Archives For Democratic Party

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

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President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. [...] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.’”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

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Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not.

Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo. No one will be forced to confront, as Brian Jay Stanley was, their own prejudices or assumptions.

“Before college I was a skeptic and rationalist toward every religion except my own, Christianity. Like most of humanity, I had believed the religion I’d heard first, and on its authority dismissed all the religions I’d heard second. Seeing Muslims wearing turbans or Hindus bindis, I thought the oddity of their customs proved the error of their beliefs. Studying all faiths in one class in college, however, I saw my religion from the outside and realized that the rites of my Sundays — warbling choirs and smocked babies dipped in silver fonts and bread as the body of Christ — were as curious as what I had disparaged as myths. In class discussions I sometimes unwittingly revealed assumptions that I thought were axioms, and would read surprise in the eyes of a Hare Krishna or Bahai. My notion of normal was an accident of my birth and upbringing. Whomever I saw as strange saw me as strange. I had raised a doubtful brow at Buddhists bowing to golden statues, even as I prayed weekly to a crucified first-century Jew, not realizing that either all religions are bizarre or none is.”

As Jeffrey Weiss at RealClearReligion notes, the slow demographic shift away from institutional faiths, the rise of “nones,” those claiming to particular religion, have yet to be eagerly courted by either party, particularly the Republicans.

“Where religion came up in Tampa last week, at least among the best-known and prime-time speakers, it was mostly in reference to a fairly specific notion of God. The speakers used language most familiar to a particular reading of Christianity. To be fair, much of the language would also have been familiar in the mid-1700s, as America’s founders crafted their exquisite balance of freedoms and responsibilities. But today, as many as one American in five belongs to the religious “Nones,” depending on the polls you read. That’s a huge leap from a couple of decades ago. And members of this group are far more likely to describe themselves as political independents than people who say they ascribe to any particular religion. They may have been more turned off than inspired by the way the Republicans wove religion and politics together.”

This isn’t a uniquely Republican problem, as the Democrats aren’t exactly eager to give non-Christians a prime-time voice. Both seek to keep Christians in their base, while hoping their policy stances will appeal to non-Christians who will overlook all the monotheistic God talk. Change, it seems, happens in frustratingly small increments. No one is forced to deal with people who don’t have the slightest similarity to us,” even within the “big tent” of our national parties, and that’s a shame. That said, CNN believes the Democratic convention will be less “faith-y” (ie less Christian) than four years ago, but it’s all speculation at this point.

Happening in the shadow of the “values voter” election of 2004, the 2008 Democratic convention was something of a faith fest, especially when it came to evangelicals. Convention roles went to the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megapastor from Florida, and best-selling Christian author Don Miller. This year, some religious activists are quietly wondering if the convention will come off as more secular. Hunter, who remains close to Obama, is skipping Charlotte. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” he told us. “My relationship with the president is pastoral and not political.”

Let me be clear, this is not a “both parties are the same” argument, I think there are clear and definable differences in policy between the Democrats and Republicans. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to discern where their interests lie in those matters, as The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates. However, both parties do have a “religion” problem, and it isn’t the problem of appealing to Christians of various inclinations.

The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Both parties need to embrace the “communion of strangers,” and realize that pluralism is the core value regarding religion in America. Both parties need to either embrace the full tapestry of faith in their conventions, or they need to stop pandering to religious groups entirely. That isn’t so strange a notion, as it wasn’t until our modern era that faith became so politicized that we injected it into the very fabric of partisan politics. Of course, it used to be a given that we were all Christians, and that all “others” lived here by our sufferance. Still, one direction or another needs to be taken, or the parties will soon find themselves catering to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie until it will a case of change or die. My hope is that secularism can stop being a dirty word, and we can simply get down to the business of rationally hashing out our policy differences without invoking divine backing to bolster an argument. If not now, then soon.

