Tag Archives: activism

Sacred Vision

sacred-purpose-600x400I’ve been writing for Pagan Activist for almost two years, and in that time I’ve barely mentioned Paganism, other than to say that my awe at the cycles of life and death has informed the way I look at Gaia, Demeter, Persephone, and Artemis.

That’s because I’ve always been suspicious of religious ethics. An obvious reason is that it’s impossible to prove which, if any, gods are the right ones, so how can we be sure which religious ethics to follow? But Socrates explained the deeper reason better than I can.
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Harrassment, Bigotry, Safety Policies, and Changing Culture

4333805_xxl2It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.

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Margot Adler Day & Music for Activism

Margot Adler, author and NPR correspondent

Today is Margot Adler Day. It is her birthday (1946). She passed from this realm in 2014. The Firefly House in Washington, DC started this celebration of her life, this remembrance, as a means to not only remember Margot the person, but to remember all the good works that she helped bring about into this world. Not just her contributions to the written lexicon that is in the “you must read” section of Pagan libraries, but her contributions to activism – Pagan, environmental, political. Continue reading

Racism, Rape Culture, and Pagan Events

3210478_xl–Shauna Aura Knight

Having just taught workshops at three of the big four Pagan conferences, and having attended a number of large Pagan festivals, I wanted to offer a bit of context for how some of these larger events have handled issues of social justice. While these events don’t represent the entire Pagan community, they do reflect issues and trends that ripple out to Pagans across the globe.

I’ve noticed a definite contrast in how specific events/communities are dealing with issues of racism, rape culture, harassment, cultural appropriation, transphobia, and other related issues. Some communities and events are actively embracing dialogue, and others don’t address these issues at all.

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Detail Oriented Activism

As the weather changes here in New England and the feet of snow dropped on us this Winter begins to melt, the thoughts of many may turn toward causes that have lain dormant, hibernating through the cold months or only visible online as we huddled for warmth inside.

With Spring likely comes new Moral Monday protests.  And, as the 2016 campaign season begins, there will likely be fuel from both sides of the aisle to feed the flames of activism.  Even events of these past few months are likely to result in some work, for example the budgets by various governors slash eduction funding in their state which hits close to home considering I work in higher education within one of them, not to mention the continuing work that people are doing throughout the nation regarding race and law enforcement.

As we begin to get involved, don’t forget that the devil’s in the details.  When one works to fight authority, authority fights back, and it does so with all the bureaucratic might at its disposal.  To deal with that requires that at least some part of your organization work within the system.

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Racism and Activism at Pantheacon 2015

FB_IMG_1424196654259–by Shauna Aura Knight

Yesterday Pantheacon ended. Pantheacon is the largest Pagan conference and has almost 3,000 attendees and takes place in San Jose every year. I’m posting this a day late because I’ve been at the conference and wanted to write about activism within the Pagan community and specifically on activism-related issues that come up at Pantheacon.

Several years ago, Pantheacon was rocked by the exclusion of transgender women from one of the women’s rituals, and that controversy rippled out (and is still rippling) across the broader Pagan community.

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

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I’m a Racist

iStock_000001291278XSmall–Shauna Aura Knight

Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a racist. No, not one of the ones clearly defined by the pointy hats and white robes. And not one of the racists clearly identified by hateful invective.

In fact, I’m in some ways the more dangerous kind of racist; or at least, I was. Once upon a time, I was the kind of racist who didn’t realize how bigoted I was. I still struggle with my own blind spots and how much this impacts my thoughts and actions on a daily basis.

How did I come to be this way? This kind of racism is systemic. It’s ambient. If you’re raised in it, you can’t see it any more than you can see the air you breathe. But just because you can’t see the air doesn’t mean you aren’t breathing it in.

I used to believe I lived in a post-racial society, that I was “color blind.” And then…I used to believe that Pagans couldn’t be racist. Yet within the broader Pagan communities, we do unfortunately have problems with racism just like the dominant culture does.

But what do we do about it? Because #BlackLivesMatter .

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Pagan Activist Starter Kit

(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.

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The Wisdom in Anger

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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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.