It’s been a tumultuous year, and it will be difficult for many Americans to find comfort in the traditional warmth of friends and family this Thanksgiving. Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle last month, and now California is consumed by wildfires. The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February shook the state and the nation, and it wasn’t the last mass shooting this year. And this month’s elections, followed by the Florida recounts, reinforced that Florida and America remain politically divided.
Yet Americans are resilient, and even amid those dark clouds there are plenty of rays of light that are reasons to give thanks. The heroes who respond to help save lives when terror strikes at a high school or a synagogue or a country music concert. The community leaders who help their neighbors recover from wildfires or hurricanes or other natural disasters. The engaged young people pushing for change, the campaign supporters of all political parties who knocked on thousands of doors, the local elections officials who worked incredible hours to count and recount ballots to ensure credibility in the outcomes.
The news cycle is relentless, and Thanksgiving should be a time out to spend with family and friends, to enjoy watching a parade or football game without checking for the next political tweet. The campaign attack ads are gone, and there are positives from this election. Voter turnout was the highest for any midterm election in more than a century. Democracy is working, and people are participating in incredible numbers. The U.S. House's freshman class is the most diverse in history, including the youngest woman, first Muslim-American women and first Native American woman among its litany of firsts. A government with demographics a bit closer to the makeup of America is a feat that can be celebrated across the ideological spectrum.
Florida also voted to automatically restore the voting rights of most felons after they compete their sentences, discarding a tool of disenfranchisement that disproportionately affected African Americans. But two-thirds of Floridians with felony convictions are not black, and the positive impact will be felt by more than a 1 million residents who will be able to participate in democracy again.
This year isn’t all about politics. The economy is stable even if the stock market has been bumpy of late. Wages are rising, and the national unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in decades. Tampa, St. Petersburg and other communities throughout the region continue to thrive.
With the dinner table set and the food warm, Floridians can turn to family and friends for comfort and fellowship. We can help others who are less fortunate with a kind word or a hot meal. We can give thanks, enjoy our friends and loved ones -- and embrace our common bonds for a day.