It's still a little hard to believe that this is the third year I've posted this same graphic.
That first time, in 2007, I remember thinking it was an absolutely perfect representation of the family and community values that were an integral part of the casino opposition. And, it made me smile.
The second year I posted this graphic, it was just a few days after I'd published an arduously researched post regarding the Mashpee Wampanoags repeated claim to have been the Tribe that met the Pilgrims - a post that hardly anybody ever read because CasinoFacts.Org opted not to post a link to it to it's website. Perhaps I should have given the people around the table a little more of a crease in their brows, taken the shine off their smiles just a bit.
So here we are again, in 2009. Year three. I wasn't supposed to still be here, posting a Thanksgiving graphic, writing a Thanksgiving post in 2009. I was supposed to have hung this blog up in June. In June, I could go back to my life. In June, win lose or draw, it would be over.
That's what I'd heard back in February, and I'd clung to it's promise like a floating scrap of wreckage in an otherwise empty sea.
Because everybody else seemed to be dropping out, moving on, slipping away. With the imminent threat of the Worlds biggest casino on the wane, and Adam Bond's ability to inflict regional damage curtailed, people were losing interest in the debate. They were sick of the fight.
Like I wasn't? Who'd made me the official sentinel and IT department of the casino opposition? And when did I get to move on?
And so June it was. The beginning of the end of the Yellow Brick Road.
Then, in May, after staging an early morning direct action event in Plymouth, a few of my colleagues and I went out to breakfast - where one of them asked if I was serious about quitting the fight in June.
'You betcha,' I responded. Try and stop me.
"Well..." he said, "I just thought... someone like you... well, I just thought you'd want to see it through to the end."
Arrggh. Guilt. Expectations...
Of course I wanted to see it through to the end. But c'mon, I was tired. I missed my life, my family, my walks. I missed my old friends.
I missed reading books that had nothing to do with activism or gambling or casinos. I missed those days when I could listen to music all day without even once thinking, 'oh that song would make the greatest soundtrack for a new anti-casino video...'
I missed what it was like not to have to come up with something coherent to say about a Carcieri fix, or a catchy tag line for my blog or feel the urgency to respond to the latest breaking news.
Then, at last, came June and the Massachusetts Democratic convention. Passing out flyers on sunny weekends, collecting signatures in crowded rooms and working as just a small part of an amazing team of volunteers - some of whom I didn't even know - had culminated in that party's adoption of a resolution to oppose slot machines.
But that wasn't the finest part of that day. That would be spending it with some of the same people I'd met in Middleboro in 2007, in the first days of the debate. It was seeing some of my statewide colleagues from CasinoFreeMass again. It was getting a congratulations call from Les Bernal. What a different ending to the day, and the vote, nearly two years earlier in Middleboro.
From the earliest days to this day, the slings and arrows, the unknown, the conflicts, the aggravation, the ever-present, always-mounting overwhelming pressure to do something, to do something effective, and fear - those things could always melt away at the sight of a familiar, friendly, face on the other side of the room.
I guess it's a little like Thanksgiving. I mean, anyone can eat a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes, but there's just something about getting together with family to do it.
And so, this year, like every year, I am thankful for those good folks, my surrogate, activist family, my new 'old friends', who wouldn't let me be alone in that room.
I also want to thank my friends across the country, increasingly connected by the wonders of technology, who've stayed in the fight, and who are always there when I have a question or a request. I'd certainly have been lost without them this summer when I went looking for material to build a new web site.
A super big shout out to the men and women of CasinoFreePhila who went to the mat for the cause this year, standing up to both bulldozers and handcuffs. They've really given meaning back to the phrase 'cradle of liberty'.
I'm also thankful this year for all the new faces in the room, injecting their passion, knowledge and much needed skill sets - but most importantly hope - into the mix.
I'm extremely thankful for Les Bernal, tireless Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, and another familiar, welcome face, who somehow manages to keep everyone in this country who hates slots and casinos on the same page. When it comes to counting our blessings, Les goes right to the front of the line.
And ultimately, I am thankful, and grateful, for the leadership of Bob Massie and Kathleen Norbut, who sacrificed much to take a rudderless ship full of talented and passionate individuals, and set it on course in the form of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.
I say 'ultimately', because really, at first, it was more like 'grudgingly'.
I didn't want to build and brand another web site. I knew what was involved, and it wasn't pretty. And I knew that if I was going to have to build another anti-predatory gambling web site, it was going to be the best damn anti-predatory gamblinbg web site ever - and that was going to take a lot of time. My time.
So I grudgingly gave up that cottage on the Cape for a week in August. Grudgingly I watched many of my readers drift away while I took time away from blogging to attend to the new site. Grudgingly I didn't walk off those extra pounds. Grudgingly I didn't make the videos. Grudgingly I watched the garden go by. Grudgingly I watched it all go by. Summer. Fall. Life.
And, at first, when days would go by without even one hit on the new site, I wondered if it had all been worth it.
June. I was promised June. I didn't plan on re-upping for an extra tour of the war on slots.
"I just thought... someone like you... well, I just thought you'd want to see it through to the end."
There is no end. It never ends.
But I do know what it's like to be the only one in the room. And I know what it's like not to be.
And not to be, is better.
I guess that's why I'm still here, holding the turkey.
So if you're still hungry, pull up a seat. Pour the cider. Pass the gravy. And smile.