Pagan Activist Starter Kit

15 Dec

(by Courtney Weber)

There is no shortage of Pagans willing to make their world a better place. There is a shortage of practical how-to manuals that can show us how to do this work. Whenever I share a story or a statement about something that I believe needs the attention of my community, I’m often met with a worried or even cynical face that says, “But how???”

I don’t have perfect answers, but I have woven in and out of different grass-roots activist causes over the years and now I work full-time for an institution that equips faith leaders for social justice work.  I made the list below in hopes it might help a few willing people get started!

The Pagan Activist Starter Kit: If you can acquire these things, you are good to go!

1.)   A local cause and concrete goal

“Think globally! Act locally!”  It may sound cliché, but it works. No one person can collect all the carbon emissions from the atmosphere, but one person can push a local initiative to enforce stricter fuel emission standards in their state. For years, it infuriated me that same-sex marriage was not legal in most of the country. Federal battles take years and most often respond to the will of the states. I couldn’t force fifty states to do what I want, but I could work to force my own state of New York to get on it! Once gay marriage was attained in New York, many other states followed suit. The country I live in is one step closer to being the one I want to live in because these states allow same-sex marriage.

Fighting for every cause that crosses your path will water-down your work. Pick one (okay…maybe two) causes that really infuriate you and stay with them as long as you can.

2.)   Specific skills that come easily to you

Are you great with party-planning? Organizing funds or awareness-raising events may be how you can help. Do you do well with data entry and spreadsheets? Be the person who manages the email and task lists! Those people are invaluable. Do you prefer simply showing up at a rally and waving a sign? Never discount the impact collective numbers have at an event.

I’m personally good at organizing people and sharing the what-we’re-doing/where-we’ll-be information. A background in theatre production and administration has helped a lot with that. I’m not good at graphic design, so I’m always thrilled when someone steps up to make the fliers for an event. Know your strengths and never underestimate them.

3.)   A plan for staying organized—even if that doesn’t come naturally to you.

Although I mentioned I’m good at organizing people, being organized in general is not something that comes naturally to me. But because I spent ten years as an executive assistant in higher education, it’s now second nature. I make lists and earmark days which I’ll do my activist work. Usually, it’s Thursday (although I slipped this week…). Having one day a week to do the work I want to do keeps me on it without being overwhelmed.

If you are working with a group, designate a “scribe.” This can be a rotating position (and probably should be). At each meeting of the Pagan Environmental Coalition, one person takes notes on to-dos, and sends out a follow-up email to remind people of what they need to do before our next meeting.

4.)   A blog, a website, and a social media hub.

Yep. You need all three. Websites can be pulled together pretty cheaply. Even a simple blog, which is free, can help. People need to be able to google you or your group to find out about you. Yes, you’ll attract trolls, but you’ll probably attract more interested attention than nay-saying. Do blog so people know you’re still active. Make use of Twitter and Facebook or other groups. Some groups avoid social media organizing out of concern of being watched by feds but guess what? If you’re doing anything online, you’re already being watched. We might as well use it to our advantage and reach out to people looking to get legitimately involved!

5.)   Spirit

Faith-rooted activism is a beautiful thing. Spirit keeps us motivated when we get tired. Coming back to Spirit keeps the breath in our work. At Moral Mondays in North Carolina, Rev. Dr. William Barber forms each movement by starting and ending with song. At the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC, we’ve noticed increased focus and success when we begin with awareness-raising and intention and end with grounding.

The root of Spirit gives us a cradle to fall back into when our work is done for the day…and the push to get back up and start it again. If we are to be faith-influenced activists, we cannot leave the Spirit behind in the logistics!

6.)   Willingness to do the work, even if only you show up.

Chances are that you won’t be the only one. At the Climate March, hundreds of Pagans turned out. Yet our planning meetings often had only three-four people present. Smaller numbers of people may mean you’ll tackle few tasks, but small meetings can be very efficient—particularly if you’re able to delegate tasks by email to others who might not have been able to join.

7.)   The expectation that not everyone you will agree with you.

Don’t just accept it—expect it. What may seem like a no-brainer to you may seem impossible to others. When Pagans in my community were working on the marriage equality initiative, we met other Pagans who weren’t on board. Fortunately, no one we met was homophobic, but many didn’t believe in marriage, period. Others didn’t believe the state had any role in marriage, so they had no interest in working to rectify its laws. Even after all I’ve seen and shared about the dangers of fracking, I still meet Pagans who believe fracking could be considered a viable energy alternative. The aftermath of the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner among others has highlighted a new division in the community. Those who are or who have family members in law enforcement may not be as quick to fight for police accountability as others might be.