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District, Democratic candidate Dr. Manan Trivedi is facing off against Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach this November. While Gerlach has weathered tough political challenges in the past, PA’s Sixth District is notoriously competitive, and it isn’t outside of the realms of possibility for Trivedi to pull an upset, even in this Republican-leaning electoral climate. So why am I covering this particular horse-race? Because if Trivedi pulled an upset, he’d be the first-ever Hindu (“That’s what I put on my dog tags when I was in the Navy.”) congressman to be elected to office. This is significant, because while Indian-Americans have made great political advances in recent years, the unspoken “religion barrier” has remained very real.

“The extra attention carries both positive and negative implications for members of minority faiths, said Suhag Shukla, managing director and legal counsel for the Hindu American Foundation. “I think it sends a mixed sense of hope to young people in the Indian-American community that while we may have, as a society, gotten somewhat over the race barrier, the religion barrier is still there,” she said. At least seven other Indian-Americans are running for Congress or statewide office this year, many of whom openly embrace Sikhism, Hinduism or other Indian religions.”

While Trivedi has maintained that “issues are much more important” than what his religion is, his campaign claims that his Hinduism and Indian background have been used as a tool against him by his opponent. Most recently, Gerlach alleged that Trivedi was playing the “race card” by seeking donations from the Indian-American community. Trivedi responded, slamming Gerlach’s comments.

“These are hardworking American who pay their taxes and contribute to society.  Congressman Gerlach’s campaign is saying that somehow they aren’t good enough to participate in our democracy.  Like many Americans I am so proud of my heritage and grateful for all of the support I’ve received and believe absolutely no one, for any reason, should ever feel shut out of the democratic process.”

Trivedi is part of a record wave of Indian-American candidates this election cycle, and religious and racial issues keep coming up. While the Indian-American candidates refuse to say that their religious differences have been a hindrance, outside Hindu observers are more frank. Vidya Pradhan of India Currents magazine says that candidates like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley “felt that not being a Christian would hurt them.” Hindu American Foundation co-founder Aseem Shukla says that there is a religious litmus test for high office in America, one that sends an unhealthy message to religious minorities in the United States.

“The Indian American community may be politically mature enough to realize that Indian Americans in high office necessarily serve their constituency and not the ethnic community from whence they came. But the need to “prove” religious fidelity can be unnerving. In 2007, when 358 Christian, Jewish and Muslim members of the U.S. House passed a non-binding resolution recognizing the historical significance of the Hindu and Sikh festival of Diwali, Jindal, then a member of the House, was one of only a handful of legislators that publicly abstained.

Jindal and Haley, as brilliant and dynamic trailblazers, have thrown open the doors to political office, laying waste to minefields of ethnic slurs and perverse allegations that naysayers put in their way. Race is not an impediment to high office, and that is something to celebrate, no doubt. But in their public remonstrations of their parent’s faiths, Jindal and Haley tell well over three million Hindu and Sikh Americans that their time has not yet come as people of faith. And in their absolute denial of their religious heritage, they deny something far greater: a society that privileges pluralism, that no one religion has the monopoly on Truth, and that Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Pagans, agnostics and atheists may invest differently towards the afterlife, but can live in this life with all of the humanity, generosity and yes, frailty of any of those that presume to lead our states or nation today.”

If America is to live up to its promise, it needs to reflect the pluralism and diversity of its citizens. Eventually, an openly Hindu, Jain, or Sikh candidate will overcome the obstacles to election, and it could be Dr. Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania, or Dr. Ami Bera in California. If either, or even both, were elected they would join Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Hank Johnson of Georgia, who became the first two Buddhists to be elected to the United States Congress. This is in addition to three Unitarian-Universalist, and two Muslim members of Congress. What will the reactions be if they win? Would they be protested? Demonized? Shouted at during congressional proceedings? Or would we finally realize that having religious minorities in office is not only important for other religious minorities, but for the health of our nation?

