Working the System – From Within and Without

21 Apr

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Over the past three years or so that I’ve officially been part of the activist world, much of my efforts have been of the marching, rallying, sign waving and facebooking variety. An added dimension to my understanding and effectiveness, however, has been a growing knowledge of how our legislative process works and just how important our participation within that system really is. A rally outside a congressperson’s office energizes rally participants. A face to face meeting with said congressperson might actually have some influence over his/her stand on the issues that we discuss.

 Since December of last year, I’ve participated in 4 meetings with 3 of CT’s national representatives to share my views on Fast Track and the TPP. What I discovered at each of those meetings includes the following:

  • our elected officials are no more intimidating than anyone else we choose to speak with regarding the issues that motivate us
  • being prepared with facts rather than raw emotion lends credibility to our conversations
  • face to face meetings can be educational in both directions – understanding why our representatives hold particular views is important for knowing how to either support them or influence a change of their position
  • once an initial meeting has been accomplished it is important to stay in contact with our legislators to let them know we are paying attention and following their decisions

I have also been learning about our legislative process here in CT and I urge everyone to explore the same in their own state. We often hear the complaint that our elected officials are removed from the community and not available to hear us. That is only true if we don’t know how and where to find them and then make the effort to establish “first contact.” I’ve been at the LOB (Legislative Office Building) in Hartford fairly often over the past few months, following bills related to fracking waste, pesticide bans, GMO issues and end of life decision making options among others. Until recently, my attendance was at committee hearings to either offer my own testimony or to be there as a show of support for others who spoke on behalf of our common interests. That participation is now expanding as I learn to navigate the Capitol Building while the state House and/or Senate are in session.

 My first trip to the Capitol Building was several weeks ago. I was stunned, first by the beauty of the building and then a sense that I was participating in history. I was lucky each time to be in the company of people who were able to guide me through the process of understanding how things work and how to find my Senator and Representatives if I chose to speak to them personally about the issue at hand. I certainly was! When either body is in session at the Capitol, it is a busy, noisy, energetic place that at times reminded me of the floor of the Stock Exchange. Everyone is busy trying to talk with someone else, hoping to influence votes on one issue or another.

 There are two ways to reach legislators personally at the Capitol. The first is to stand, watching for them to pass in the hall, being ready to pounce and ask for a minute of time to share your thoughts. There may be others waiting to talk with the same person and you have to be patient as well as persistent. It might be a good idea to have printed material to leave with them to read later. The hallway conversations are really just an introduction of yourself and the issue you’re there to represent.

I learned about another way to speak personally with my Representative that I found fascinating. Just outside the chamber where all of the Representatives meet to discuss and vote on everything from A to Z, is an area that provides paper on which you can write a note to the Representative with whom you wish to speak. The paper asks for your name, the time of your note and a short explanation of the issue you want to discuss. After filling out the note, you take it to another desk and leave it with staff that actually enter the House chamber and deliver your message to your Representative who, with any luck, will come out of the chamber to speak with you. After leaving my note last week, I waited for almost an hour before seeing my Representative emerge from the chamber. He spoke with several other people before walking toward the area where I was waiting but I realized he was headed off in another direction and I had to make a decision to go into “pounce” mode as mentioned above. I called his name, extended my hand (always important!) and asked for a moment of his time. As it turns out, the issue I wanted to discuss is one on which he and I totally agree so there was little need to lobby for very long but it gave him a face to put with my name. Coincidentally, we had spoken the night before when he called my house in reply to an email I sent him earlier asking for an explanation of his recent vote on something I care about. Meeting in person the next day was reinforcement of our relationship in the political process.

 Many activists with whom I’ve shared ideas believe that “the system” has completely broken down and that we have nothing gain by trying to work within it to effect change. I am not that pessimistic. I believe that there is a place for trying to influence our society with efforts from both within and without the system. Entering the Capitol and LOB, I feet I am taking responsibility for my views and showing respect for the best of what the system stands for – participation by the electorate.

 What chance do we have at changing the system if we don’t know how it works and the parts we can play in the process? Let there be no misunderstanding – my participation in rallies, marches, demonstrations and even civil disobedience if necessary will not be compromised but neither will my willingness to work within the system if it offers opportunities to meet face to face with my legislators. Feeling the empowerment that comes from being heard as one voice among many in a public demonstration is equaled by that felt after connecting individually with those whom we’ve elected to represent us. We may not always get the results we want by participating but we certainly have a better chance than if we assume we have no influence and decide to not to try.

