(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!
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.
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.