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/

Democrats: Stand Up!

11 Nov election2014_0

election2014_0Firstly, very sorry for being a day late!  Despite a reminder from our fearless leader, my own phone alarms, and reminder emails, I happily finished my work day yesterday, watched a documentary, and then went to bed only thereafter remembering that it was “my” Monday to post here.  Could I have prepared the post and scheduled it to go live?  Sure, but I never know what I want to write about until much closer to the due date.  But, I digress.

So, an election happened and it didn’t really work out for the Democrats on the tickets.  Hell, in my own very blue state of Massachusetts, we couldn’t even be bothered to elect the Democratic candidate for governor, Martha Coakley.  There’s all sorts of reasons why this was the case:  gerrymandered districts, seats won in 2008 in conservative areas of the country that are, perhaps, only swinging back to their more usual voting patterns, the perceived incompetence of the federal government, and more.

But, I think there’s another reason, one that almost caused me to stay home last Tuesday despite my passion for all things politics:  the Democrats ran away from their own accomplishments.  Hell, some wouldn’t even admit to voting for Obama or supporting the Affordable Care Act, arguably one of the most influential pieces of legislation in the last few decades, flawed though it may be.

The kicker is, it’s not the the country wasn’t feeling rather progressive on Tuesday, we just didn’t feel like the Democrats could do anything for us.  Rachel Maddow talks about a variety of ways that voters in the country were voting for progressive ballot measures (the first four minutes deal with a California mayoral race; skip to 4:25 for more national topics):

To sum up, (in case you don’t want to watch the video):

  • Increasing the minimum wage was approved in Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, and South Dakotah.
  • Personhood — a radical anti-abortion measure that would also ban common forms of birth control — lost in Colorado and South Dakota.
  • Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
  • Paid sick leave measures passed state-wide in Massachusetts and locally in Oakland, CA; Trenton, NJ; and Montclair, NJ.
  • The first female governor was elected in Rhode Island.
  • Washington state voted in favor of background checks for gun purchases closing, if I understand the measure correctly, the loophole allowing you to get around such checks at gun shows.
  • Speaking of guns, gun control championing governors in Colorado and Connecticut both won re-election over vociferous (and financial) pressure from the NRA.

And on and on.  That list is only about the first two thirds of the video so there’s some more in there, but perhaps this tweet from Ben Casselman at fivethirtyeight.com says it best:

So if voters in diverse places like California, Colorado, South Dakota, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Massachusetts could all come together to vote for progressive and liberal ballot measures, what’s up with all the success for conservative candidates?

In short, I maintain that too many democrats tried to move too far away from their own positions in an effort to win conservative voters (that they were unlikely to win anyway) that they actually lost a bunch of us liberal types.

When Obama was on the ballot in 2008, it was the first campaign for which I went door-to-door to talk to voters.  I drove with others from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois over to the Quad Cities in Iowa where I met up with campaign staffers, was quickly trained, and sent out to talk to the locals.  It was snowing, about 30º F (-1º C), and we got caught in a massive snow storm on the way home.  So massive that I was watching for each mile marker so that, should we lose control and crash as so many other motorists had, I’d know roughly where we were when we called for help.  Despite all that, it was a great time and I truly felt that I was a part of something grand.

I haven’t felt that again since.  Maybe it’s the intransigent opposition stridently determined to ensure that nothing with a hint of progressiveness gets passed through Congress that’s just beaten Democratic candidates into submission, but that doesn’t hold water when you look at the information above.

Consider the reelection of governors Hickenlooper and Malloy in Colorado and Connecticut, respectively.  Sure, they were incumbents and incumbents are difficult to unseat, but they were facing massive headwinds because of their support for gun control.  And, remember, this support existed only because of mass shootings that have taken place in those states in recent years.  Despite that headwind, they stood for what they thought was right, and I would have felt honored to go to the polls and cast a vote for them.

Then, look at democratic senatorial candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes who was the opponent of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.  Asked if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Grimes wouldn’t even answer the question.  She fell over her own two feet to avoid looking like a liberal progressive even though her prior statements in opposing the defunding of Obamacare, in favor of pro-choice measures within her state, and measures to increase child care for employees, equal pay for females, and an increase to the federal minimum wage.  From this outsider’s perspective, she spent so long trying to curry favor with conservatives, that she forgot to stand up and share everyone else what it was that she actually stood for!

I talk a lot about politics.  I am by no means an expert, but I consider myself to be well informed not only locally but nationally and, to a lesser extent, internationally.  And what this progressive liberal can’t understand is why so many liberal candidates don’t have the courage of their convictions.  Sure, we might still lose, but I’d rather lose standing for something than not.

For a conversation related to last week’s election that I found both enjoyable and informative — and discusses this very topic — I recommend catching last week’s edition of the Slate.com Political GabfestMultitudinous States Incarnadine.

See you in December!

Just Get a Job

3 Nov

just-get-a-jobMany readers of Pagan Activist know I’ve been out of work for quite some time. It’s something I lament about frequently in my personal life and on Facebook. I interview to no avail. Time and again I’m am left disappointed by my inability to lock down a job. And I have no idea why I no offers come in. I show up to interviews in my best suit (which I spent a fortune on), early. I make direct eye contact, smile, and answer questions to the best of my ability. I write handwritten thank you notes after an interview. I’ve hired a professional to write my resume. I’ve participated in many mock interviews. I’ve signed up for (literally) 20 temp agencies over the last couple years. I call those temp agencies weekly to “check in” so the recruiter doesn’t forget who I am.

