NOV 22, 2022
This Thanksgiving season, The Emancipator team turns the reins over to Mia Henry, a social justice educator and founder of Freedom Lifted, for this issue of Unbound. This piece was adapted from a longer exploration of gratitude.
Gratitude work is liberation work
(RLT_Images/Getty Images)
Cultivating a culture of gratitude is critical to movement-building and a clear antidote to White supremacy. We often think of giving thanks as easy and trite, but there is no true freedom without connection. There are few better ways to connect than by rooting ourselves in gratitude.

Working for liberation through a social justice lens means we divorce from oppression and understand power as abundant. We strive for a world where everyone, regardless of identity or circumstance, is affirmed for who they are and has access to the resources they need. This practice requires recognizing everyone’s unique contributions to our collective struggle and seeing ourselves and others as inherently valuable, appreciating the fact that we simply exist.

For grassroots social movements, people are often kept alive by acts of generosity. Whether it be through the act of prayer and testimony in churches serving as organizing hubs during the modern civil rights movement or the exchange of support evident through mutual aid efforts today, giving thanks draws people fighting for freedom closer. A bonus is gratitude happens to be good for our mental and physical health. One might even call it, dare I say, self-care.

Teams, collectives, and families committed to justice and equity are encouraged to use this starter list to integrate reflection and thankfulness into your practice:

What is one thing you are grateful for?
When opening or ending group meetings, ask this question and challenge people to be specific by adding a “why.” Give people a little time to think or write about this first, so they can meditate before sharing. This question never gets old and allows us to shift our focus from scarcity to abundance.

Go bananas for each other.
Each time someone tries something new, shares a gift, or takes a risk, encourage the group to go wild to celebrate them. Virtual sessions at the Nepantla School for Organizing include a practice of coming off mute and cheering wildly for guest speakers or student presenters. This type of mutual support keeps cooperation, instead of competition, top of mind.
The gang celebrates an improvised Thanksgiving dinner in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” (United Feature Syndicate/ABC)
Thank people publicly.
This is especially important if you are a formal or informal leader of a group. This can happen in full-team organizational updates, employee spotlights in internal newsletters — and even the family table.
Shift how you start or end one-on-ones.
Say “Thank you for …” and expand on what you appreciate about what that person has done or just for who they are. Intimate conversations like this offer a special opportunity to really see each other.
Give people gifts.
This may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to show appreciation is by giving people stuff — found, bought, or made with the recipient in mind. If you are in a position, give people money through pay bonuses or direct cash in times of need without tying it to “outcomes.” Give people the sweet gift of time by canceling or shortening a meeting or granting a surprise half- or full-day holiday.

Early this year, amid ongoingly hard times, Love + Protect hosted a long-distance celebration in lieu of a party to thank the criminalized survivors they support. They expressed gratitude for their survival, friendship, creativity, organizing, and presence in the world. The collective sent different gifts that included gift baskets, organizational swag, and personalized videos for each survivor, thanking them for their profound wonderfulness, telling the survivors they love them.

When not to say ‘thank you’
It goes without saying we shouldn’t thank people when we don’t mean it. It is also important to make sure we are not thanking people just because they are furthering our own agendas.

For those of us trying to build a more just world, our appreciation for one another comes from a place of recognizing our shared humanity and needing one another to survive. It is not used performatively or to create wedges in our communities.

Showing gratitude is not a substitute for an apology, either. Buying gifts or making gestures of appreciation is not adequate for addressing conflict or repairing harm. It should not be used as a tactic to avoid or gloss over real issues that need to be addressed.

— Mia Henry
Smiles all around at a Thanksgiving potluck in the home of Boston University grad students and roommates Lameya Ahmed and Thanna Rajapakse on Nov. 28, 2013. (Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe)
A note from the editors
On this Thanksgiving, we are especially grateful to our friends in the Indigenous community, whose ancestors taught us about the power of resilience and the importance of holding space for the beauty around us. We honor you today.

In solidarity,

Deborah D. Douglas and Amber Payne
Support The Emancipator’s vision for an antiracist future.
Copyright © 2022 The Emancipator, All rights reserved.

The Emancipator
1 Exchange Pl
Boston, MA 02109-2803

Add us to your address book

Forward | Unsubscribe | View in Browser