The Importance of Celebrating Progressive Holidays

The commercial and governmental powers that establish our cultural “norms” clearly understand the importance of anniversaries. The commemorations of  9/11, for example, provide the government many opportunities to:  promote the “war on terror”;  pump up flagging support for unpopular wars; portray the US as a victim of a groundless attack; explain world-wide dislike of the US as jealousy of  “American exceptionalism.”

In other words, anniversaries are a context for subtle propagandizing of values and ideas. As progressives we must use this same technique to legitimize and institutionalize our values and ideas. We do this in two ways. First, by re-interpreting “their” anniversaries, such as 1492. Rather than Columbus and “the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria,” we have a recognition that the Americas were home to millions of people before the European conquest and genocide. We turn Columbus Day around and call it Indigenous People’s Day.

The second technique is to celebrate progressive anniversaries such as International Women’s Day, May Day and Gay Pride Day by loudly and proudly proclaiming the importance of these days, while educating about the values, stories and peoples related to them. In this way we show that the struggles of everyday working peoples are remembered and have made a difference and, by inference, will continue to do so.

This is the narrative of people’s history, of which anniversaries and birthdays are a central component. A basic premise of people’s history is the importance of telling our own stories rather than relying on a commercial media whose agenda is usually aligned with power and wealth.

This is the narrative of people’s history, of which anniversaries and birthdays are a central component. A basic premise of people’s history is the importance of telling our own stories

Anniversaries can also provide an opportunity for reflection and renewal within an organization or movement. The recent 25th anniversary celebration by the Syracuse Community Choir was a rich, inspiring blend of history and forward motion.

One of my most memorable experiences with progressive anniversaries involved the 1994 Peace Calendar and the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. The June Calendar artwork by Harry Freeman-Jones honored Stonewall and sometime in the Fall of 1993 I answered a phone call to the sound of a woman sobbing. For several moments all she could say was “you remembered…you remembered…you remembered!”

-Dik Cool