People For the American Way

Giving Thanks for the Selfless Heroes Fighting for the Soul of Democracy


First published in The Hill.

Thanksgiving always brings a mix of emotions. The history of the holiday is fraught, and this year the world is plagued by terrible wars. We long for a Thanksgiving without war, oppression or cruelty. Without pain and suffering.

That’s why I’m so thankful for the selfless activists and public servants who work every day to bring us closer to that reality. I’m lucky because my work brings me into contact with so many of them. And I’m thankful for that, too.

I’m thankful for people like Bishop Tony Minor, who selflessly serves his Cleveland community and did so much to help pass Issue 1, the referendum that enshrined reproductive rights in the Ohio constitution this fall.

I’m thankful for public servants like Mayor Brandon Scott in Baltimore, the city’s youngest mayor, who is working so hard to make the city safer. And Lt. Gov. Austin Davis in Pennsylvania, the first Black person in the seat and someone devoted to ending gun violence.

I’m thankful for all the parents — and grandparents — who answered the call to stand for the freedom to learn in Philadelphia this summer, protesting the Moms for Liberty conference and far-right calls for book banning and censorship. I met passionate activists like Ruth Littner, a grandma and a daughter of Holocaust survivors whose family knows all too well that book banning is a tool of oppressors, a first step down a slippery and treacherous slope.

I’m thankful for artists like Carrie Mae Weems, whose art fiercely and insistently centers Black women. I’m thankful for Lara Bergthold, a communications pro who is dedicated to ending domestic abuse. (Full disclosure: I’m honored to have both of them on the People For the American Way board.)

I could go on, and my list would include scores if not hundreds of my personal heroes that most folks have never heard of. We all revere the ones whose names are in headlines and history books. But we owe an equal debt of gratitude to those who are less well known, but no less devoted to working on behalf of civil and human rights and dignity. People who may someday be in history books, people who will never be.

And people who never wanted to be, who became heroes against their will.

People like the Georgia poll workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss. They should have been two of the unknown and unsung heroes we are thankful for because they made our democracy work without asking for glory for themselves. Instead, these two everyday American women were singled out, falsely accused and terrorized by, of all people, an American president and his election-denying henchmen.

And we can be thankful for their courage in withstanding torment that no one should face and for telling their story to Congress and the world.

Because another election is coming and we need all of us to make sure what happened to them never happens again.

It’s an election in which the values our heroes work for, like voting rights, racial equity, economic justice, reproductive freedom and dignity for all are on the line and on the ballot. And after it’s over, I hope we are in a place where people who work toward these ideals are celebrated — not persecuted by the most powerful forces in our country.

So today I am thankful for everybody who is trying to make this country — and this world — a better place. I am thankful for their passion and their selflessness, for their optimism and vision. I am thankful that they persevere in the face of obstacles and threats.

I’m thankful that they still can.


Defend Democracy, Elections