But still I am sans job.

My biggest critics are family members who after spit out “just get a job, any job.” I also hear “You’re being too picky” frequently. Instead of rallying behind me they play the blame game, blaming me for the inability to finding work paying a living salary.

When I lived in New Hampshire I applied at several retail outlets without success. I don’t know why I was never called for a high school job like register jockey but failing to lock down such a job really impacted my self esteem. After all, if I couldn’t get a shit job then it was no wonder I couldn’t get a real job that would launch my career.

I moved from New Hampshire to my native Massachusetts a few months ago. Now I have retail job. And you know what? It’s pretty pointless. My grandmother is fond of saying “at least it gets you out of the house” though I’m not sure why that’s so important. There are far more important things I can be doing than ringing a register: making dinner, cleaning, knitting, running… It’s as if getting out of the house is far more important than staying in it and I’m not sure why she’s of that mentality.

The place I work deliberately does not have fulltime employees. They do not want to pay benefits. The wage is one I made 25 years ago in high school. Because of the part time status and the low wage, my paycheck does not cover the grocery bill. But at least I’m out of the house. Right?

A fantastic article came out in January of this year. Entitled “It Is Expensive to Be Poor” Barbara Ehrenreich knocks it out of the park.

For most women in poverty, in both good times and bad, the shortage of money arises largely from inadequate wages.

What I discovered is that in many ways, these jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job.

That’s the trap I’m falling into. With an unpredictable work schedule I cannot seek a second job. I cannot temp. I cannot seek full time employment and expect to keep this job. I can feel the cycle of economic abuse tightening its noose around my neck. Soon, like many victims of abuse, I’ll be dead.

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The Wisdom in Anger

27 Oct

AkshobhyaTo be an activist, very often, is to be angry.

An activist is a person with a sacred vision of the world that they are trying to manifest. That means living in a world that runs counter to what you hold most sacred. Otherwise, what are you acting for or against? And in my experience, activists aren’t just working for a world that would be nice, but fighting for the world that they believe should be. That’s not always emotionally easy.

And when you’re out there doing your work – whether that’s protesting, lobbying, leafleting, talking with your friends about the issues you care about – you’re basically dealing with people who disagree with you. They may be actively working against what you hold most sacred. That can be outright maddening.
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A Voting Dilemma

20 Oct

We’re coming up on a season that I often dread. No, it isn’t Autumn. It isn’t Winter. It’s election time. You know, the season of negative ads at every turn, debates that leave us with as little insight into the candidates as we had before the exchanges and the pressure of knowing that the decisions we make may literally affect history. So here we are, coming up to elections for offices across the country and I find myself asking some nagging questions: What is a reasonable course of action when we deem none of the candidates on the current ballot worthy of our vote? Do we stay away from the polls? Do we vote for the “lesser of two evils”? Do we vote for third party or independent candidates who have little chance of winning? Do we write in the name of a person not even on the ballot?

I’ve always considered voting to be not only a right but a responsibility. When people complain, whether about individual politicians or entire party platforms, my first question is always whether or not they voted in the last election. Basically, I view voting as the basis upon which our rights to protest rest.

Staying away from the polls is not a personal option for me for this reason although the notion of not participating in a system that seems, at times, to be ineffective and unworkable is appealing. While some consider not voting to be an act of revolution, it strikes me as an act of simply giving away our power.

Voting for “the lesser of two evils” is an option that many people reject. Some refuse to make any choice at all when all candidates are deemed unacceptable. What qualifies a candidate as acceptable? Is it their agreement with our personal agendas without exception? If that is the case, I doubt many of us would ever be able to vote for anyone on the ballot. Does the perfect candidate exist? I think not. Someone who upholds my environmental values may not have the same views on gun control. Someone who shares my goals for tax reform may not feel the same way about immigration. Perhaps it makes sense to identify the candidate who represents our views on one or two issues that most concern us and give them our support, hoping that what we find reasonable in their character will allow them to be further swayed on other issues in the future. I’m not aware of any group, be it political, family, friendship circle or activist coalition where members hold 100% of the same views and priorities.

When we are fortunate enough to have the possibility of a third party or independent candidate upset the status quo, our options can seem even more complicated. We often hear that third party or independent candidates might swing the election in favor of our least liked option. We hear voters who are loyal to the two party system tell us that a vote for a third party or independent person is a wasted vote at best and a dangerous vote at worst as it might result in the election of the greater of two evils. This situation has had my attention for quite some time now. After a lot of consideration, I’ve come to rue my decision to play it safe in a past election when I truly believed in an alternative candidate but bought the argument that voting for him would simply weaken/bolster the chance of the most desirable/least objectionable candidate from winning. I now wish I had voted differently. Voting for either of the two major party platforms, even when they do not meet our values and expectations, helps to perpetuate the status quo and thus give away our power as surely as if we hadn’t voted at all. It allows our decisions to be ruled by fear rather than hope.

Writing in the name of a person who is not even running for office is a way to make a statement but not one that is bound to be noticed by anyone other than the individual voter. My write-in vote for Jane Doe does little else than allow me to say that I did in fact vote, therefore keeping alive my right to rail against the election outcome to my heart’s content when it’s all over.

So, here we are with choices to make.  This year’s state election still find me undecided.  As for the national elections coming up in 2016… I am so grateful that I have a bit of time to decide the best course of deciding my vote. I find myself hoping that a particular independent candidate will be part of the equation and that I’ll have the courage of my convictions when the time comes.

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