Author Archives: Literata

About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan who studies theaology and enjoys developing poetry and rituals. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mandragora and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. She also blogs at Forging Futures and writes for her own site, Works of Literata, . When she's not leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot or communing with nature, she works on her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and four cats. Please note that everything Literata writes here is solely her own personal opinion. It does not represent the position of any organization with which she is affiliated.

Keeping cool

How do we keep our cool as activists? I’m thinking about this not only in terms of keeping our cool in the moment – when directly confronted with something inherently wrong – but long-term. We talk about recharging and doing self-care and avoiding burnout, and all of those are vitally important, but I also mean something more: how do we keep going when there isn’t an action to do, or when the very necessary action we have to do is waiting?

It’s times like Litha that make me need to ground. (Grounding and centering are of course part of the answer, but not all of it, I think.) It’s days like these midsummer ones when I long to be outdoors, even if the heat and the air pollution aren’t really good for me, and I have to stop myself and put on sunscreen and just generally exercise so much more restraint than I would like. (Explain to me again why I can’t be topless on my own balcony? Never mind.) The energy of these times is pulling me up and out and into action. But sometimes that’s not what I need to do.

I was talking with another Witch about how frustrating it is that when we are confronted with what seems like clear-cut discrimination, the first thing you have to do is wait. You keep your cool in that moment, and you document, and you ask firmly and politely, and you document the responses. You don’t start shouting about the Constitution and firing off curses even if that’s really what you want to do. You don’t crawl away resigned, even if you are shaking a little bit out of shock, even if that’s what a lifetime of being a woman tells you to do. You begin to work the system, gathering allies and mounting a response, and then you wait.

And you wait for a long time. Consulting experts takes time – even finding the right people to consult about something can be a significant challenge. (Your cousin’s niece’s friend who worked at Starbucks by the law library for six months, or anyone else you encounter on the Internet, is probably not the expert you need.) Once you find them, the experts go to work, and you wait some more. You remind yourself that all your other options remain available, but once you get aggressive, you can’t go back, at least not easily. You listen to the advice of the experts, and you wait. Somehow, you sustain yourself.

I’m writing here from the perspective of the issue that I went through trying to get my ordination recognized, but I think the same issues arise in a lot of other activist work. Even when it is not so purely personal, there is a ton of waiting involved. I know I’m waiting right now to hear the Supreme Court decision about reproductive health care requirements in the ACA. That case was heard in March, and the oral arguments were just the latest step in a long line of developments. Now we wait.

Experiences like this are challenging me to develop a more nuanced view of activism. It seems like activism should be all fire – acting and making changes in the world. Litha should be high time for activism. But just as I am learning that I need to ground at Litha, I am learning that activism isn’t all about catching fire. As often as not, the fire will catch you. It does that. The challenge is learning how to channel it, how to direct it, and maintain it, banked and smoldering on a gray and rainy day of waiting.

I am only beginning to come up with my own approaches to this problem. One of them is everyday activism, trying to make better choices on an ongoing basis, in the hopes of contributing to gradual change. This approach is necessarily limited; I do not fall into the trap of believing that consumer choices alone will motivate the necessary developments, even in areas where my consumer choices can make a difference. At the same time, I need to focus on my personal work, and stay connected both to my everyday and to the bigger picture, so seeing my choices in both contexts is helpful.

Another approach is magic. The emotion that develops while waiting can be powerful fuel for magical energy, if I can direct it and not be overwhelmed by it. Gathering up and directing that emotion into energy for change is a powerful experience, and it is not limited to a single time and place; I can do magic for my purposes many times while waiting, and it can be a fruitful outlet.

I would love to hear about your own strategies for “keeping cool” in this sense. What I notice about the two approaches I have mentioned is that both are ways of nurturing hope. Concentrating on my smaller individual choices helps me hope. Doing magic can change emotions of frustration, anger, and even fear into energy that sustains my hope for a different outcome. I think that’s the underlying message that I’m learning about sustaining activism and keeping cool: when I’m not acting, I’m hoping.

