A Message on Thanksgiving

The tradition of giving pause in our daily routine to give thanks is as old as human history.  And while the media obsessively pushes forward into projections for the 115th Congress and the new Trump administration, it is important to step out of the noise and listen inward in order to gain more clarity for our own future outlook as Americans who are blind and visually impaired.

Following the tumultuous rhetoric of our recent elections, I am drawn to the role Thanksgiving Day has played in our national history.  While the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving was not the first in our country, it is definitely the most iconic.  As our nation’s early immigrants traveled through ports along the Northeast, those traditions handed down from that first meal of thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag People was carried with them as they settled in the ever-expanding frontier in the Land of Opportunity.  In 1777, during the height of our nation’s struggle for independence, the Continental Congress sent forth a decree calling for a day of thanksgiving across our infant nation.  Only two years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, when newly elected President George Washington was putting to the test this new experiment guided by the hand of democratically held elections, Washington proclaimed November 26th, 1789, as our first national Day of Thanksgiving.  The day lost favor during the first half of the 19th century, but on October 3, 1863, while our nation was ripped apart by the pains of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln revived the holiday, establishing the precedent of Thanksgiving Day being a fixed Thursday in November.  However, it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress would make Thanksgiving Day a permanent national holiday falling on the fourth Thursday of November, at a time when our nation moved closer into the shadow of the 2nd world War.

Indeed, the history of Thanksgiving Day is deeply rooted in the American spirit to overcome challenges and adversity.  From the bleak New England winters, to the break from Great Britain, it bridged the bounties of our past with our hope for future independence.  When Washington stepped from his role as a general to that of a chief executive, he was pulled between the greatly divided views on how the newly formed country should be governed.  In fact, his decision to move the nation’s capital from New York city to a newly formed federal city along the banks of the Potomac River was a compromise to bridge the philosophical divides between the industrial north with the agrarian south.  This new seat of power would later stand on the dividing line between north and south as President Lincoln pined for a way to bring peace to a nation torn apart by civil war.  And seventy-eight years later, Franklin Roosevelt would sign the day into the bedrock of American life. 

If anything can be said of the events in recent weeks, the 2016 presidential election has given us a mirror reflecting the great cultural divide that has risen in our nation.  For better or for worse, change is on the horizon.  And while the thought of change may create fear and anxiety in the hearts of many, it is a fact that is unavoidable.  But, throughout our rich history, never before has change stopped the progress of the American values sewn in the fabric of our democracy.  There may be sharp divides in the role government should play in our ability to obtain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But, the values of opportunity, economic security, and independence are values that every American shares, regardless of ideology.

Taking this to heart, I want to provide assurance that the American Council of the Blind will continue to lift up these core values in the new administration and 115th Congress.  We are already shoring up strategies to weather the seas of change under a new administration.  Issues like equal access, protection of social safety nets, and continued progress toward the reform of our nation’s rehabilitation program are top among our list of issues going into the new year, and we will continue to safeguard those programs serving Americans with vision loss, and push for a new agenda that does not ignore the needs of those we commit to serve and advocate for each day in Washington.  One of the greatest values ACB has to offer is its wonderful diversity of members from every culture and walk of life in our country.  While we may define ourselves by cultures, tastes, and political ideologies that make us unique, we stand collectively as one American Council of the Blind, committed to making sure that our nation’s core values are accessible to all Americans, regardless of what ever vision they possess.

To this end, I offer up thanks this year for the strength in our diversity, in knowing that even when history has shown us divided, we will continue to rise up as one nation.  And while the road ahead may be uncertain, the American spirit to overcome challenges rises above any partisan politics that seeks to divide us.  As humans, we are drawn toward peace and unity.  With this in mind, I leave you with the preamble from Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation for a national Day of Thanksgiving: 

“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

To read Lincoln’s complete proclamation online, visit: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm.

May you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.