Monthly Archives: September 2012

When telling the truth is activism

My intention on this site is to help you find ways to be an activist with your words and speech. With the way Republicans are behaving right now, this has gotten pretty simple: Telling the truth is activism.

We’ve gone beyond complaints about the “reality-based community” and watching Stephen Colbert being playfully annoyed that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” We are now firmly in the realm of post-truth politics, where repeating exposed lies is a campaign strategy. And it’s not just about one issue: the series of posts on Rachel Maddow’s blog entitled “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity” is now up to number 34, with many, many individual lies per post.

Of course, the problem is worsened by an entire media environment whose lies are only getting more brazen: they’ve gone from skewing graphs to lying that two numbers are comparable in order to make it look like unemployment has doubled. The good news is that they were caught on that last one and had to issue an on-air retraction.

Even some journalists are starting to get the message that this is happening, and that it’s not an accident, it’s a Republican strategy. They don’t like it much because it means that they cannot maintain the appearance of fairness while actually being fair. When one side lies habitually, being fair – even trying to be remotely objective – means saying so.

Most of us aren’t journalists; we’re not in a position reasonably expected to have a special responsibility for telling the truth. But right now, this is one of the strongest ways we can be activists. When entirely too many of the people we used to rely on are struggling with how to do the job of telling the truth in this environment, we can and should step up. I don’t mean that you have to become a policy wonk and run around spouting facts and figures at the drop of a hat. Find what you can do. Is it a simple thing, like noticing that 8.6 is less than 9.0? Tell someone: “That graph is drawn wrong.” Is it an observation from your personal life? Tell someone: “that policy hasn’t hurt me the way you say it has.” Is it educating others about a particular issue? Tell someone: “There’s a big difference between birth control and abortion.”

Finding that way isn’t necessarily easy. Unlike journalists trying to “look fair,” most of us worry about the social disapproval of direct disagreement. Calling someone a liar is not a “nice” thing to do. And it’s true that many of the people you interact with may not be malicious liars. They may be mistaken, especially if they’re caught in the reality-free echo chamber of right-wing media, and they may be unwilling to change even when confronted with the evidence. But getting the evidence out there is necessary. Find your own way to do it, but consider pushing your comfort zone just a little bit. Don’t let politeness always override truth-telling.

If we don’t know what the truth is, we don’t have a hope of changing it by any means – not magic, not voting, nothing will move us along the path we choose if we don’t know where we’re starting from.

I’m advocating a simple strategy for activism: tell the truth.

Pagans and Interfaith Work

This is a post that seems poorly timed.  There’s so much going on right now with respect to the upheaval in the Middle East that I’d like to speak further on that topic.  However, I’m not sure I fully understand the situation, and therefore, don’t want to give a false impression of an ongoing and extremely complicated situation.  Thus, I’m going to fall back on my original plan from last month which was to speak a bit about why I think it’s necessary for Pagans to become involved in interfaith work insofar as any individual is willing and able to do so.

The reason is simple:  we are diverse.  Even more, we continue to seek to work together within our own religious community despite this diversity.  Consider this month’s many Pagan Pride Days.  I visited Southeastern Massachusetts Pagan Pride Day for a few hours and specifically for their ritual.  The ritual was Wiccan in structure with the casting of circles, calling of quarters and deities, etc.  There were those like myself, who don’t tend to work within that structure regularly, who took part anyway to work with others while still others stood apart and watched.  Even within the circle, there were those who raised their hands to greet the elemental quarters and some who bowed.  In short:  whatever our individual religious proclivities, we worked together — even if only for that one hour — toward a common goal.  And, those who did not take part were not ridiculed for their choice.

Consider this, too:  how often do you think of a religious community where each individual person can claim to have their own individual way of practicing, worshiping, and thinking about their faith without the others in that community even raising an eyebrow?  It doesn’t happen often.  Sure, if we consider other religious there are differences in style or tradition, but at their core, most faith communities can come together around a shared core of both dogma and practice and that’s not something that I think we can claim to have.

And, that’s what makes us valuable.

The modern world doesn’t have a lot of human monocultures anymore.  We’ve expanded to fill most of the habitable areas on this planet and even when you encounter a culture which honors their traditional ways and practices, many may still live surrounded by others with whom they must interact.  As such, we are finding ourselves increasingly in relationship with people who do not see the world in the same way that we do.  Urban life as we know it today almost necessitates encountering people of different cultural, political, and socioeconomic status and it’s not appropriate to ghettoize those with whom we disagree nor is it acceptable to stick our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist.

Pagans don’t do this.  Sure, we have a variety of larger subcultures, for lack of a better term, within our community.  I’m thinking, for example, of Heathens, many of whom eschew the term “pagan” for a variety of reasons.  And not only do we accept that, in many cases we continue to include these diverse paths within our community and invite them to work with us rather than stand separately from us.  Jumping back to the Pagan Pride Day I attended, there was at least one booth, if not more set up and staffed, entirely by Heathens — I believe they used the term Odinists — despite the fact that the next stall over sold Afro-Caribbean poppets and the one prior was selling gemstones and pendulums.

Our community is not a monoculture. And, when we consider religious communities, they often are.  Or, at least they are when it comes to a solidarity of belief within the community even if the members thereof might be of diverse backgrounds.  I attended Catholic Mass with my wife this morning and was struck by the Nicene Creed and how it clearly defines the belief structure of her faith.  I was further struck but the fact that I don’t think that we could ever articulate such a thing for Paganism in so concise a fashion.

And that, I think, is what we can bring to interfaith work.  We know what it means to struggle with difference and to try to build something through it and with it.  We know what it means to have to look at someone across the room who thinks differently about faith and the gods and still work with them.  Further, we tend to try to accept these differences and approach them openly and non-critically.  Which is not to say that we may come to an impasse over some question of thought and practice now and again, but when we do we tend to at least try to talk it out and work through it.