 

Big Enough to Fail

15 Apr

When Kenny Klein’s arrest was announced a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was not at all surprised to hear that it had happened. Why? Several years ago I was in a bookstore one day with two friends and we were perusing the New Age section. One of Klein’s fairy tale books was there, and when one of my friends saw it it, she put it back fast. Then she told us that Klein used to beat up his wife.

Now here is the thing. My friend has never been a big name pagan, or even very involved in the greater pagan communities. She knew about this because of Usenet discussions back in the 1990s.

I had a bout of cognitive dissonance at this. How is it that someone who abused his spouse was also a praised and respected author and elder? In the discussion which ensued from his arrest, many people, including family members, came out to talk about being abused, and, startlingly, how they were silenced by other members of the community.


Hush used under Creative Commons license

And this is where I come to the crux of my discussion for the week. For a community with many roots in 1960s counterculture, and espousing an alternative to patriarchal culture, it’s sad to see the same models of the overculture coming into play. A reluctance to ostracize community members for abhorrent behavior and suppressing people who dare to voice that they were violated? Congratulations in emulating some of the biggest institutions in the world. The abused committed by priests of the Roman Catholic Church have become well known, but also the Hassidic communtiy and the Amish have had their problems with abuse.

While there has been some great and much needed discussion coming from this case (see Christine Hoff Kraemer’s erotic ethics and pagan consent culture, Thorn Coyle’s predators in paganism, and fellow PA blogger Shauna’s post here and the predators series on her blog), there have also been people raising a fuss at how the story first broke (comments I saw on Facebook and cannot find now) and apparently apologists (I have not seen this, due to a brain overfull with parental memorial planning) worried about how pagans would appear from this and maybe even trying to rationalize the matter.

This is unacceptable. How can we be a community which claims to hold the female as sacred and talk about personal autonomy and at the same time throw our support behind someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?

Even worse, how can we have people more concerned with how we appear in the media over, again, someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?

Are we that timid? That sophomoric to worry more about our image than a grave crime?

I’ve been reminded of what John Michael Greer terms the myths of progress and apocalypse. From his book The Long Descent:

“[T]he myth of progress. According to this story, all of human history is a grand tale of human improvement.

[T]he myth of apocalypse. According to this story, all of human history is a tragic blind alley.”

Greer goes on to discuss how rooted these two myths are in our current collective imagination. And that unless “we” are in a state of progress, we are inevitably heading toward apocalypse. But this is not so. Our mythologies were once full of stories chronicling the highs and lows of life, and that to be in a low state was not the end of the world. To apply it here, the fact that “we” have a formerly respected elder now charged with one of the most abhorent crimes imaginable, and that people opposed to our religions can use it as fodder against us, could lead to big trouble. Think of the lies about Satanic ritual abuse from the 1980s.

We know this is not true, in fact that it never happened. So why are we operating from a place where we think our communities might be ruined?

Maybe now is the time to take a new approach. The neopagan community (along with recon and revival religions) have some age now. Own properties. Participate in their larger communities. Have respect and legitimacy. We should collectively be able to stand up and say “this is not who we are. Further, this is not acceptable. We will no longer cover up, apologize, rationalize these behaviors. We will not silence the victims. We will respect our members, especially our women. We will say no.”

Looking at the progress/apocalypse mythos, yes this could be seen as a failure. But we’re also talking about humans. Following a different religion does not make us special, or better, or “more enlightened.” We make mistakes. We have the same problems as any other group. And maybe what we need to do, to show how we are different is to say no, to cut abusive people out of our communities.

(Incidentally, if you think that by honoring the female divine you are not capable of violating women, think again. Think about ancient Hellenic culture, where women were invisible. Think about India. Last year the BBC did an amazing documentary in response to the gang rape there called India: a dangerous place to be a woman. Watch it if you can find it.)

It’s time for a new model. Instead of sweeping predators and creeps under the rug, we need to be honest. Get people help when they need and want it, and for those who don’t, turn our backs. Maybe we should enact something like weregild, or some other way of holding people accountable. We need to take action.

And we need to remember that if anything like this happens again, it’s not the end of the world.

Protecting our children

12 Apr

Clinton_VillageUnless we have buried our heads in the sand, we should all realize that our children can be at risk anywhere. As people of faith, we like to presume that those with a similar faith have similar ideals, similar morals, similar integrity – but this isn’t always the case. As was demonstrated in all too stark relief, quite recently, even those of us whom we consider pillars in our community can let us down dramatically.