The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates, nor am I going to start now. Pagans in Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District should vote their conscience, and not be guided by any endorsement I could give. But I do think that we could be on the cusp of a history-making election (from a religious standpoint), and I want my readers to be aware of that. I’ll be keeping track of these races, and of the race for Nevada State Assembly, where Tea Party-backed Pagan candidate Erin Lale is in the running.

On Tuesday a special election is being held in Massachusetts to pick the replacement for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, and despite the fact that the state is solidly liberal and reliably Democratic, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. Certainly part of it is that Scott Brown has been presenting as a liberal-ish Republican (except when he doesn’t), and has been running a tight campaign, but it’s also due to the fact that Democratic candidate Martha Coakley has done a terrible job, treating her election as fait accompli, and failing to energize voters. Which brings us to why I’m commenting on this race, Coakley’s involvement in the notorious Fells Acres Day Care Case. While Coakley didn’t prosecute the case, one of the most high-profile “ritual abuse” trials of the 1980s, she subsequently spent years defending the convictions as D.A., still insists the family was guilty, and placed bizarre restrictions on the accused once they were released.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

It would be fair to say that electing a possible Satanic Ritual Abuse/Organized Ritual Abuse true-believer to the Senate has made several Pagans, especially the ones who lived through the moral panics of 1980s, uneasy.

“It’s like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. “Spectral evidence.” On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy. The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults’ case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind. She is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat. But I don’t care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.  For that reason alone–for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters–if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.”

Chas Clifton’s sentiments are echoed by Beliefnet Pagan blogger Gus diZerega.

“Perhaps most revealing with respect to Coakley was the conditions she imposed on people she allowed to be released after years of confinement.  They could not talk to the press nor could their lawyer be used to help another family member.  These conditions have nothing to do with guilt or innocence and a great deal to do with covering up abuses of power.  What was Coakley hiding?  We have seen a lot of such abuses and we do not need another Democrat inclined to do the same.  There already are more than enough Democrats and Republicans of that ilk.”

Her participation in moral panics are bad enough, but her steadfast defense of the Fells Acres convictions seems to also extend to a “law enforcement doesn’t make mistakes and shouldn’t be questioned” philosophy.

“Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.”

Of course, with Obama’s health care plan possibly on the line, many are urging voters to “hold their nose” and vote for Coakley anyway. Indeed, I know of some Massachusetts Pagans who’ve indicated that they will be (reluctantly) voting for Coakley, and a commenter on Chas Clifton’s blog sums up many of their talking points.

“I understand your feelings, but I’m a Masschusetts voter, and I will vote for Martha Coakley.  The whole SRA thing was a travesty, but even so Coakley is much better than her Republican opponent Scott Brown, who is anti-choice for women, pro-death penalty, opposed to the public health care legislation, and opposed to gay marriage (which we already have in Massachusetts). Coakley isn’t perfect, but if Brown is elected it will be a disaster for our state and country.”

I want health care reform too, heck, I want a single payer system! I’m also pro-choice, but I’m troubled when serious accusations about a candidate abusing their powers are made, and then swept aside in the name of party unity and the fear of legislative gridlock. The Boston Globe, in endorsing Coakley, praises her for “prosecuting child abusers”, never noting that some of those alleged abusers may have been completely innocent. As I’ve said before, I truly hope Coakley isn’t a SRA true-believer, because if we do see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail.

So, to my Massachusetts readers, who are you voting for? Why? Do certain issues trump others, no matter how serious they may be? I’d really like to know, because I certainly don’t envy your choices right now. Perhaps that is why some Democrats are already spinning for a Coakley loss?

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 27, 2009 — 15 Comments

I just have a few small items to share this Sunday before we gear up for the year-end count-downs and retrospectives, starting with SF Gate columnist Mark Morford, who argues that all the discussions about pantheism in “Avatar” are besides the point, what it’s really about is “alien porn”.

