Moral Monday Rally: A Pagan Perspective

Guest Contributor —  August 11, 2014 — 13 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

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  • Henry Buchy

    freedom from religion not freedom of religion…

  • Amanda

    My friend and I are from Durham and over the summer we attended every Moral Monday protest down in Raleigh. We also held a public Pagan ritual before every protest, right there at the Capital building. =) very magical, moving, and empowering experience!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Saul Alinsky, the pioneering community organizer, said, “Start where the people are at.” Where the people seem to be at, at the moment, is having protest rallies led in part by clergy. Starting there, the clear concern for non-Christians is that the clergy are all Christian. Therefore the next obvious step is to lobby the organizers for inclusion of non-Christian clergy, not just Pagans but other Abrahamic clergy as well. If you have an “in” with the organizers, you might start there. If you have an “in” with the local Jewish or Moslem communities (assuming there are any) that might be the place to start. It would be wise to approach it in a spirit of “include all” rather than “us versus them.”As to leaving our deities at the door, taking the steps outlined above should put you in closer contact with the clergy presently involved, and you might want to allow that opportunity to enlighten your opinions flourish. If these are the people most motivated to agitate for change, and their religion is the core of their motivation, you must decide if you actually prefer a less-motivated leadership cadre that meets an abstract goal. (I’m assuming they’re not agitating against other faiths.) If you find you are letting the best be the enemy of the good, you want to ponder that.There’s a concept in economics, “the second-best world.” One can describe a world that is best in some way (no tariffs, for example) but then deal with the world as it is and craft policies that approach that ideal as closely as possible in the real world.

    • David Pollard

      Baruch, OK if I quote you on the CUUPS Facebook page?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Sure. I am a UU Pagan. Thank you.

  • Melinda Gray

    I found it odd that this event only had Christian clergy. I live East of Raleigh a bit & have attended all the Raleigh events this year & about half of last year’s, it just so happened I was up near Asheville for the weekend & was able to attend the Aug 4th event in Asheville.

    The Raleigh Moral Monday protests typically include representatives of non-Christian clergy among the speakers. Granted, they have yet to include non-Abrahamic faith groups, but from what I have seen, the leaders are trying to be inclusive.

    I would be interested to hear if other Religious leaders have been turned away from involvement due to being from a non-Abrahamic faith group.

    I am a person of faith (I attend with my ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ sign) and have now attended protests in the company of atheists, pagans, UUs & Christians. I do believe that the only effective way to fight the right wing extremists is with a faith based movement. There are simply too many people in NC that vote Republican because of the mistaken belief that the Republican party is the Godly party. It is the only way to sway those voters.

    But I too, strongly believe in the separation of church & state and it is a personal struggle for me to use religion to promote a political agenda. But I cannot NOT participate. I am so horrified over our legislature & at least participating in the protests is something I can do.

    Please don’t let the faith aspect keep you from being involved. If we who are all working towards these common goals become divided, the extremists win. And know that at least, the chick with the red & blue ‘love thy neighbor’ sign wants to protest side by side with you for the good of NC.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Of course the more serious question is are they really accomplishing anything or being just more “There they go again,” comedy fodder?

  • *Diuvei

    I experienced the same mixed feelings at the first Mountain Moral Monday rally last year, and left once the gospel singing got too grating. But I managed to get in the newspaper’s front-page photo of the rally wearing a “Wtiches of Coven Oldenwilde” T-shirt! As a longtime Asheville activist, I’ve worked with a lot of the folks involved in this, and I know none of them intend to be exclusive; I don’t sense that Rev. Barber is either. I think they would welcome overt Pagan involvement, and I seriously considered jumping in myself. However, I think it would just gild the lily, since few NC Pagans need to be convinced to vote these radical reactionaries out of Raleigh, whereas lots of Baptists do. And as visible as rallies are, speaking at one is not nearly as potent and effective, in my experience, as getting involved in citizen activism such as speaking out at public hearings, publishing op-ed pieces, etc. in ways that apply Pagan principles to social/political problems, even when not “labeled” as such. (E.g., the “triple bottom line”; see http://mountainx.com/opinion/041713coming-into-focus/.)

  • MaryAnn

    I was there, too, Star, and I thought it was an amazing rally! It was inspirational, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of many people from varied backgrounds and interests coming together for change. Yes, it was organized by Christian ministers, but the master of ceremonies, Lisa Bovee-Kemper, is Associate Minister at the Asheville Unitarian Universalist Church, which is not Christian, but embraces all religions. And while Rev. Barber of the NAACP is indeed a Christian minister, he called out for unity of all peoples regardless of religion. Two things stand out to me as I read your statement: I know the Pagan Community in Asheville is very active, but the fact of the matter is that it was Christians who took the steps to make this and other North Carolina rallies happen. And considering the population of North Carolina, Christians will be heard far easier than would Pagans. I may not like that, but I have to acknowledge that it is so.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Hope this is the first of many articles by Star! Thanks for sharing. My preference is no religion at civic events, but, if there is going to be religious activity, then I think Pagans should speak up and demand to be included. It sometimes helps people decide that they really didn’t need all that religious stuff, anyways.

  • Greybeard Wise

    I agree with you in part. Religion does not belong in politics in the US, not Christian, and not Pagan..

  • Sparks13

    Whoa. Did anyone explain to these withering old white men that protest is one of those freedom of speech things specifically granted to us all? Your boss may fire you for what you say, but the gubmint can’t arrest you unless you’re fomenting violence, rebellion, etc. Saying ‘we ain’t voting for your sorry asses anymore’ doesn’t qualify.