Thanksgiving is an incredibly special holiday when we give thanks for what is most important to us and think about how to help those who are struggling. This year, as the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah converges with Thanksgiving and a film about Nelson Mandela’s life is released in theaters, we are also thinking about freedom, hope and opportunity.
Many Americans are still struggling this Thanksgiving. The income gap between rich and poor Americans is the highest in more than a century. Unemployment is far too high, and wages for most workers are not high enough. Many people work for employers that pocket huge profits, yet earn so little that they rely on food stamps and Medicaid.
And as we know, in schools, hospitals and other worksites, austerity and deprofessionalization have become all too common, with those who are working every day to make a difference in other people’s lives often being disparaged or demonized rather than praised for their work.
As veteran political strategist Doug Sosnik recently wrote, “At the core of Americans’ anger and alienation is the belief that the American dream is no longer attainable.”
Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, in many ways symbolizes this. So, while countless Americans will head out on Black Friday to look for bargains and purchase holiday gifts, many Walmart employees and their supporters will be calling on the company to be a better employer and an ethical and responsible corporate citizen.
AFT members will be joining in Black Friday events conducted by Walmart workers through their Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). These events will take place throughout the country on Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving. I will be joining a demonstration in Westchester, N.Y. Visit www.BlackFridayProtests.org for information and to locate activities.
We’ll have another opportunity to take a stand against poverty wages on Dec. 5, when there will be actions at fast-food restaurants in 200 cities and towns as part of the National Day Against Low Pay. A recent study found that more than half of the families of fast-food workers receive public assistance. Fast-food workers and their families would rather have a living wage—not the $7 billion a year in public assistance they need just to survive, which in effect is a subsidy to corporations that fail to pay a living wage. Please visit lowpayisnotok.org for more information and to sign the petition in support of striking fast-food workers.
Finally, the National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, sponsored by the AFT and many other groups concerned about our children and public education, is around the corner—Monday, Dec. 9. In cities across the country, educators, parents, students, faith leaders, community activists and others will come together to call for changes to ensure that all children have access to an excellent public education and the opportunities that come with it. Years of austerity and failed policies have hurt public schools and students. Our actions must reflect the magnitude of these challenges, and I hope you will take part in Day of Action events in your city.
All of us who are concerned about flawed education “reforms” that fail our children, and about rising inequality and its effects on individuals, families, communities and the country, must stand up to confront these conditions. And communities are coming together with educators because they value who we are and what we do.
These events in the coming days and weeks provide opportunities for us to be part of a broad movement to fight for the American dream and for dignity and respect for everyone—not just the well-heeled—who wants a shot at opportunity and justice.
So on this Thanksgiving, I want to thank you and wish you and your family a happy holiday and a momentary respite. Thank you for being in the trenches day after day making a difference in the lives of others. Thank you for all you do in the face of so much adversity and anger. Thank you for having hope and faith that when we join together and fight virtuous fights, we can make our country and our world a more just place.