“But wait, we haven’t hit the best part yet. Because in this movie, you don’t merely get to fantasize about the Other from afar or even just indulge in interspecies sex. You get to literally become one of them … Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever. Flawed, broken white man can, with his righteous modern technology, fuse his DNA with super-hot exotic sexually flawless alien species and become the Other and save the world and then score the hot chick from Star Trek.”

Somehow, I don’t think this new angle is going to please Ross Douthat and other conservative commentators much more than the “Hollywood is pantheist” one. For that matter, I doubt it will please the folks who’ve seen “Avatar” and found it to be a deeply transcendent/meaningful experience. As an aside, since we’re talking about movies, I saw “Sherlock Holmes” last night, and was surprised that the entire plot centered on a Freemason/Golden Dawn-ish occult order. By “centered on”, I mean it provided some sort of plot when things weren’t blowing up. It was quite the romp if you turn your expectations down a few notches.

The clinically obsessed folks at the Christian Civic League of Maine continue to stalk Rita Moran, Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, who was one of two openly Pagan delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Not content with trespassing on private property, or trying to make her book store sound sinister by listing titles found at any Barnes & Noble, they are now engaging in their own sad form of “deep background” looking for some sort of controversy. First it was misquoting a podcast interview she did in 2007, now they are combing through her past involvement with the EarthTides Pagan Network.

“The identities of the members of these organizations are often kept secret. Moran is active in the EarthTides Pagan Network under the pseudonym “Arwen Evenstar.” Under this pseudonym, Moran has written a book review column in the group’s newsletter for the past several years.”

This situation is so sad and pathological, all in an attempt to ruin Moran’s standing with local Democrats.

“It is a sad commentary on politics in Maine that the highest levels of the Democrat Party rely on an occultist whose political prudence consists of Tarot Card reading and crystal-ball gazing; and whose leadership effectiveness is a matter of casting the right spell.”

This one-man “staff” of the Christian Civic League really needs to get a life. It just goes to show you how bothered some Christians get when any other religious perspective dares to seek political power instead of staying silently in the shadows. They try to make sinister activities that would be seen as sanctified and proper if done in a Christian context. This strife only underlines how important our involvement in the public sphere is, and why the “broom closet” must become a thing of the past.

In a final note, the Pagans at the Parliament project seems to be winding down. The last of the video and audio has been posted to the blog, and we have had several post-Parliament missives from attendees, including a statement from Angie Buchanan, one of the Pagan Executive Board members of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Buchanan addresses the recent flurry of discussion and controversy regarding definitions, and what was (and wasn’t ) said and done in Paganism’s name at the Parliament.

“In my personal participation and my observation of what happened at the Parliament, there was no attempt to “legitimize” anything, nor was there an effort to ostracize anything. There were many very successful attempts to explain concepts, terms and belief structures in ways and using vocabulary understood by those either unfamiliar with or frightened by our practices — by providing them with a frame of reference.”

Despite the flare-up over definition, and who said what at the Parliament, a situation that I take some responsibility in spreading, I do think this event will be seen as pivotal in modern Paganism’s history. Never before have we been so visible and vocal on the world stage, and I believe some paradigm-shifting happened that may greatly benefit all modern Pagans in the long run. I genuinely thank all the Pagans who took the time and effort to be involved with this event, and made our varied voices and viewpoints heard in the context of the global interfaith movement. What happened was important, I believe that we will ultimately experience more signal than noise as we process our involvement there in the coming year.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Top Story: Outed Pagan political candidate Alice Richmond has closed down her local-issues blog, Page County Watch, and is seemingly retiring from the public eye.

“Last week the voice of the Page County Watch Blog went silent as Alice Richmond, the resident who started the blog, decided to move on. “I’m moving on to other things,” said Richmond. “I don’t want anyone to Google my name anymore.” The site gained attention most recently in September when on a local radio show, Richmond was questioned about her religion and the author known as “Lady Raya.” Richmond later admitted she was using the name Lady Raya as a pseudonym to write books on Wiccan practices.”

Richmond’s race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors seemed to get hostile from the start, with the staged ambush-outing of her “Lady Raya” pen-name by political opponents on a local talk show shrouding her candidacy with sensationalism. After a losing the election by a wide margin, a palpably disappointed Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, noting that the vote wasn’t close. Considering the emotional wringer she’s been through, I don’t blame her for wanting to withdraw from public, though I do mourn the loss of a Pagan willing to enter into the political fray.  I fear that her campaign, and Dan Halloran’s, proves that out (or outed) Pagan candidates will have to deal with ugly smears from opponents (even if the tactic backfires) unafraid to exploit religious fears.

In Other News: Kathy Nance at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings us a local angle to the “Pagans at the Parliament” story by focusing on the ceremonial rattles created by local artist Julee Higginbotham for the interfaith event.

“On this first full day of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Pagans met to give blessings to four rattles created by St. Louis artist Julee Higginbotham. The rattles, called “Bridge to the Meeting Place,” were created to symbolize the coming together of religions and people from around our planet. Julee has blended Aboriginal and Neo-Pagan symbols into a clay prayer for understanding. They will be given to Pagans from North America and Australia, and to two PWR delegates. She got the idea from Pagan delegate and PWR board member Angie Buchanan.”

You can read more about these rattles at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, where you can see daily updates about the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Are you a Pagan metal-head? If so, this is your lucky day, because two documentaries that touch on Pagan/Heathen religion within different metal subcultures are being released. “Pagan Metal:  A Documentary”, and “Until the Light Takes Us”, which focuses on the controversial Norwegian black metal scene.

“In addition to exploring the origins and ideology of black metal, Aites and Ewell examine black metal as what Norwegian visual artist Bjarne Melgaard calls “Norway’s only culturally relevant phenomenon.” Melgaard, who recontextualizes black metal aesthetics in his art, explores the striking parallel between the emotional extremes of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the album cover of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.” “Until the Light Takes Us” succeeds because it neither idolizes nor patronizes the artists involved.”

Considering the fact that a movie is being made about one of black metal’s most controversial figures, a less sensationalist documentary, academic in tone, certainly seems welcome at this point. As for “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, it’s more informal, and had a reviewer comment that “you will feel like you have made new friends”. Both seem welcome assets for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

The Good Blog gives props to Archdruid (and blogger) John Michael Greer for a piece he wrote on adopting a new model of “energy productivity” instead of the per-worker-hour standard.

“This isn’t the first time our common economic metrics have been challenged. GDP gets criticized all the time (and for good reason). But Greer makes a great point about the need for resource efficiency—especially energy efficiency—to be incorporated into the statistics we use to measure our country’s economic success. After all, we live in a world of limited resources. Acknowledging that in our numbers isn’t just about giving environmentally-friendly countries a pat on the back. It’s a real indication of how well-prepared a country is to deal with costly constraints. Apparently these days it takes a druid and Tarot grandmaster to point that out to all the Ivy League B-school grads on Wall Street. Strange times.”

Indeed it does sometimes take a different view-point to actually think “outside the box”, and who better than a (wise) Druid to address issues of resource efficiency and economics as we approach the end our the industrial age? For more on Greer’s religious activities, check out the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) web site.

In a final note, I think the University of Iowa may have the coolest name ever for their Pagan student organization.

“The mention of the term “pagan” often connotes thoughts of the dark arts, ritual sacrifices, and any number of Goth stereotypes. But for UI senior Kirk Cheyney, it’s not about any such thing. It’s more about nature and a deep personal spirituality that he can share with his family. Cheyney serves as the president of the Society of Pagans Invested in Reviving Ancient Lifestyles, which bills itself as the UI’s pagan student union.”

