RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

On Giving Thanks

Rest in Peace, Paul Wellstone. We'll miss you more than words can tell.

You were always there for family farmers, from your first standoff on the steps of the FSA in the 1980s. You were there on behalf of broke Minnesota farmers fighting against foreclosure, and it gave focus to your activism -- a focus that lasted until the last days of your last campaign.

You, the native of Brooklyn, recognized the value and the hard work of the American farmer. You met our jeans-clad delegations on the Senate lawn. You broke bread with us and were glad that the food we served came from family farms. You encouraged us to ask the government for protection for what we had earned, and you reminded us to ask with dignity in our voices.

You, the son of Jewish immigrants, recognized truths that even our spiritual leaders forgot or took for granted. You went to church with us when we rallied at the capital. After the Rally for Rural America in March 2000, you said that the nondenominational Christian service was "nourishing." The phrase stayed with me, as an evaluation of experiences both spiritual and intellectual.

The newspaper eulogies have called you "Progressive," and "Populist." Even the voices from the right say that they might not have agreed with you, but they respected you deeply. You spoke out against war, and for fairness. In a time when the word "Patriot" has been corrupted to mean "one who votes with the President," you were a patriot in the oldest and truest sense.

And now it is up to us to devise ways to honor your memory, to pick up the swords and shields you've left behind.

It is almost Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, set aside to enjoy family, friends, and the great blessings of the land. Let us not dishonor the occasion by nourishing ourselves with a corrupt feast supplied by corporate thievery. Let's fill the day with meaning, reverence, and wonder at what the land provides.

Let's seek out crops raised by people who have cared for their land with love, and who live with dignity on it. Let's look for foods raised by people we can name, a pumpkin from a neighbor's garden, applesauce canned by our own hands.

If we can't find local products, let's have foods from fair-exchange sources and farmer-owned co-ops. No more Con-Agra, Hormel, Tyson, IBP, Kraft. These brand names, and dozens more emblazoned on the waxy packages of industrially-produced foods, stand for profits that corrupt our government and cheat our farmers.

The corporations want us to believe that there are economies in scale -- economies in huge animal confinements and mile-long rows of chemically treated vegetables. Indeed, food prices have risen just 23% since 1989, while incomes have gone up 45%, according to the Farm Bureau Market Basket Survey.

But farmer shares have declined from 31% to 19%. The rest of the food dollar goes to processing, transportation, energy, and markup. So, while they masquerade as cost-savers, these corporations cost consumers plenty.

The day after Thanksgiving, rather than running off to the mall, let's stretch the peaceful interlude. That day, which was conceived as a national shopping day -- that's why Thanksgiving is on a Thursday -- not a Friday, Saturday or Monday when it would have been natural to laze around all weekend, but a Thursday, leaving an awkward day to spend getting ready for the next big blowout -- let's spend that day doing something, as Wellstone might say it, "Nourishing."

Right now, make a plan for the day that includes buying nothing. Invite friends to bring leftovers and play games at your house. Organize a group to paint a room in the community center. Help at a Habitat for Humanity site. Take the kids to the zoo. Read a book explaining the Middle East. Or just spend the day with a pad of paper and a number two pencil, devising a budget to get out of debt.

Kalle Lasn of Adbusters had a name for that Thursday -- Buy-Nothing Day. This is the 11th year for Buy-Nothing Day and, according to the Adbusters website ( "If enough jammers turn their disaffection into resistance for just one day, November 29 could mark the delivery of a landmark social message ... Play this one right and we will make Buy Nothing Day 2002 a global event on par with Earth Day. Previous participants have come up with the traditions: swap meets, teach-ins, concerts, street theatre, credit-card cut-ups, postering, potlucks."

Sure, but perhaps we're worried that, if we don't buy gifts, we won't have anything to do when the holidays arrive. We don't want to be bored or depressed, and we don't want our friends to think we're losers.

That's fair. There's a reason that our brightest holidays fall in the darkest months of the year.

So, we can use the holidays to remind friends who we are and what we stand for by giving books, videos, magazine subscriptions that provide an alternative point-of-view -- how about a sub to The Progressive Populist? Or donate in their names to a non-profit you believe in. On the Adbuster website there's a classy "gift exemption" form you can print out and send to people who you no longer want to exchange gifts with. How would you feel if you got a gift exemption from someone? Hurt? Or relieved?

That leaves just one big problem. How do you spend The Big Day when it comes? How do you get family and friends to agree to abandon the Spend-a-thon? That's a hard one. Send me an e-mail if you've been able to solve this problem, and I'll pass the solutions on in another column.

Celebrating Buy-Nothing Day is something we can do in the spirit of Paul Wellstone. He was a staunch resistor of plans and ideas that compromised our freedoms and our integrity. No sense in wondering who can replace him. Nobody can. He's gone.

But we're still here. The future is up to us.

Here's to a nourishing Thanksgiving.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email: