This will be one of the more tense Thanksgivings our nation has seen for some years. As the right-wing whips up a frenzy of fear over the prospect of Syrian refugees, President Obama had some powerful words for the easily intimated and unnecessarily suspicious members of our society: “the Pilgrims were refugees too.”
Invoking the classic tale of Thanksgiving, Obama urged the nation to remember that the founders of our nation were refugees as well, fleeing religious persecution, conflict, and poverty. “Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims – men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families.”
Indeed, for centuries the United States has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for the weary, the fearful, and the oppressed. Our nation is unique in that it has been forged by the blood, sweat, and tears of humans from every other nation, united in our grand project of democracy and our devotion to protecting our freedoms and rights. For the Republican Party to turn away the people of Syria is a rejection of our values as a nation.
President Obama also took a few moments to share some letters from everyday Americans who had written in support of the refugees. “One woman from Pennsylvania wrote me to say, ‘Money is tight for us in my household … But I have a guest room. I have a pantry full of food. We can do this,'” Obama said. “Another woman from Florida told me her family’s history dates back to the Mayflower – and she said that welcoming others is part of ‘what it means to be an American.'”
She is absolutely right. On this Thanksgiving, as we grapple with the fears of terrorism, the tensions of police murders and the right wing’s drift towards naked fascism, it’s important for us to remember what it really means to be an American. As you share joy and cheer with your relatives, draw strength from their love. Our unity, our hospitality, our tolerance is the best shield we have in a dangerous world.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.