I think we could use more creative acronyms in modern Paganism, especially for college students! Congrats to S.P.I.R.A.L. for making it happen (all you other campus groups better step up).

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne. We have a new post now up from Selena Fox, and Thorn Coyle has just sent in another dispatch as well. You can also stay on top of things with the Pagans at the Parliament Twitter feed and Facebook page. Have a great day!

While I was spending a lot of time covering the elections (and controversies) of Pagan candidates Dan Halloran and Alice Richmond, it seems I overlooked the fact that there was an already-elected openly-Pagan politician out there. However, thanks to Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, I’m up to speed.

“At 17, when I went off to college, my spirituality did as well. I finally came to realize that the connection I *had* forged, the voice I’d heard in the woods since I was a small child, was Artemis. I was introduced to paganism by a very soft-polytheistic Wiccan; from there, I ran through the usual assortment of Llewellyn publications and wound up with a sort of mish-mosh. I spent twenty years of wrangling through various efforts at implementation, trying somehow to fit my beliefs to Wicca. I tried this sort of “take the best from each” approach – the “many facets” concept that is so popular with a lot of pagans today. But it never really worked for me. I finally realized that my beliefs would never fit Wicca… and that there was this amazing old way that actually *did* fit. When it all boiled down, I needed the hard, deep roots of Hellenism. I needed Hesiod’s Theogeny, his Works and Days. I needed that cohesive pantheon, and the culturally complete approach it allows.”

In my defense I had certainly heard of Orsini, but for entirely different reasons.

“Advocates for transgender equality hail the public, albeit low-key, leadership role played by Orsini, who for the first three decades of her life was known as Jeff Orsini, an Air Force veteran and self-described computer nerd partial to role-playing war games. As one of just two openly transgender politicians to win elected office in this country — the other, Michelle Bruce, is a City Council member in Riverdale, Ga. — Orsini is a trailblazer, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.”

So now we have a Hellenic transgender Democratic Alderwoman in Missouri, and a conservative Republican Theodsman on New York’s City Council. I find it very interesting that the two openly-Pagan elected American officials in this era are polytheistic reconstructionists. Just a twist of fate? Or is there something more there? Needless to say, from now on I’ll be watching the career of Alderwoman Orsini just as closely as I’m currently watching the career of Councilman Halloran.

PS – In an entirely unrelated note, I’ll be a guest tonight on the streaming Internet radio program “Pagans Tonight”. I’ll be discussing Pagan news, this blog, and other projects I have coming up. So tune in!

It looks like a split decision last night in the battle of the Pagan candidates, resulting in a historic win for Republican candidate Dan Halloran. In a very close race Halloran defeated his Democratic opponent by a margin of 1300 votes to become the next New York City Councilman for District 19. This is a dramatic win for the beleaguered Theodsman, and his victory represents a dramatic first for modern Paganism, the first openly Pagan/Heathen candidate to gain an important political office. We await an official statement from Halloran, in the meantime, you can read congratulations from his supporters, and commentary from a snarky but somewhat humbled Village Voice (not to mention a peeved-sounding Steven Thrasher).

“But there are some less expected results, and one involves one of the “Losers to Watch” we mentioned early today: Queens council candidate Daniel Halloran (pictured), the pagan/heathen Republican looking to succeed Tony Avella. He seems to have bested Democrat Kevin Kim, 53 to 47 percent. By Odin’s beard, his magic must be strong!”

Indeed, and I look forward to following councilman Halloran’s career with interest in the coming years. Sadly, it isn’t all good news on the Pagan candidate front. While Halloran pulled off a win, Democrat Alice Richmond failed to unseat incumbent Republican Robert Griffith in the race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors. Griffith won by a very large margin, and while the revelations about Richmond being “Lady Raya” couldn’t have helped, Virginia saw a wave of Republican victories last night, and that turn-out most likely made the contest into a total rout. On her blog, Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, and gave the following statement.