In 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded us that It takes a village to raise a child. While some people, such as Bob Dole, who, during his RNC acceptance speech in 1996 criticized Clinton with the comment “… it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child”, the truth is that none of us acts entirely independently. We are all interdependent – even if we should choose to live alone, in a forest, as a hermit. We all affect the environment, we all affect the quality of air and water. And nobody can exist on Earth, apart from the influence of other human beings.

But if we choose to live in any city or town, and if we wish our children to be educated, culturally aware and to contribute in a meaningful fashion when they too become adults, it does take a village to raise a child. As parents, we cannot be child care providers, educators, physicians, opticians, dentists, playmates and each and every person and relationship that our children will need. To grow up healthy and educated, our children need relationships with many people – they need parents and friends and teachers and doctors and child care providers. While, as parents, we might satisfy some of these relationships, we cannot fulfill them all. This means that we will need to be able to trust other individuals to, at times, care for our children.

Recent events though, have shown us that our Pagan community is not exempt from the presence of predators in our midst. Even some people who we have come to trust as leaders are able to let us down. Like any other group of human beings, some among us are good, some are not. And the question that many of us are faced with is this: how do we know who it is that we can trust?

We might consider who it would be that we might trust with anything truly valuable. Who, among our friends might we trust with a great deal of money? There might be many we would trust with a few hundred dollars – but what about a few tens of thousands of dollars? When the stakes increase, we tend to be a bit more cautious, and the list of those we trust tends to diminish.

How much do we value our children? Can we possibly place more value on any amount of currency than we do on our children?

How do we insure that individuals with whom we trust our money are responsible with that money? One way we ensure that people are responsible with things of great value is to avoid entrusting such things to a single individual. If multiple people are responsible for a thing, then it is more likely that it will be treated responsibly.

When it comes to our children, we should avoid any situation that allows a single individual to have sole supervision of those children. It’s up to those of us who are parents to investigate any child care situation. With festival season just beginning to ramp up, many of us who are parents may be bringing our children to various festivals. Many of these festivals do have child care areas. It’s up to us as parents to look at these child care areas closely. It’s up to us to satisfy our selves that our children will be properly cared for. One way to do that is to volunteer at the child care area our selves. I know of few festivals that don’t seek out volunteers – and there is not much of a better way to know something about the child care area than to participate our self.

As a whole, groups of people – a village – are much more trustworthy than single individuals. The village also is able to handle situations that would be much too difficult for a single individual. If there is only one or two adults watching a group of children, and an emergency situation happens, that may well be too much for such a small group of adults to handle. Consider the situation where there are two adults and 10 children – if one child takes ill, that means that one adult will be caring for nine very concerned children – it’s not an optimal situation.

As a rule of thumb, there should be one responsible adult for every five children, plus one further adult. If there are five children or fewer, that means two adults. With six to ten children, there should be three responsible adults. If you find that there are too few adults for the number of children, again, volunteer!

Even better though, recognizing the value of collective action, find other parents who share your concerns – prior to the event, and work together. Recognize the value of a village and work with other parents and the event coordinators to insure there is proper coverage for the child care area. If the particular event doesn’t have child-care, consider organizing something with the help of other parents.

If we’re uncomfortable with the child care system, then there should be no reason to leave our children with them. It might be that we want to attend a particular workshop, but for whatever reason, we’re not 100% comfortable with the child care situation. But we can’t deceive our selves with the notion that “because this is a Pagan event”, the child care will be okay. It’s up to parents to put the safety of our children first – we need to trust our instincts, and it’s far better to miss a particular workshop than to put our children at risk. Whatever the situation, it should be the safety of our children that comes first.

So taking care of our children at festivals is something that we can do, but what do in other situations we do when we have suspicions about a particular individual?

There are some groups that seem to advocate for immediate action against someone the moment an allegation is raised. But it’s important to remember that an allegation is not proof. Certainly some allegations can be more credible than others, and when a serious allegation has been made, we certainly should not simply dismiss it.

If there are any unaddressed allegations of harm to children, we shouldn’t trust those individuals with the care of children. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that an allegation implies any misconduct, but we also need to consider the safety of our children. Those of us who are in positions of leadership need to take such allegations seriously. If we are in a leadership position, it’s likely that we are mandated reporters.

In 27 states, members of the clergy are mandated reporters – this means that if we have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, that we who are clergy are mandated to report in these states. In 18 states, ANY person who has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected is required to report.