I could write seventeen more blogs on why this confuses the curls right out of my head, but I’ve learned to expect opposition. When we expect it, we can be prepared to better argue our side of things and maybe even sway a few teetering opinions into our direction.

8.)   A well-prepared soundbite.

“Why are you doing this?” “Why is this important?” Whether these questions come from reporters, curious friends, or antagonizing presences, have your statement ready. Make it personal, but make it true, and keep it short. Rants turn people off. If what you say is interesting to them, they’ll ask more questions. Facts and figures are important, but boring. Save them for follow-up questions. Personal stories are enticing.  Start with those.

Here are two of mine!

On fracking: “I visited the fracking fields in Pennsylvania earlier this year. There were no birds or squirrels in the country and the air reeks of gas. I saw dairy farms sharing land with gas pumps. I met a man whose tap water is snot-green and tests positive for uranium. I met families whose wells are ruined, living off of bottled water donations. Fracking is destroying farming communities and beautiful land.” (One of my soundbites made the Times!)

On police accountability: “As a Priestess, I am terrified that I will open the Post one day and see a Black member of my community killed by police. Eric Garner died just a few blocks away from where a couple of my community members live—they are persons of color, themselves. I didn’t even want one of the most dedicated members of the Pagan Environmental Coalition to march in D.C. this year. He’s Black and several of us were scared and we asked him not to go. This doesn’t make me “anti-police” any more than saying corporations should be accountable for their pollution makes me “anti-business.” But I do not want to live with the fear that those I love may end up dead at the hands of those supposedly meant to protect our communities.”

9.)   Deep breathing.

Hey, people who were at the People’s Climate March…remember that nasty chest-cold I had? In my meditations, Spirit told me that my lungs developed illness because I didn’t breathe for like, two weeks before the march. Stress kept my breathing shallow. My fiancé, a nurse, confirmed that deep breathing does actually kick nasty funk out of your lungs so breathing deeply not only alleviates stress, it keeps illness away!

Activist work is stressful and maddening. In the end, it is rewarding, but in the meantime it can be rough. Breathing sounds like the advice people throw at you when they don’t know what else to say, but it’s actually sound.

10.)Fun

Work is enough work just being work. Activist work might as well be fun and if possible, funny. I once gathered petitions to preserve an historic Church by standing on a street corner and shouting “Stop the yuppie infiltration!!!! The yuppies are coming!!! The yuppies are coming!!!” Stereotypical-jaded New Yorkers actually stopped, laughed and “signed whatever” because “that was awesome.”

Keep at it. Keep the faith. Keep the laughter. Keep up the mistakes and the successes—they are all valid! Know you have people supporting you, even from the privacy of their computer screens or candles at their altars. What you are doing counts. You matter. Your voice matters. Keep at it.

The Ethics of Second-Best Choices

15 Dec

Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.It’s not a perfect world. I’m reminded every day of my own imperfections. As I gossip at work when I know I shouldn’t. When someone is insulted and I don’t stick up for them, because I fear being thought of as difficult or a goody-goody, or I’m just too tired to bother.

The Pagan Activist blog exists because it’s such a deeply imperfect world. Acknowledging that is one of the first steps toward creating justice. People with a Candide attitude that we’re living in the most perfect world possible aren’t doing anything to make the world a better place.
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Small Victories in 2014

4 Dec

written by Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

2014 is coming to a close and for me it won’t be a moment too soon.  One problem with being an activist is that having work to do means something is wrong and this year has had few dull moments.

Times are so tumultuous that I have found myself battling very real, horrifying bouts of depression.  Financially it’s hard to imagine that any poor or middle class person will ever be out of debt.  Discrimination against women continues especially in regard to our reproductive rights.  I find myself worrying that any day now women who live their lives as they want will eventually be required by law to wear t-shirts branded with a giant letter “A”, myself included.  I have lost more than just sleep as I’ve followed many instances of police brutality across the country, especially those involving men of color.  My LGBTQ friends still battle for equality and I fear I will never see an end to that during my lifetime.

