Code Pink Makes Some See Red

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 12, 2008 — 7 Comments

There has been a conservative news field-day over a themed protest held by anti-war activist group Code Pink in Berkeley last Friday. The theme? Witchcraft against the war.

“In a call to activists on the Web, the antiwar group appealed to “witches, crones and sirens” to come to the center to “cast spells, weave magic, invoke the foremothers, share wisdom, lead rituals to banish war and violence and bring peace” … Fox News cameras, which were there to capture the showdown between the Code Pink’s theatrical coven and counterprotesters from the pro-military group Move America Forward, which had vowed to stage a “witch hunt” in response to Code Pink’s eye-of-newt action.”

Some Pagans, most notably Chas Clifton and Anne Hill, took exception to activists appropriating Pagan religion to create a spectacle so they can get more media coverage.

“…they pick the stereotype green-faced Halloween witch instead. They parody our religion for their futile cause. Somehow I don’t feel the compliment. One ex-military Pagan wrote to conservative columnist Michelle Malkin to say he was embarrassed by Code Pink too. And that is the thing about today’s Pagans: for every lefty pacifist there is one (or probably more) military Pagan.”

Which comes to the point that modern Paganism is a religious movement, not a political one. There is no idealogical entrance exam to be a polytheist (or pantheist, or duotheist). Diversity of thought is a hallmark of Pagan existence, and attempts to politicize our movement, for whatever end, are ultimately doomed to failure and marginalization. Code Pink sought to make media waves by sensationalizing Pagan practice, but may have created a magic not of their choosing.

“Ironically, it’s actually helped us by putting our name out. We’re now well known. And people know who we are, and where we are, and they come in to talk to us about enlisting. They’ve gotten us the publicity that we could’ve never afforded to pay for ourselves,” Wheatcroft told FOXNews.com. “Just in the last three weeks, 10 people came in looking to apply, looking to become Marine officers, and that’s much higher than normal,” he said.”

Meanwhile, the Pagan community in Berkeley held their annual Pagan Festival and Parade. An event that didn’t ignite the newswires, but was possibly more accurate in portraying our shared goals and values.

“People from all walks of life joined in the fun Saturday at the 7th Annual Pagan Festival and Parade. It was a showing of acceptance and celebration across all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and faith traditions at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The event, organized by the Pagan Alliance, brought out a large crowd under this year’s theme, “We are Change.” The mission of the Pagan Alliance is to promote acceptance of faith and to work for justice. The aim of the event was to foster change, connect communities and promote spiritual diversity. Organizers said they also wanted to dispel common misconceptions that paganism is about devil worship.”

Not to sermonize, but modern Pagan faiths embrace both the pacifist and the soldier (not to mention all the people between those two poles). Our diversity and commitment to a personal connection to the gods makes any attempt to codify a single and universal “Pagan politics” frustrating at best, and dangerously fractious at worst. Media feeding-frenzies like this may help Code Pink in the short-term, but can possibly damage outreach and dialog efforts by modern Pagans in the longer term. As Pagan faiths head into the future, we will have to find a way to avoid polarizing our movement into “right” and “left” camps, and maintain the common ground needed to advance rights and privileges for us all.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Lizz

    “Diversity of thought is a hallmark of Pagan existence, and attempts to politicize our movement, for whatever end, are ultimately doomed to failure and marginalization.”Very well said. Unfortunately, few religions are free from being stereotyped, even amongst its members. In fact, few types of anything are really free from assumptions.

  • Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    A key phrase here might be “modern Pagan faiths” with an emphasis on plurality. There are plenty out there, with a range of ideas on questions of violence and defense in general or when applied to specific wars in particular. A universal party line is a bad idea. Contemporary Paganismsare brand new religions in dramatic flux, and “Pagan” already constitutes an umbrella term with broad and divergent (sometimes irreconciable) beliefs and allegiances.Orientation to war is certainly not the only Pagan irreconcilable.It’s already way too late to avoid the politicization of Pagan religion. Or in the US, religion per se. Religous and cultural choices are de facto political actions. The personal, especially the religious, is still political. Paganism is structurally set up to amplify, not challenge, that reality.

  • Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    I think I can express my intention more clearly by saying: religion is not the place to ask folk to put aside ethics for the sake of unity. Unity, yes–as much as possible–but not at the price of uniformity and not at the expense of ethics.When it comes to war, the central questions include ecology and human life. Pink hats on non-witches might be a bad idea, but authentically Pagan groups have a right to define themselves and take public stands as religious organizations. It is more important that authentic Pagan diversity be preserved, and a homogenous “all included” stance risks silencing the best (on all sides) in favor of middling self-protection or social acceptance.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Copper,”I think I can express my intention more clearly by saying: religion is not the place to ask folk to put aside ethics for the sake of unity. Unity, yes–as much as possible–but not at the price of uniformity and not at the expense of ethics.”I’m all for Pagans being political, and I’m certainly against false notions of unity, but I’m not for Paganism being used as a prop or media grabbing tool (no matter how much I may or may not agree with the cause).

  • Lonnie

    I consider myself very active in politics (locally at least), and it is very hard if not impossible to seperate that from my religious identity as a Pagan. However, I completely agree that one’s faith shouldn’t be used as a mere prop to gather media attention. If we do that, then we’re no better than the right wing fundementalists who aim to establish a theocracy. An exception to that is when the poliical point is about the faith itself. For example, I had no problem using our group’s pagan credentials to challenge Falwell but I’d never do that for an environmental cause. Besides, I think it is far more powerful for people to see me as a Pagan who is an environmentalist than merely someone who is an environmentalist because he is Pagan.I would take issue that Paganism isn’t inherently political. I once would say that party lines weren’t important, but after the second Bush election my opinion changed on that. When a party directly challenges a faith’s right to exist, as the Republicans have done, then I can no longer pretend that my faith is politically indifferent to party lines. I can respect Pagans who wish to reform the Republican party from the inside, but support of the Republican status quo constitutes either extreme ignorance, or betrayal of the Pagan community. As Pagans we’re all welcome to believe whatever we like, but I’m not ready to “play nice” with supporters of the Bush Administration, nor be so open-minded that my brain falls out.

  • Carol Maltby

    I’d caution against making this a bigger deal than it already has been. Blogging theatre is just as much about making symbolic gestures and noise as any street protest. The puppets are just smaller, and in a different medium than papier mache.A bit of context might help. The Marine recruiting station in Berkeley (a first in that city, I believe) has been there for little over a year. They do not have the support of the Berkeley City Council or many residents, and the Council have given Code Pink a dedicated parking spot in front of the office. In choosing to locate their office close to the high school and university, the Marines may have deliberately picked a provocative location. They seem to be satisfied that the protesting has actually suited their needs.Code Pink has been protesting there every weekend, and many week days, for over 6 monthes. They’ve often held themed protests, the theme in question being just one of them. Conservative activists like Malkin and Morgan hold themed protests in return, in that age-old dance where “Look at ME! Listen to ME!” is the primary battle.It’s not a “witch war,” and with all the institutionalized stereotypes of all sorts that truly oppress people, an ephemeral street theatrepiece is truly not worth giving much time and energy to.Republican protesters against Code Pink have used salt and brooms in their own co-optation of our imagery. Presumably none of them are witches (unlike some Code Pink members), so let’s spread the outrage (or at least blustery grumbling) evenly.

  • Lonnie

    Hey Carol, thanks for chiming in and adding some context to the situation. You make a good point, and besides this is from Fox, so I suspect the “outrage” is perhaps a bit overstated anyway… Basically, they were probably lacking in news stories that night and thought it’d be a good filler in their continued spirit of poking fun at liberals. (Wow, war protesters in Berkeley? Shocking!)