Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feeling Guilty about Giving Thanks. It's a Liberal Thing

This year we've decided to stay home for Thanksgiving.  Our nearest family is 350 miles away but every year but one (and now this one) we've managed to be together for this holiday.  We'll be seeing them all in three weeks or so for the Christmas holidays, but I'm missing them acutely today. 

My guy and I have always done the planning and the cooking so I've never had much time to think about the Giving Thanks part, even though it's always in the background as we putter happily around the kitchen, never deviating from the traditional meal they've come to expect -- nay, demand:  Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, sweet potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberries, tossed salad, Ambrosia salad, rolls, Apple pie and Pumpkin pie. (Food that could kill if taken in large doses over too long a period.  I get it.  Nobody cares.)

So this morning, since there was no real call to duty, I woke up thinking not about what I had to do first, but about Detroit, Father Cunningham, Eleanor Josaitis, and Focus:HOPE.  In the announcement of her death in August, Eleanor was what the NYT called a "housewife-turned-activist".  (I know.  Me too)  Father Cunningham ("guardian of the poor" in his NYT obit.) was her parish priest and good friend.  Together they created a non-profit organization to help the poor and disenfranchised and it has been a beacon of light shining in the gloom of Detroit for 43 years.

Eleanor Josaitis and Focus: HOPE students
 From the Times obituary:

After racial hostility exploded into riots across Detroit in 1967, [Josaitis] uprooted her husband and five children from Taylor, Mich., moved to the city and set out to help heal it.
“You have to have the guts to try something, because you won’t change a damn thing by sitting in front of the TV with the clicker in your hand,” Mrs. Josaitis said in a 2004 profile in the magazine Fast Company.
In 1968, she joined with her priest, the Rev. William T. Cunningham, to establish Focus: Hope. The organization called them “an unlikely pair,” describing Father Cunningham as an “outspoken visionary” and Mrs. Josaitis as “the practical operations manager.”
Focus: Hope says it now provides food to 43,000 people a month and operates job training programs that have prepared 11,000 mostly minority and poor residents of metropolitan Detroit for careers in engineering, machinist trades and other fields. With its own 40-acre office campus, it employs 285 people.
 Well, that was as near ago as this summer.  This is now:  Yesterday the headline in the Free Press read, "Funding Cuts hit Focus: HOPE.  Layoffs ahead, training programs suspended."  The reason?  Nearly 6 million needed dollars in jobs program funding are being held up while members of Congress fight over who gets what, if anything.  From the Free Press:

The work force development programs affected are the Information Technologies Center, Machinist Training Institute, Fast Track math and reading program and the Center for Advance Technologies, which is a college program.

As many as 1,200 students a year have enrolled in the programs. Since 1981, when Focus: HOPE began its job training programs, 11,000 students have completed programs, according to agency officials.

Jones said that Focus: HOPE had expected to receive $5.86 million in funds under the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 for its job training programs on Oct. 1 -- the beginning of the fiscal year. It's about one-sixth of Focus: HOPE's estimated $35-million budget.
Jones said the agency's programs are a casualty of the debate over federal spending in Washington.
Every day we're hearing about the Republican's insistence that in this terrible economy the obvious solution is to cut all those bloated social programs.  They're digging their heels in, refusing to move on anything until the poorest of the poor, or even the richest of the poor, are reduced to a choice of either begging in the streets or taking the slave-wage jobs now so popular overseas.   It's a cold, miserable world we've allowed to let happen and the people affected so cruelly by the actions of our chosen leaders deserve a whole lot better.

That's where my Thanksgiving guilt comes in. We cook that huge meal for our family, and they're grateful and we enjoy doing it, but always in the back of my mind I'm thinking of the people who have no family, who will have no dinner, who don't even know what tomorrow will bring.  I've never been able to sit down to a fully-laden table without thinking those thoughts.  But they pass, don't they, and tomorrow is another day.  

I've done that whole round-the-table "what are you thankful for this year?" thing and -- I'll put this mildly:  I don't get off on it.   "I'm thankful for my dear family and for my good health and all these good eats, and if the Lions win I'll really be thankful...".

And as this is going on, I'm thinking "Oliver Twist".   

I give thanks to people like Eleanor Josiatis, housewife-turned-activist, who saw a need and did something about it.  She took a step and another step and then went on to devote her whole life working toward bettering the lives of people who needed someone like her to come along and move them toward hope.

To religious activists like the late Father Cunningham and to Rev. Ed Rowe, who I guarantee is in a soup kitchen right now getting ready to feed people a dinner with a few more fixings than yesterday's, offering the kind of reliable sustenance that comes more than just twice a year.

To liberals everywhere who see the need to keep fighting for the kind of justice that will move men, women and children out of poverty and into a life that not only promises hope but delivers it.

Thank you, my beloved heroes. To you I give thanks.     


  1. A lovely post, Ramona.

    I really wonder about people who are so hardhearted that they think it's perfectly fine for people in our own country to go without food. After all, if they're so lazy that they don't want to work, why should MY hard-earned money go to feed them?

    It's a strange mentality, and it's false. They are basing their assumptions on a false reality. If they would bother to do some reading, they would find that the Welfare Queen was a myth concocted by neocons, just as the murderous illegal immigrants are today's xenophobic myth.

    I hate it. I hate that attitude.

    People like you wrote about give us ALL hope, not just those they are helping directly. As I encounter more and more people with hearts full of shit 'n splinters (as my friend Barb would say), I need to know that there are still people who care.

    They help me realize that all is not lost.

  2. Beth, the other day someone said what we're missing these days is kindness. That may just be the source of our downfall. We used to have a majority of kind people. Now the Republican candidates have to apologize for having a heart, that's how bad it is.

    Since at least the Reagan days the liberals have been made out to be the clueless few who don't understand how harmful runaway social programs are for the country. It was always evident the only ones they were bad for were the capitalists. Not that they wouldn't still be rich if they shared a little. They wouldn't be AS rich. Couldn't have that.

    Now look where we are. And they still don't get it.


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