I spoke with my father about this.  He’s one of the wisest and kindest people I know.  At the time he visited me, I was having a hard time convincing myself to get out of bed.  I could not sleep.  Food was making me ill and while I meditate regularly I could not quiet my mind.  My father told me that I needed to look at what was going well and put out more positivity.

I would not have paid that much mind if that advice had come from someone else.  I think many people put stock in blind optimism to keep from feeling frightened or depressed, but that is also self-deception and sooner or later reality sets in.  But I know Dad better and knew he wasn’t telling me to fool myself.  He was telling me to recharge and remind myself of why I was doing what I do.  He was suggesting a that I hit the reset button.

So that’s what I’m doing here today.  I’m hitting the reset button for myself and as many of you as I can.  I want to prove to you that your efforts are not going unnoticed and that we are making strides; perhaps not as quickly as we had hoped, but the results are there.  I want to show you that continuing to try is worth it and how many other people are trying alongside you.

1) Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai is an incredible young woman who is lighting the way for girls’ equality.  In 2012 she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban on the bus which was bringing her home from school. Malala has fought her way through recovery and continues to promote the importance of education for girls everywhere.  She is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel peace prize.  She is an inspiration to those of us trying to persevere.

2) Marriage Equality is making great strides.

Years ago when we were protesting Proposition 8, I was reduced to tears worrying that marriage equality would never be passed.  I attended numerous protests, signed petitions and educated as many people as I could in hopes that my friends would be given the same rights as I have to marry the person I love.  But this year has given me hope.

The Supreme Court has addressed marriage bans in numerous states.  It’s also been wonderful scrolling through my Facebook feed to see photos of my friends and their weddings from all over the country.  There is still a lot to do but if you look at the map above you can see how far we have come.

3) The Peoples Climate March was the largest march for climate change in history.

On September 21st, I was honored to take part in the Peoples Climate March in New York City.  Marching through Manhattan with fellows Pagans, my partners and over 400,000 people was surreal experience.  It seemed that everyone was there.  People of all races, religions and walks of life gathered for the day to draw attention to a very real problem.  And we were heard.  It’s hard to ignore nearly a half a million people.  And it’s hard to just brush off what a phenomenal achievement it was to get so many people gathered peacefully for a single cause.

4) The Maetreum of Cybele wins their case after almost 10 years.

After years of fighting what seemed like a never ending battle with the Town of Catskill for recognition of their tax exempt status, the New York Court of Appeals found for the Maetreum, a Pagan church located in upstate New York.  This case sets the stage not just to assist other Pagan organizations in New York attempting to create brick-and-mortar locations, but for reference for Pagans in other parts of the country in how to better advocate for the recognition of their rights as well.

5) The Senate votes against the Keystone XL Pipeline

Admittedly this is a temporary win.  New representatives will be taking their offices at the beginning of the next calendar year and that this item will come to a vote again but, considering all of the information presented about the pipeline and what it would do (or not do as the case may be) for Americans, this gives us time to educate others and give them the tools they need to contact those representatives.  Knowing who voted against the pipeline may also be useful in gaining the assistance of some very knowledgeable and well connected allies some of whom may not be holding office this term.  Part of visualizing a better future is recognizing opportunity.

6) Chicago votes to accept a higher minimum wage.

Inflation in our country is nothing short of madness.  The expectation that anyone working for the national minimum wage could possibly afford to live  reasonably on that alone is just as absurd.  I’m glad to see that some cities are responding to this issue.  For each city that implements a higher minimum wage, we have access to new information to help us in addressing this on a national level and allow for a better quality of life for minimum wage workers. I believe that if someone is working full time, they deserve to be able to afford a decent place to live.

7) Ft. Lauderdale homeless feeding ordinance is temporarily suspended.

90-year-old Arnold Abbott has been arrested numerous times for feeding the homeless residents of Ft. Lauderdale but a judge has called for a 30 day suspension of enforcement on the local ordinance which prohibits feeding the homeless in certain locations.  Being homeless has been criminalized in many cities across America setting an ugly and counterproductive precedent to addressing homelessness.  Many thanks to Mr. Abbott and others like him who continue to do what’s right even with the threat of arrest.

I think that it’s difficult to see that we aren’t alone in our causes especially if you happen to be separated from others who share your views. Good things happen all the time. These are the things that prove that our voices are being heard.  Often times progress is a series of baby steps.  But every day we are given proof that we can affect our world and improve it. While we do the hard work remind yourself of why you try.  The spark within that encourages you to speak out against what is unjust is fueled by knowing that better days are possible.

