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A Thanksgiving Ritual for Gracefully Aging Activists

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The one ritual I have on Thanksgiving is to tune in to KBCO at noon to hear the 25-minute version of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, about his trip down to White Hall Street in lower Manhattan to sit on the bench and wait until he was told if he was fit for induction into the Army to go fight in Vietnam. It’s not only a tradition at KBCO in Boulder, but at many progressive stations from New York to San Francisco and in between. Ira Chermus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains why (since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m hoping he won’t mind my quoting so much of his work):

Out here on the left fringe of ’60s-style activism, we don’t go in much for ritual. We lefties are about freedom, innovation, always finding a new and better way to do things. Still, there is something to be said for ritual. It creates an illusion that things never change, that we can turn back the clock for a moment and pretend things are still the way they used to be. Maybe it’s having dinner with the same folks every Thanksgiving, or fixing the trimmings in the same way each year. In my house, it’s turning on our local public radio station and waiting for that magic moment when we can start singing along with Arlo. No, we don’t really believe that we can get anything we want at Alice’s Restaurant, excepting Alice. But it takes us back to a time when we believed we might get anything we wanted, even though we wanted the world, and we wanted it now!. Everyone we knew really could imagine fifty people a day walking into the draft board, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out, creating the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement. And all we had to do was sing along the next time it came around on the guitar. ….Isn’t that why so many of us wait eagerly each Thanksgiving for it to come around on the guitar? It isn’t just to recapture our lost youth (though perhaps there is nothing wrong with that). It’s also because we were young at a very special time, when it seemed that the whole world would soon shed its aging body, worn down by war and greed and dehumanization, and regain its lost youth. Never again, we believed, would anyone be arrested by Officer Obie for littering. Never again would anyone be fined fifty dollars and have to pick up the garbage. Never again would anyone be injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected by their government to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages. Soon, we believed, the whole world would be full of loving people who would take out the garbage whenever it needed to be taken out, bring it down to the city dump, then go back home to have a dinner that couldn’t be beat. ….Well, it hasn’t worked out quite that way, yet. But kid, it’s never too late to rehabilitate yourself, to start creating enough of a nuisance and sing loud enough to end war and stuff. … Unfortunately, though, the world will keep doing all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things, at least for a while. And we’ll all be just having a tough time here, on this road of activism. It may be a good idea to remember the comfort and rejuvenation we can get from an old familiar ritual now and then. So don’t forget to sing along when it comes around on the guitar. Because it is, indeed, a movement: The Alice’s Restaurant Let’s Give Thanks and Remember Why We Started Doing This and Why We Keep On Keepin’ On Movement.

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If you miss it at noon, KBCO will replay it at 6:00 pm. By then, I’ll be heading to the Pepsi Center to see the Rolling Stones. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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