“For those 546 people who came to the polls and voted for me, thank you. For those 47 people who contributed nearly $6,500 to my campaign, I did the best work I could do. The voters of District 1 made a clear choice. The vote was not close.”

So a somewhat bitter-sweet, yet ultimately historic night for Pagans participating in the political realm. Halloran’s win, and even Richmond’s high-profile candidacy and loss, have broken down barriers that will greatly benefit future Pagan adherents looking to get involved in the political process. It has proven that while no race in the near future will be easy for an “out” Pagan, in the right circumstances we can win.

It’s Election Day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 3, 2009 — 3 Comments

Today is the day, elections are being held, and we’ll soon find out if two out/outed Pagan candidates will win their respective races. The higher-profile story, that of Republican New York City Council candidate, and Heathen Theodsman, Dan Halloran, has gotten a bit ugly in the final hours.

“Though he once wrote on his PaganSpace webpage that “Theodism regularly practices blood sacrifice,” Halloran told the paper that the ritual is similar to Jewish dietary laws. That riled up Kim supporters. “By comparing animal blood sacrifices with the Jewish dietary laws of keeping kosher, it’s no wonder that Dan Halloran’s religion is supported by neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” Michael Dovid Sais, a Jewish Kim backer told the Daily News.”

Looks like the Village Voice piece conflating racist Heathens in prison with Halloran’s campaign has been somewhat successful in putting Halloran, once again, on the defensive when it comes to his faith. He’s now dealing with protesters outside Republican headquarters accusing him of anti-Semitism, some who are directly quoting the Village Voice article. As for the Village Voice, they defend their original piece, saying that they made it clear Halloran wasn’t a racist, even if large parts of the article happened to be about racist Heathens.

“We did point out that there’s an alarming trend in the country’s prisons of white supremacists adopting neo-heathenism for their white nationalist agendas. Experts tell us that as much as 50 percent of the country’s tiny neo-heathenist movement has connections to white supremacy. But we also made it clear, several times, that we found no tie between Halloran’s New Normandy and those white supremacist groups. Yes, Halloran seems to have found some fans at the white nationalist forum Stormfront, but that’s something he can hardly control.”

Meanwhile, both Halloran’s and Democrat Kevin Kim’s camps have been accusing the other of harassment and sabotage. All of which makes me think this is going to be a close one. But while Halloran’s story has gotten most of the attention from the press, Pagan or otherwise, he isn’t the only Pagan on the ballot this election day. Alice Richmond, who is the Democratic candidate for District 1 Supervisor in Page County, Virginia, is facing Republican Robert Griffith in a race that has seen Richmond’s religion used as a weapon against her.

“On September 18th the conservative talk-show SpeakOut interviewed Alice Richmond, Democratic candidate for District 1 Supervisor in Page County, Virginia. During the program a “Jim Logan” called and asked Richmond if she was “Lady Raya”, author of two books on Wicca. Richmond repeatedly denied the allegation on the air, causing her to backtrack later when a local television channel followed up on the story .. While her outing as a Wiccan may be damaging to the campaign, it is also very likely that opponents may have over-stepped in their out-the-Witch campaign, bringing her more free publicity and new supporters than she may have otherwise gotten. Meanwhile, a commenter on Richmond’s blog points out that accusations of a set-up by the hosts of SpeakOut were all but confirmed on the program’s next episode.

So we have two Pagan candidates, both of whom are trying to move past the public revelations that they belong to minority faiths in a country where being Christian seems to be almost a prerequisite for gaining political power. If you’re not, then you have to endure increased scrutiny, and often, insinuations of anti-Americanism. It isn’t pretty, but perhaps Wilfred M. McClay, a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is right when he says that “it’s something that these neo-pagans have to go through”. See you all tomorrow for the results.

ADDENDUM: Halloran wins, Richmond loses, more on both of these races early tomorrow morning!