Conservative poll-watching initiative depicts trans person as cartoon of voter fraud

I planned to write a post today about the importance of taking our Pagan values into our voting. But I just got my hands on a copy of the manual used by True the Vote, a conservative organization that “trains” citizens to be poll watchers, and I’m too shocked and furious to write what I originally planned. There’s big scare quotes around the word “trains” there because multiple reports have covered how True the Vote’s actions look for all the world like an organized campaign to suppress non-existent voter fraud that will actually prevent valid voting by less-privileged groups, especially minorities. Now ProgressVA has released a copy of True the Vote’s manual for VA. Have a look at one of the images on the cover:

The image shows a person with facial hair and obvious body hair and an anchor tattoo on one arm, wearing a dress and carrying a purse. On the cover of the ebook, this appears under the words “Prevent voter fraud!”

This is True the Vote’s depiction of voter fraud.

I think their image of “fraud” is a trans person.

There are two images nearby of a voter ID card with a female-appearing image and the name “Mary Jane James” and a masculine-appearing image with the name “John James.” I’m not sure whether those images are supposed to be related to this offensive cartoon or not. There are also images of two other people, both smiling, and my gut reaction is that they’re meant to be images of the “good guys” or “real voters.” The person-with-hair-in-a-dress is the only discordant image on the cover, and it’s the one accompanied by a slogan about fraud, while the other tag lines are all about “free and fair elections” and the like.

True the Vote is not-so-subtly training its “election observers” to challenge trans people.

Voter rights proponents have argued extensively that in-person voter fraud is basically non-existent, and in the legal challenge to the Pennsylvania voter ID law, proponents of the law agreed that the problem they claim to be trying to prevent is a non-issue. On the other hand, trans rights organizations have extensively documented harassment or problems resulting from inaccurate documentation and identification which does not accurately reflect a person’s gender. In this election season, with the glut of new laws about ID, tens of thousands of trans voters may be disenfranchised.

It’s only adding insult to injury for a conservative group like True the Vote to use this as its stereotype of “fraud.” True the Vote specifically encourages its “election observers” to watch for mismatches with voters’ IDs and registration records, and to challenge voters in states – like Virginia – where such challenges on Election Day are legal. Their purpose is to prevent people from voting. Even when they’re not successful and a trans person manages to vote, it’s extremely galling to think about the added stress and strain trans people go through when confronted by True the Vote’s “observers,” forcing them to explain – again – their personal situation, including intimate details, to perfect strangers, in public, while trying to reach some unstated standard of being a “real” person – man or woman – in order to participate in this most fundamental part of being a citizen of a democracy.

Pagans tend to be more accepting of trans people than the average population. We’re far from perfect in this area, as recent controversies attest, but I would argue that we have a better track record than many groups. Those controversies and other situations have led to ongoing discussion in our community about these issues, discussion that often actively seeks out trans voices. We have religious reasons to understand gender a little differently – many, if not most, pantheons that we revere have deities or powers who are trans, gender-indeterminate, or gender-bending. As we continue those dialogues and, we need to continue that trend into the area of political activism to make sure that everyone – trans and cis alike – has an equal voice in our political process.

With the election just days away, there’s not much we can do to change these laws – either the restrictive voter ID laws or the state-by-state patchwork of regulations that make it difficult for trans people to have accurate documentation. We can and should stay alert at the polls ourselves, as private citizens. If you see voter intimidation going on, make a note of it. You may not be able to stop it – don’t get yourself thrown out of the polling place, and don’t become the equally obstructive political inverse of interfering busybodies like True the Vote “monitors.” But you can tell people what you see. When this happens, we need to know about it, and we need to get the word out so that we can begin to change things for the next election cycle.

