The Crowd: Putting the thanks back in Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving.

On this uniquely American celebration of fellowship — coupled with appreciation for the blessings of life, liberty and sustenance — tens of millions of members of this great society are racing about preparing to get a jump on the so-called "Black Friday" shopping deals. Many major as well as minor retailers will either open Thursday at midnight or at various intervals on the clock in the dark of night preceding Friday morning.

The national news is reporting that an employee of Target, the retail giant headquartered in Minneapolis that has plans for a midnight shopping debut on the eve of Thanksgiving, has circulated a petition with some 190,000 signatures requesting Target to reconsider its plans. The Internet is buzzing with folks chiming in on the dilemma.

Why? Because the man at the center of the petition, and ostensibly all the rest, want time to be with their families on Thanksgiving. They want time to give thanks, not run the register and restock the shelves.

It is unlikely that Target or any other retailer, for that matter, will relent and reverse its policy. Not at this late hour, and perhaps not ever. The retail thunder ball has a life of its own.

And let's face it — the holidays have lost their spiritual center. Many will cry blasphemy, yet it is difficult to deny the reality of our society and the push to buy, buy, buy.

There was a time when stores, all of them, along with restaurants and even gas stations, closed not only on holidays like Thanksgiving, but every Sunday. The Bible tells us that even God rested on the seventh day.

For those born and raised post the 1970s, this time for rest and reflection vanished. It never existed. Can you imagine a society that actually shut down on Sunday? Why folks might actually have a moment of peace, a time to regroup, recharge and face the new challenges of a week ahead.

Fast forward to our world economic crisis today, and specifically to the "occupy" protests around our nation and beyond. Hardworking Americans don't understand the basis for these cries of anguish.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said this week, "Tell them to take a shower and get a job." His assessment is to the point, but also, on some level, misses the point.

Outside of the left-wing fringe that surely includes agitators and anarchists, a vast majority of people "occupying" are intent on sending a message that our society is fractured, our economy has run amok, and that, if unchecked and ignored, a significant social revolution is on the horizon.

There is a link between these people "occupying" and the man asking Target to pull back its shopping frenzy.

Simply stated, the disparity in opportunity in America today, given the great divide between mega-wealthy corporate offices and the rest of us, is in fact our own fault. We have been brainwashed over the last 30 or so years that success in life equals buying power.

We spend hundreds, if not thousands, on the latest electronics. Not once every year or so, but often every six months. We go into serious debt over everything from transportation to tuition.

The people serious about the "occupy" protests, along with the rest of Americans who want change, must stop buying in excess, stop going into debt in excess, and start evaluating priorities.

If you are fed up with the greed of the oil producers, cut back on your driving. Are you mad at the banks for the fees they charge on your credit cards? Then cut them up.

The power of Americans to affect positive change will come from positive action.

And for the employees of Target and other large retailers who feel abused by having to skip Thanksgiving in order to sell toasters and computers and the rest at midnight, think about working to change the culture next year. Or, if need be, change your job and just follow a better path in your own life.

There are countless small businesses in towns and cities nationwide that are the financial backbone of our society, that choose to operate on a sane plateau and allow employees to spend the holidays with loved ones. Support them and send a message to the big guys. They will listen.

American Express knows this. They have created Small Business Saturday, this year on Nov. 26, to encourage Americans to support local business during regular hours.

We will never go back to silent Sundays.

We will never turn off the cell phones or the iPads, but we can, and must, reconsider our very basic needs for a healthy and happy existence. Americans have managed to bottom out more than a few times in our history.

But eventually, we see the light and take the higher road. Perhaps we can start by putting the "thanks" back in Thanksgiving — even for those who must work Thursday night to take home that paycheck to feed their family.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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