But there is a difference between a legal requirement to report and a moral duty to report. We may not be a mandated reporter in our locality, but if we suspect some sort of child abuse – do we just let it go? Do we pretend that somebody else will do the reporting if the suspicions are sound?

If any of us has any legitimate reason to suspect the abuse of children, it’s up to us to do something with that suspicion. By “legitimate reason” I don’t mean that we simply think someone looks creepy. But when our children tell us that someone has made improper advances, we need to listen to them. And if it’s clear that those advances are repeated, that is a legitimate reason. If touching is repeated, or obviously not accidental, that is a legitimate reason. If we hear from children that someone has tried to take photographs of them while naked – they are asked to remove their clothes – or asked to perform some sexual act – that is a legitimate reason. And when we hear that, we need to act.

What form should that action take? If we are the leader of the group or event, we call the authorities, and we insure that person stays away from children until the allegations are addressed to our satisfaction. If we’re not the leader of that group or event, we speak to the leadership with our concerns. It might be that we are told “Oh, that individual is just eccentric, but doesn’t mean any harm”. Remember that all too often, this is how a number of people who harm children have been perceived. It’s up to us to take action at that point and tell that person in leadership that there is legitimate reason to take action, and that we will be calling the authorities our self, and then we need to do what is safe for our children and remove them from that situation.

But there are times that we can go too far. We can’t allow our selves to take direct action against individuals based on nothing more than rumor. A rumor isn’t legitimate evidence of guilt. Taking to Facebook or the Internet and destroying a person’s reputation with unproved allegations is not the way to address things. People are sensitive when it comes to our children, and allegations of child abuse don’t easily go away. A public charge of such a crime, whether it is legitimate or not, will likely permanently destroy an individual’s reputation. When we have legitimate suspicions, we deal with them, but we need to be careful not to destroy people based on nothing but rumor.

This is the job of our village – to build a healthy community – to take care of our children, to collectively insure that nobody harms them, and to foster a community that will not tolerate predation of any sort.

If you would like to see a summary of the laws regarding reporting, one can be found here: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.pdf#Page=2&view=Fit

Pagans, Mental Health, and Abuse

9 Apr

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There’s an elephant in the room. Pagan communities allow completely inexcusable behavior by leaders, teachers, and group members. There’s a range mental health issues (particularly untreated mental illness) that we don’t talk about that add to this problem.

You’ve probably heard about the arrest of Pagan author/presenter/musician Kenny Klein for possession of child pornography. Following his arrest, many Pagans came forward alleging that when they were teenagers, Kenny sexually abused them.

We have a huge problem in our overlapping Pagan communities. We enable unacceptable behavior from participants, leaders, and teachers. In my observation, this is the root cause of at least 75% of groups that explode/implode.

This article covers potentially triggering topics. Continue reading

The Ugly Side of Womens’ Health Care

3 Apr

 

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written by Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

This week has been full of controversy in both politics and Paganism. I had a few different items in the works for my Pagan Activist blog contribution but it appears that the Gods had other plans in store for me. Let it not be said that they don’t have a keen sense of timing.

For those of you who may be squeamish in regard to matters of ladies reproductive health, you may wish to jump ship now because we are going to become very well acquainted over the course of this post. You have been warned.

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Washing the Stink out of Politics

31 Mar

My father is in local government for the small town in Pennsylvania where I grew up.  His position is appointed by the elected town council so we didn’t have to deal with campaigning to keep his job, but this did mean that, at the whim of the council members, he could have found himself unemployed.  Luckily, he’s good at what he does and various members of councils for the last few decades have kept him in the position he’s held for much of his adult life.

I remember while growing up that his stories of council meetings and the issues that they dealt with were fascinating in a lot of ways.  Here was a group of people working together to try to solve the problems of my own little home town.  Back when I never imagined ever moving away from home, I always thought I’d run for council one day and be one of those people.

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Dogmatic Foodies

24 Mar

roundtableHere at Pagan Activist, we cover the issue of food frequently. That’s because 100% of Pagan Activist authors eat food.

Author’s here have a variety of diets. I eat paleo. Jason eats vegan. Soli eats traditional. Debra avoids GMOs thus avoiding processed. Our commonality? We all want to eat as healthy as we can.

Whose health are we talking about when we use the loaded word “healthy”? If the discussion is about Earth’s health, some argue eating meat isn’t healthy for Mother Earth. Some argue eating grains is the real detriment. Still others lament at the high carbon footprints of trekking vegetables from below the equator to above it to feed the wealthy north is the real culprit.

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