A Thanksgiving Ritual for 60's Activists

And we thought we were the only ones who have, every Thanksgiving at noon for the past three decades, turned on our local radio station knowing that it would be playing our favorite 25 minute version of Arlo Guthrie's version of Alice's Restaurant.

Today it was on at 1pm and the station said demand was so great from people that no longer had the record, that they would replay it at 7 pm. We sang along with every word.

Now we read a Common Dreams op-ed by Ira Chernus saying that the playing of the song is A Thanksgiving Ritual for '60s-Style Activists:

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.

Ira, it's a ritual in our house too. Ira continues:

But it takes us back to a time...[when] 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.

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. And not just on Thanksgiving. Or perhaps we believed that every day would be Thanksgiving. Every day we would feel awestruck and thankful for the little miracles of life, like sharing food and song with people we love. Every day, we would do just a bit more to right the world's wrongs, to make sure that justice was really blind. And all the while, we would remember to laugh and play with the pencils there on the Group W bench.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out 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. If you've been doing it for 25 years, or more, I bet you are prepared to do it for another 25 years or more. I bet you're not proud, or tired.

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.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. What can we add? The lyrics to the full song, available here. And the fact that we not only still have our hardbound copy of Alice's cookbook, but we use the recipes a lot--whenever we want comfort food. It's a shame for the rest of you that the book is out of print. But you can tune in next Thanksgiving, and hear the whole song, and then feel good about the message too.

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