Not every faith group can say the same.  When Catholics, for example, get together to discuss what it means to raise their children and teach them their faith, there’s likely going to be some fairly solid agreement regarding the results of those discussions.  Will they necessarily agree with, for example, Anglicans or Methodists?  Perhaps not, but the again it might be rare for a group of Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists to sit down and discuss such things.  For us, it is common.  I was a part of that discussion between Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Eclectics, and one Shinto practitioner.

It is the pluralism inherent within our community which makes us unique and the skills we’ve chosen to hone in order to work together despite that pluralism are skills that this world desperately needs right now.  That need is part of what calls me to interfaith work and why, I think, it suits Pagans to act as moderators and administrators within these events when we can.  And, when we can’t, I think it’s important that we bring our skills, and our faith, out and into the world to share with others.

You don’t regret the things you’ve done, you regret the things you skipped out on

On September 17, the Occupy movement will celebrate its one year anniversary. Occupy Wall Street is hosting a number of events, many of which I will be attending. I am bringing my cousin who has never been to a protest before. When I asked him to join me, he jumped at the chance. When I asked him why he’s coming he said he remembered what I said to him when he declined my invitation to Chicago in May “You don’t regret the things you’ve done, you regret the things you skipped out on.”

This is something I’ve learned over the years. Certainly I regret a few things I’ve done over the four decades of my life but I have more regrets over the things I haven’t done, or skipped out on. The WTO in 1999 is a prime example. Why didn’t I go? I was working. Or I had school. Or the stars weren’t lined up right. The reality is, I don’t remember why I didn’t go but I’ve yet to forgive myself for missing what I think is one of the most important moments in US social history.

Last year when OWS came to fruition I never made it to Zuccotti Park — now renamed Liberty Park — because I didn’t have the money to get to NYC. And I regretted never getting to see the place where the shot heard round the world (the second shot that is) was “fired”. I wasn’t going to allow myself the same level of regret I felt when I missed the WTO so I booked my Megabus tickets early.

I asked my cousin to join me because he’s as angry with the state of the world as I am. Like many I know, he’s pissed but hasn’t done anything about his anger or about the economic climate we find ourselves in. Unlike me he has a job so he has to take time off which he did willingly because this time I gave him more than a two week notice of my intent to travel to another state to get my protest on. He accepted my invitation because he didn’t feel he was being a good steward for the future generations, that he has something to say, and because he says I inspire him.

There were a few things I had to explain like what to bring: a day pack with water, a hat, raincoat and sweatshirt, extra socks, cellphone charger, a couple small snacks, license, health insurance card, money, and an ATM card.* Then I told him what to leave at home: everything else he’d normally carry in his wallet. “You want to bring things that will suck to lose but you’re life won’t end if you do.” (I tend to over pack so feel free to disregard my advice here. Remember, whatever you bring you have to carry and as the day wears on, that pack gets heavier and heavier.)

We have to choose a place to meet if we get split up. Thousands of people will be pouring into NYC for the weekend though we’ll be getting there the day of #S17 (it’s written like that for Twitter purposes) and have a plan if one of us gets arrested though neither of us is planning on civil disobedience at an arrestable level. We also need to find a third person who will “worry” about us while in NYC if they don’t hear from us so I’m going to ask him to ask his cousin (not my cousin) who lives in Harlem. (I tend to over plan so feel free to disregard my advice here. I’m the kind of person who wants to be noticed if I go missing so I try to make connections beforehand otherwise I may end up at Guantanamo and no one knows it.)

Will we change the world? We already have! By bringing to the attention the economic disparages we’ve been living in we’ve started a conversation about inequality, climate change, foreclosure fraud, bank bailouts, GMOs, and the inequitable access to healthcare amongst so many other issues. If OWS had been a failure than Occupies would not have popped up across the globe. While we have been successful in bringing the issues to the forefront, now the real work starts: how to change the world. We can take a page out of Occupy Buffalo’s book who worked diligently with city officials to move city money out of JP Morgan and to a local bank or to continue to pressure corporations to remove themselves from ALEC.

So on #S17 I’ll be in NYC on the blockade at Wall Street, fighting against GMOs, and attending the Woman’s GA. Will I hold your hand in solidarity?

*Many of my fellow protesters will not have such things to bring because they lack insurance, money, and an ATM card. I recognize my privilege here.

Image credit

My causes

Every activist, even one as uncertain of the title as I am, has their causes. Here are a few of mine.

Libraries. It makes sense, as this has been my vocation for several years and I have a Master’s degree in the subject. Libraries are all about community and information. Everyone has access to the materials present in the building. Don’t have money for books? Hop on down, get a card, and almost anything on the shelves can leave with you. Lacking internet access? Sign up for some computer time and take care of what you need. Need to find a job? There’s internet, books on writing resumes and cover letters, and job postings on the community board. It’s the ultimate democratic source.

Real food. Back in 2009 I discovered tradition foods which has been a boon to my health. It’s very common for pagans to become vegetarian or vegan, but that diet does not work for me. I believe our ancestors knew what they were doing when it came to the foods they ate.

Heifer International. This is my favorite charity. The idea of my money going to fund people in need, becoming a long term help, and potentially spawning to help others, what more could someone want from a charity? Plus, the donations made can all contribute to a healthier environments. Donations of trees planted, bee hives when there are such problems of colony collapse, and grazing animals to help boost the land’s fertility are exactly what we should be doing to better the land.

Defenders of Wildlife. My other favorite charity. Predators are a vital part of ecosystems and need as much protection as any other animal.

Where do you put your energies for your activism?