You have to imagine the world at its best and believe that it can be achieved.  That vision is a map and even if we have to take a different route to reach our destinations, there’s always another road.  Even if you can’t see it right away, even if the route takes you through the woods, it’s there.

Many blessings to all of you for the upcoming Yule and may the new year be full of opportunities to change to world for the better.

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-facts.html

http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/11/06/3590096/breaking-marriage-equality-just-got-a-first-class-ticket-to-the-supreme-court/

http://peoplesclimate.org/

http://wildhunt.org/2014/11/n-y-top-court-rules-in-favor-of-the-maetreum-of-cybele.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/senate-narrowly-shoots-down-keystone-xl-pipeline-bill/

http://politics.suntimes.com/article/chicago/city-council-poised-raise-chicagos-mimimum-wage-13-hr/tue-12022014-943am

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fort-lauderdale/fl-homelees-feeding-ruling-20141202-story.html

http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/criminalization-homelessness-the-rise-us-cities

And Then Ferguson Happened….

1 Dec IMG_2856

The national conversation about racism and police brutality in America, when discussed at all, has been going on for decades. There remains an ever growing list of young Black men who are no longer with us and police officers whose names have faded from memory as they returned to their lives as if nothing happened. Headlines, if there were any, reminded us that change remains illusive but within days usually returned to other matters and our attentions were focused elsewhere, usually closer to home in both a figurative and literal sense.

And then Ferguson happened.

Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. Many of us prefer the word murdered. What makes this case even more explosive was the promise of an investigation into possible grounds for an indictment against Darren Wilson, the police officer who ended Michael Brown’s life. We waited. We waited. We waited. And we waited some more.

We were all braced for the Grand Jury’s decision, few of us doubting that no grounds would be found to indict Darren Wilson. Even before the decision was handed down, talk began of the reactions to be expected in Ferguson and beyond. As usual, Facebook became a community board and at times, a battle ground of opposing views. News media took their expected positions. The conversation now taking place has an added dimension, that of whether or not the resulting looting and burning outbreaks in Ferguson are riots or the logical and understandable reaction of people who are feeling the ultimate degree of hopelessness that results from having been abandoned by justice and reason. This conversation is a most necessary and vital one that needs to be happening now. The decisions made about how to move forward will have a profound effect on our ability to really make change.

I understand, to whatever degree is possible (and many will say I can claim no understanding at all because of the color of my skin and privileged experience within the system), the rage and contempt felt by communities who are the usual recipients of police brutality. But it isn’t hard to imagine myself in a position of powerlessness and responding violently to a situation such as the Ferguson debacle. I also know that what I am about to write will not be taken too kindly by many who live that reality every day but I hope that it can at least be part of the conversation in which we must all participate.

The scenes of over a dozen building ablaze brought questions that may not have easy answers. What purpose does this serve? How does the destruction of property that belongs to people who are in no way responsible for the despicable behavior of the police do anything to move toward a solution? At least in the case of over turned police cars that were eventually totaled by fire, the target dealt a blow to the enemy. But burning and looting stores only brings more destruction to a community that needs so desperately to stay together, act together, stand together, fight together, resist together, gather allies together. I most certainly support all who resist the insanity that is the Ferguson experience but is it not a waste of energy to burn down a beauty shop when that resistance energy could be used for the occupation of the court house instead? Couldn’t that energy be used to haunt the police department with a daily presence taking the forms of silent protest or civil disobedience? Violent reaction allows momentary release of rage (maybe) while other paths address the problem by bringing the kind of attention that could draw allies willing to join the number. I offer as an example the June 2013 Silent March against New York City’s practice of “Stop and Frisk”. As thousands of us marched the long blocks of the city, holding signs but not saying a word the message was intensely palpable. The police who stood along the route knew we were saying that we would not allow the practice to continue. To be sure, that march did not deliver a panacea of reform but in non-violent silence and solidarity, the people spoke and drew the attention of media and allies from both within and without the city.

Michael Brown’s family issued a number of statements after the murder of their child. Following the Grand Jury’s decision their statement was one of profound disappointment that Darren Wilson would not have to face the consequences of his actions. But their statements from the very beginning of this tragedy called for a non-violent response. Is it possible that further violence is not what the family wants as a remembrance of Michael’s legacy? Is it possible that they are hoping for something infinitely better to result from his death?

