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.
Firstly, very sorry for being a day late! Despite a reminder from our fearless leader, my own phone alarms, and reminder emails, I happily finished my work day yesterday, watched a documentary, and then went to bed only thereafter remembering that it was “my” Monday to post here. Could I have prepared the post and scheduled it to go live? Sure, but I never know what I want to write about until much closer to the due date. But, I digress.
So, an election happened and it didn’t really work out for the Democrats on the tickets. Hell, in my own very blue state of Massachusetts, we couldn’t even be bothered to elect the Democratic candidate for governor, Martha Coakley. There’s all sorts of reasons why this was the case: gerrymandered districts, seats won in 2008 in conservative areas of the country that are, perhaps, only swinging back to their more usual voting patterns, the perceived incompetence of the federal government, and more.
But, I think there’s another reason, one that almost caused me to stay home last Tuesday despite my passion for all things politics: the Democrats ran away from their own accomplishments. Hell, some wouldn’t even admit to voting for Obama or supporting the Affordable Care Act, arguably one of the most influential pieces of legislation in the last few decades, flawed though it may be.
The kicker is, it’s not the the country wasn’t feeling rather progressive on Tuesday, we just didn’t feel like the Democrats could do anything for us. Rachel Maddow talks about a variety of ways that voters in the country were voting for progressive ballot measures (the first four minutes deal with a California mayoral race; skip to 4:25 for more national topics):
To sum up, (in case you don’t want to watch the video):
Increasing the minimum wage was approved in Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, and South Dakotah.
Personhood — a radical anti-abortion measure that would also ban common forms of birth control — lost in Colorado and South Dakota.
Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Paid sick leave measures passed state-wide in Massachusetts and locally in Oakland, CA; Trenton, NJ; and Montclair, NJ.
The first female governor was elected in Rhode Island.
Washington state voted in favor of background checks for gun purchases closing, if I understand the measure correctly, the loophole allowing you to get around such checks at gun shows.
Speaking of guns, gun control championing governors in Colorado and Connecticut both won re-election over vociferous (and financial) pressure from the NRA.
And on and on. That list is only about the first two thirds of the video so there’s some more in there, but perhaps this tweet from Ben Casselman at fivethirtyeight.com says it best:
So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. Ok then.
So if voters in diverse places like California, Colorado, South Dakota, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Massachusetts could all come together to vote for progressive and liberal ballot measures, what’s up with all the success for conservative candidates?
In short, I maintain that too many democrats tried to move too far away from their own positions in an effort to win conservative voters (that they were unlikely to win anyway) that they actually lost a bunch of us liberal types.
When Obama was on the ballot in 2008, it was the first campaign for which I went door-to-door to talk to voters. I drove with others from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois over to the Quad Cities in Iowa where I met up with campaign staffers, was quickly trained, and sent out to talk to the locals. It was snowing, about 30º F (-1º C), and we got caught in a massive snow storm on the way home. So massive that I was watching for each mile marker so that, should we lose control and crash as so many other motorists had, I’d know roughly where we were when we called for help. Despite all that, it was a great time and I truly felt that I was a part of something grand.
I haven’t felt that again since. Maybe it’s the intransigent opposition stridently determined to ensure that nothing with a hint of progressiveness gets passed through Congress that’s just beaten Democratic candidates into submission, but that doesn’t hold water when you look at the information above.
Consider the reelection of governors Hickenlooper and Malloy in Colorado and Connecticut, respectively. Sure, they were incumbents and incumbents are difficult to unseat, but they were facing massive headwinds because of their support for gun control. And, remember, this support existed only because of mass shootings that have taken place in those states in recent years. Despite that headwind, they stood for what they thought was right, and I would have felt honored to go to the polls and cast a vote for them.
Then, look at democratic senatorial candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes who was the opponent of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Asked if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Grimes wouldn’t even answer the question. She fell over her own two feet to avoid looking like a liberal progressive even though her prior statements in opposing the defunding of Obamacare, in favor of pro-choice measures within her state, and measures to increase child care for employees, equal pay for females, and an increase to the federal minimum wage. From this outsider’s perspective, she spent so long trying to curry favor with conservatives, that she forgot to stand up and share everyone else what it was that she actually stood for!
I talk a lot about politics. I am by no means an expert, but I consider myself to be well informed not only locally but nationally and, to a lesser extent, internationally. And what this progressive liberal can’t understand is why so many liberal candidates don’t have the courage of their convictions. Sure, we might still lose, but I’d rather lose standing for something than not.
Don’t worry; this isn’t one of those posts where I explain why I’ve decided to convert. I attended Mass for as simple reason: I was visiting my in-laws and they, and my partner, are Catholic. Regardless, something struck me as very timely for our American experience this fall in relation to the gospel reading and our midterm elections.
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.
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.
Due to unavoidable commitments both this weekend and last, I was unable to put together anything to share with you all here today. Instead, I’ll make a recommendation: if you’re not watching or listening to Moyers & Company, now is the time to start.