Thanksgiving is a rare kind of American holiday, in that it grows neither out of religious observance nor a commemoration of violence and bloodshed. There are no made-up “wars” over its celebration, corporations don’t start pushing Thanksgiving decorations in July, and no one is excluded based on belief or heritage. It doesn’t commemorate the conquest of the New World, but rather partnership and cooperation between two very different cultures. Even if it didn’t really happen the way we’re told, it’s an American myth worth celebrating – though some Native Americans probably have understandably mixed feelings about everything that came after dinner.
The point is, it’s a time for everyone in America to pause and recognize our good fortune, and give thanks for what we have.
The ACLU lost two dear members of our family this year, each a champion of civil liberties. We remember them and give thanks for their dedication and their service: Spencer Coxe and Henrietta Hoffman.
Spencer was executive director of the Philadelphia ACLU through four decades, a board member for two, and a leader for much longer than that. He guided the ACLU through some of America’s most turbulent times, and it is no exaggeration to say that Spencer helped shape American Constitutional law. Though retired from civil liberties work, he visited our Philadelphia office from time to time, breathing life into stories from an earlier generation.
Henrietta was a volunteer in the Philadelphia office, showing up once a week for more than 20 years – longer than any member of our staff. With her regular partner Jean, Henrietta spent Tuesday mornings stuffing envelopes. If you’ve been a member of the ACLU of Pennsylvania at any time since the late 1980s, chances are it passed through Henrietta’s hands. Both she and Spencer lived well into their mid-90s. Henrietta kept her regular Tuesday shift until the very end.
We at the ACLU give thanks for the rights we enjoy. Those rights have not come to us cheaply – countless individuals through many generations have sacrificed life and liberty to defend our rights. Many through combat and military service, but many others through protest and civil disobedience, through litigation, through grassroots movements. While the list of American casualties in combat against foreign foes is far longer, the list of casualties from the enemies of liberty is no less significant. Some have famous names – John Brown, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk – but thousands of others should be remembered, including civil rights demonstrators, labor movement strikers, anti-war activists, and champions of free expression. Others kept their lives – Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Mary Harris Jones – but risked everything to do what was right.
These fights continue today, and we thank those who have risked or sacrificed not only their lives, but their freedom, their time, their relationships with family and friends, and their careers to fight for the rights of all of us.
We at the ACLU are incredibly thankful for our members, our supporters, and particularly our hard-working volunteers. These people give us their time, their energy, and their hard-earned dollars to make the work of the ACLU possible. The ACLU is not made up of the people who get paychecks and board seats – it is made up of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who give some part of themselves to keep those rights alive.