I believe this conversation must take place. We must hear more and feel more about the daily experience that drives some to react with such rage following events such as this one and the disenfranchised and system abused must hear from all of us that we stand with them. We must deliver a credible, measurable and immediate message that we are willing to participate in protests in a multitude of forms which, rather than destroying communities, makes them stronger, rid of oppression and respected in ways that are long overdue. We must do this because until we change that daily experience, Ferguson is bound to happen again.

I attended a vigil in Harford CT. We heard from religious leaders, we sang, we filled the church with awareness. But the most important thing we did was to give people a chance to make a statement about what they intended to do starting right now to make change happen. There are things that everyone can do. Give it some thought and if you need ideas, let’s use this space to communicate ideas with each other. I’ll start the process now with an idea we’re already planning in Hartford. If you have concerns about police harassment or worse yet, brutality in your town or city, file a FOI request and get hold of your police department’s policies and procedures for the use of all “lethal and less
than lethal weapons”. Study them. Determine first whether they are reasonable and if they are, whether or not they are being adhered to. If they aren’t reasonable, work to change them. “Power to the People” requires people to act. It’s time.

On the care and feeding of pagan activists

25 Nov

First, my thoughts and love are with the people of Ferguson, Missouri today. I pray that Ma’at finds a way to prevail.

Second, this past weekend was Pantheon Foundation’s first Pagan Activism conference. My fellow Pagan Activist blogger Shauna was asked to present based on her work with consent culture and sexual ethics. I was surprised and thrilled when my name was offered as a potential presenter, and found myself on the Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists panel. Some of the panel focused on self care, which I have discussed here before. The majority of the panel concentrated on pagans, both activist and not, with various disabilities and how to manage that in community.

Caring for our community in their health problems seems to be a topic still in its infancy. Accessibility to events is still limited, either by location or by people unable to participate in events. Food became a big topic in the panel, in the form of restrictive diets and not having options for eating when attending events. Also, the language we use within community, which can diminish others who live with any kind of health issue.

General Care and Feeding

Want to care for yourself and not burn out? Not feel drained by work which may have nourished you so deeply at the start? Here is how to start.

1. Drink water! Stay hydrated because every cell of your body needs it.

2. Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. Also go to bed at a reasonable hour if you can manage.

3. Eat good, real, nourishing food. Like the water and sleep, you need this to function.

4. Take breaks. Whether it be from talking online or taking a few days off after an action, the break will give you some time to recuperate.

5. You are not your cause. During the panel, John (effing!) Beckett said something to hit this one on the head: make yourself redundant. There is more to your life than your cause. You will need more to help you keep going, plus if anything happens to you, what would everyone else do?

6. Keep living and keep engaging in your practices. Your connection to Gods/spirits/etc. are great fuel and a way to further nurture and remind yourself of what is important.

Activism and Health

What are the issues facing our activists today? Fibromyalgia, endocrine (thyroid, adrenals) problems, food allergies, Celiac disease, depression, PTSD, autism spectrum, autoimmune problems. We’re a reflection of the world, where many people are dealing with these problems. And it’s not always the adults. Morgan Daimler has spoken (and I shared during the panel) about attending events with a complex child and that it is not always easy to negotiate attendance in these situations. But we should not be shunning them, we need to find a way to welcome and bring everyone into the communities further.

A great deal of talk focused on food, and what people can and cannot eat. Especially since discovering my gluten intolerance last year, I have become much more aware of what others may deal with. I know more than a few people who use diets based around traditional foods, paleo, primal, autoimmune paleo, and similar eating plans to manage chronic illness. While as a community pagans can be very successful accommodating restrictive diets of choice, handling needed restrictions is not always noticed.

A good start would be pagan events taking note of the major food allergens in the US.

Eggs
Peanuts
Tree nuts
Fish
Shellfish
Soy
Dairy
Wheat

For some, consuming these foods can cause a range of symptoms, from digestive issues and cognitive problems (like me + gluten = brain fog) to severe pain and anaphylactic shock. Even having some of these foods openly available in a room can be enough to cause distress to someone who is sensitive enough.

The panel discussion also included being heard with these issues. Not just in terms of what a person might need during a public ritual, but just being seen, heard, acknowledged, when you are a person who may be perceived as being less in our culture. If we need support, whether emotional, or just a chair for a ritual which the facilitator may have wanted all participants laying on the floor.

