the food to area pantries for distribution to poverty stricken families. Even though they collected and passed out over 1 million pounds of food this year, it was not nearly enough. Because of the economy, and because the middle class can no longer even pay their bills, let alone buy food, area food banks estimate they turned away at least 3,000 families this year.

Pastor Debbie Santiago burst into tears after turning away 80 families from her Salt and Sea mission in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Coalition Against Hunger says that the number of people seeking help from food banks in Brooklyn has risen by 86% over the past year, and that many of the new faces are from middle class families who have slipped into poverty while Wall Street celebrates.

Bare cupboards met the director of the Eddie Davis Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Every year, the center takes donated money and purchases enough food for about 400 families to have Thanksgiving dinner. Not so this year, as the lines swelled to record breaking proportions and donations at an all time low. The Center was only able to buy 75 turkeys this year, and of course, hundreds of families had to be turned away. Seems to be the recurring theme here. Turning people away.

Alameda County, California Food Bank workers have watched as 750,000 lbs. of food was given to starving families over the course of several days. Not one word on the local or national media though of the thousands more that were turned away after it ran out. Not one word was spoken about the fact that as Treasury Secretary Paulson slips money by the billions into the side pockets of financial institutions, as an early Christmas gift, not one penny has been allocated to stop the starvation of American citizens.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a city that prides itself on caring for their poor, food baskets were so limited that you had to sign up for one a month in advance. But the demand was so high, and even with the Swift plant donating as many chickens as they could, the food ran out. People who thought they were getting a Thanksgiving Day food box ended up leaving with some soup and bread. Some received nothing at all.

It's amazing how everyone has become so programmed to exude love and affection for family members we hate on a designated shopping day every year. We're suckered into believing that we should thank our Deity for the blessings He/She has bestowed upon us while we watch the homeless man outside our window shiver and rummage through our garbage can for something to eat. In an era where we allow our politicians to declare the poor can starve for all they care and the middle class can lose their jobs, but Wall Street limo owner fat cats will dine on caviar and $2,000 per bottle wine, there is nothing to be thankful for.

There's nothing to be thankful for until the day comes when everyone in America has the same chance as everyone else, and nepotism is purged from our workplaces, our sports, our movies and television, and yes, our government. Until the day that foreign aid is turned inward, and no American child goes hungry, and every citizen is allowed to make a liveable wage, then nothing will have 'changed', and we will continue the slide to third world status. There's nothing to be thankful for until we as a people demand that the stories above never happen again, and take forceful action to ensure it. Write someone. Call someone. Make it happen.

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