Yes, we need to go vote. We need to stay aware of what’s going on in our voting process, too. And I think we need to cast our votes with an awareness of how those votes will shape the very ability of others to cast their own votes in the future. Will we elect officials who will continue to tighten requirements and foster an environment of intimidation? Or will we vote for officials who will try to make polling open and accessible to all people?

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.

Tell your senator: ban high-capacity clips

Like everyone else, I am saddened and appalled by the spate of violent shootings in the last month. Although we don’t know all the details yet about these occurrences, initial reports indicate that the lax gun laws in this country contributed to worsening the impact of these incidents, particularly the shooting in Aurora, Colorado where multiple weapons were used, including an assault weapon with an extremely high-capacity magazine.

Activism against gun violence is an uphill battle. Pro-gun organizations, especially the NRA, use scare tactics to generate huge amounts of financial support which they use with great effect to make legislators afraid of supporting even modest improvements in laws to close loopholes or remove military-style assault weapons from civilian markets.

This has been done in the past: from 1994 to 2004 a federal law banned the manufacture of certain kinds of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. If that law had not been allowed to expire, it is very likely that the shootings in Tucson, Arizona and Aurora, Colorado would not have had such a high toll of wounded and injured. In particular, the shooter in Tucson was wrestled to the ground by citizens when he stopped to reload. If he had had to stop to reload sooner, fewer people would have been hurt.

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines. I urge you all to write or call your legislators – especially your senators – to urge them to support Sen. Lautenberg’s bill. Ask them to cosponsor it and to pledge to work to make sure that it reaches the floor for a vote.

If you want to get more involved, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is a well-respected institution that has played a key role in advocating for responsible, common-sense legislation that works to reduce gun violence without limiting the rights of law-abiding civilians to keep and use weapons for legitimate purposes. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is also a strong organization that pushes for reasonable restrictions. Check out these sites and at least educate yourself.

Limiting high-capacity magazines is only one step. Another critical problem is the gun-show loophole which allows anyone to buy weapons from unlicensed dealers without a background check. This loophole was what allowed the shooters at Columbine to acquire the weapons they used. An overwhelming majority of both NRA members and gun owners who are not NRA members support closing this loophole, yet Congress continues not to act.

We desperately need to convince our legislators that they have the support of their constituents in taking these common-sense steps to reduce gun violence.

The sharp end of the pen

I’m honored that Michelle has invited me to participate, especially since I’m not generally the kind of activist who is out there on the front lines. I tend to do my activism with a keyboard or a pen, spreading the word, raising awareness, and writing my legislators. That may not be as exciting as marching and rallying, but I hope to use it as a vital and integrated part of activism, so that’s most of what I’ll be doing here at Pagan Activist.

I hope to present a mix of suggestions for ways you can use your words to act in accord with your values and intent. Being able to explain, clearly and simply, why you take a particular position can sway the public discourse. The more specialized communication of writing to your legislators (or better yet calling them) can have more impact than some people realize, especially if you are able to explain your concerns effectively.

For example, at one point a bill was under consideration in my state legislature that had an innocuous-sounding message about ensuring people’s right to pray, including in schools. As civil rights organizations pointed out, it seemed to be aimed at re-introducing official school prayers, including ones led by teachers. I called my legislator’s office and asked how the legislator would feel if I was teaching his child and opened my class with an invocation of Kali.

The staffer who took my call was taking frantic notes. I could tell that no one – no one at all – had raised this point, or had considered that “religion” doesn’t just mean “Christianity.” Something similar probably happened with a Louisiana legislator who was recently amazed to discover that “religious schools” didn’t just mean Christian schools.

Explaining the experience of a minority to the majority in such a way that it communicates the visceral impact of an infringement of rights can make a world of difference.

Some of my posts may be suggestions to write your legislators; others may be examples that you can use to help discuss and explain rights to other people. I’m sure some will take forms that I can’t predict.  Some will be about Pagan issues, others about women’s rights, social justice and issues of privilege, and other areas I work with. Throughout, this is my goal: to help us all find effective ways to put our words to work.

So mote it be!