It’s past time for us to take accessibility, on all fronts, into consideration. Having accessibility coordinators as part of planning committees. Bringing in ASL interpreters for people with auditory issues. Having more food available than pizza and donuts (which happened to me at an event a few months ago). Giving people who have issues with mobility a way to be present and participate.

I’m only at the beginning of looking at these issues for myself. I’d love to hear from people who have handled these matters both in and out of the Pagan communities, and at least continue this discussion.

Thank you to the Pantheon Foundation for hosting this great conference, to Sam Webster, Lady Yeshe and Xochi for all the work they did, to my fellow panelists John (Effing!) Beckett, Rion Roberts, and Rhiannon Laasko, and everyone who attended.

EDIT: The Wild Hunt has a write-up of the conference as a whole, if you are interested.

Sexual Initiation, Discrimination, Consent, and Rape

18 Nov

shutterstock_162051386I have heard from many people who felt pressured to undergo a sexual initiation with a teacher, coven leader, or other person in a leadership position. And by definition, if someone’s been pressured into sex, that’s not consent. It’s rape.

I believe in transparency so I want to be clear I debated with myself about posting on this topic. Why? Specifically because I have never belonged to a tradition that conveys mysteries/initiation through sex.

I’ve been accused of “destroying Wicca” with some of my blog posts about sex and consent, so I felt it was important to explore this topic. As with any of these big questions, I’m left with more questions than answers.

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“Get a Real Job” and the Myth of Worthiness

14 Nov

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By Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

I have often spoken with my grandfather about his life during the 50’s and 60’s.  He has so many stories from his time working at the “old A&P”.  Grandpa told me about what products he used to sell and of the customers he remembered over the years and I can tell he looks back upon it fondly.  I’m sure he had bad days and bad customers but by and large he felt respected and was genuinely making people’s lives better and easier.  Eventually he decided to return to school to become a funeral director. He got his degree in something he truly cared about and wanted to do and I have great respect for his decision to not only go to college when the time was right for him but also to return to his education later in his life.

Fast forward to 2011.  My older sister was working at a department store.  I happened to be at the mall that day and wanted to stop by to say a quick hello.  She was working in the ladies handbag department at the time.  A woman brought her items to my sister’s counter to check out.  She happened to have a department specific coupon with her for something in the men’s department.  Very kindly my older sister apologized and explained that the coupon could not be used at her register but would have to be taken to the men’s department to be processed.  The customer proceeded to tell my sister how useless she felt she was because she didn’t have managerial clearance to ring-up the coupon.

I have never been so tempted to ram a purse down someone’s throat so badly in all of my life, but my sister needed the job and I didn’t want to endanger her employment.  Not only was this person so terribly disrespectful but she thought nothing of humiliating my sister in front of other customers.  In that moment she didn’t see my sister as a person.  She saw only a nameless, faceless store employee who was incapable of giving her exactly what she wanted when she wanted it.  She saw someone “lesser”.

It used to be that your local butcher was someone you knew by name.  This was a person you trusted to prepare the food you’d be bringing home to your family.  The guy who drove the bus was also not nameless.  He was someone you saw every day.  You trusted him to get you to work on time and safely.  People once understood that service people working in their neighborhoods were in fact their neighbors and people who didn’t have to be doctors and lawyers to be regarded with decency and kindness.

This is not to say that I want the good old days to come back.  There was much to be desired back in our grandparents’ time.  They were fighting some of the hardest battles for equality for African-Americans and women among other struggles. While I don’t put this era on a pedestal, there are some things they really did right and I think it’s important to acknowledge that especially considering our current state of affairs.

So what is the current state of affairs?  Let’s start from the moment most of us begin establishing credit with our first student loans.  Some students are capable of receiving grants, scholarships and financial aid while most people have to take out loans to afford higher education even just to supplement their awards.  If someone doesn’t have the best scholastic record, loans are pretty much all that is available.  Last December CNN reported that the average student will leave a four year program with $29,000 in debt.  That number does not include interest.

What happens from here is largely dependent upon what major one chooses.  Each degree has a different requirement.  Some are largely useless without an advanced degree to go with it.  Others are extremely costly with little chance of placement in a chosen field due to over-saturation.  Some fields require that students work unpaid internships for a certain period of time before they can actually pursue a paid position in their field.  These are just some of the struggles faced by those with degrees.

If you don’t have a degree you have an entirely different set of issues.  It is in fact more difficult to find a job and those jobs tend to pay less and come with fewer chances of decent benefits with less upward mobility.  But you don’t have the student loan debt.  Chances are you just have different debt.  Why does this matter and what does this have to do with how we treat people?

It matters because we are all in the same boat.

For example, there has been much discussion and debate about fast food workers striking for a living wage.  One evening I found myself in a debate with a friend over this subject.  It is my opinion that if someone works full time at any job and performs their duties properly that they should earn a living wage.  I believe that there is no reason that a hardworking person should be unable to have decent clothes, a decent home and food and even be able to save a bit of money without having to apply for government assistance.

My friend vehemently disagreed with me expressing his annoyance that even he does not earn a living wage working at a warehouse packing pallets and loading trucks.  It was his opinion that because he was not earning what he felt he should that someone working in what he perceived to be a lesser field should not either.  What many of us don’t seem to realize is that this mentality of false status is deliberately manufactured to set us against one another instead of working together.

I have watched people lose their jobs to outsourcing after years of dedicated service to a company.  Those same people have searched diligently for work while collecting unemployment. Without it they would lose their homes and starve.  With so many people out of work, they may remain unemployed for months or even years depending upon numerous factors, any of which are outside their realm of control.  They are then told that they are lazy, not trying hard enough and that they are a drain on society.

Eventually unemployment runs out and many people are forced to apply for any job they can find.  They fill out applications to be cashiers at the gas station, managers at a fast food restaurant or cab drivers.  Often they are turned away for being over-qualified.  It’s almost worse when they are actually hired because those same people who would accuse them of leeching for having been on unemployment for so long will be the first to tell them to get a real job and stop complaining.  Chances are those same people are not much more financially stable or much more gainfully employed.

What of people who don’t work in an entry-level service position because it was a last resort, but because it was the best option for them?  Why are they perceived as lesser for doing what is within their means to do?

As Pagans we believe in the power of myths.  They are our stories.  They tell us where we’ve been and where we’re going in ways that we remember.  Myths inspire us to greatness and can show us paths where we may not have otherwise seen them.  But myths can also be terribly misleading and sadly effective.

The myth of worthiness as it has been presented to us, is terribly damaging.

If you watch FOX News (which I hope you don’t) you will hear the lunacy of any one of their hosts spouting poison about who deserves poverty as a result of some arbitrary perception of their laziness or wrong-doing. You hear the same stories from politicians and other affluent people.  It’s a very old trick.  If you find yourself in a position of power but you’re scared that you’re also the minority, how better to tip the scales in your favor than to encourage the disempowered majority to further disempower themselves with divisiveness?

What makes someone deserving?  Is it their work ethic and if so, what aspect of that work ethic?  Does higher intelligence or education make someone worthy? White? Male? Married? Christian? Does being a parent help?  So many of the traits required to be “deserving” are the factors which would also make a person fear for themselves and what they have.  When a person is disempowered, hurting and scared and someone powerful tells them that they’re worthy and someone else is not, it provides them with a focus for their anger and fear, even if it has been misdirected.

It’s also important to realize that those who have accepted this mentality aren’t stupid. They’re not inherently “bad”.  They’re looking for the reason why unfortunate and frightening things are happening to them and their loved ones.  It is much easier to accept that those who are responsible for their misfortune are those they could stand toe-to-toe with as opposed to the rich, powerful and power-hungry.  Far too often we equate “good” and “deserving” with financial and social success, but we don’t live in a dualistic world.  The “good” don’t always prevail.  The “bad” don’t always suffer.

To be clear, this is not my battle cry of “be nice”!  While I do believe in the power of kindness, I believe in what is effective far more.  In this case the most effective tools are compassion and setting aside one’s ego.  Know that we are all struggling.  Know that if you are having a hard time financially, chances are that your problems have little or nothing to do with a McDonald’s employee who had to apply for food stamps or happens to be fighting for better pay and far more to do with bad economic and job policies and a whole lot of corruption on the part of powerful people.

Set aside your desires for status recognition.  Research the motivations of those who would present themselves as leaders and be wary of anything that feeds your ire before it appeals to logic.  Most importantly, don’t give power to stories which were created to take your power from you with your permission.  Find your power in no longer accepting that having less makes you or anyone, less.  Find your power in community.

http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/04/pf/college/student-loan-debt/

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561

http://paganactivist.com/2014/03/06/karma-the-just-world-fallacy-and-the-magick-of-action/

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