This year, it seems one of the unofficial themes to come out of PantheaCon was social justice. There were many panels, presentations and off-program discussions, and a crisis around issues of race to make it pertinent and lively (see Glenn Turner’s post for a summary.)
We will have to do better before everyone will feel welcome in our halls.
Social Justice / Social Activism
Social justice, and its close companion social activism, are a vibrant energy in our community, at least at the moment. We’ll have to see in what way it will endure. American culture, and we as a sub-culture in it, have a notoriously short attention span coupled with amnesia. Will Pagans and the magical community hold our focus or move on to another outrage du jour? Sadly, the problems, social, environmental, economic, political, and so on, don’t pass so quickly and it has long been the task of social activists to drag our attention back to those problems when our attention wavers.
I laud those whose speech informs us of the oppressions they experience or witness. I honor those who place their bodies on the line to defend, to demonstrate, or even just to demand attention to the intolerable. While not every protest causes obvious change, every action is another weight in the balance that will change society for the better.
The challenges before our community are large. It would take being in a coma to not see the profound social imbalances where some have deep access to resources and others, often simply due to birth, have little to no access. Becoming conscious of these imbalances is necessary. I listen to this discourse and try to learn how others are suffering, what they want to do about it. From that, I determine how I can help.
Beyond the discourse, there are many and various ways of applying effort to actually change society. The really visible ones are the protests, rallies, speakers in presentations and panels. The writers of blogs or other forms of journalism, or more persuasive writing, all contribute to the effort. But not everyone organizes or attends protests, or gives speeches.
There are other less visible types of social activism. The primary kind is voting, a citizen’s duty. The simplest, and I would say most important yet most overlooked, is the raising of children with healthy social consciousness. The mothers and fathers who are doing this are building the next generation. We can see today how important this is in how the Millennials and younger cohorts have such a comparatively decreased degree of homophobia or racism. Generalizing as this is, of course, this is changing society profoundly if slowly.
Other work work to build healthy communities. The small groups that we Pagans form can be ways of concentrating the worst of humanity’s bad habits, or crucibles of transformation that purge our bodies, speech, and minds, of the pernicious poison of sexism, racism, genderism, homophobia, and the like. There is nothing like close contact with the ‘other’ to shatter the barriers in our hearts and build the interpersonal bridges that render the objectified other into a person, even into a friend. Creating these kinds of groups is my work, so I am mindful of its place in the scheme of social activism.
Since graduating seminary in 1993, I have worked as a ‘community minister’ amongst Pagans. Building communities and the empowerment of groups and individuals so that they may be spiritually and materially effective in the world is my work. My space is religion, as befits my training and talents. It is also a space where moral and ethical values can be directly cultivated and expressed.
For thousands of years, basically all the time before the Protestant Reformation (starting 1517), values were expressed and transmitted though ritual and at the hands of the religious specialists of those cultures. We Pagans, who preserve the power of ritual in our civilization, have at our disposal a profound means to transform ourselves, inculcate good social values, and sometimes even directly affect larger society.
Money and Authority
One of the places where we are weak is in our relationship to money. Being one of the four great elemental tools, the coin can no more be ignored than the wand, cup, or sword. Yet we are pretty bad at it, and have serious issues with money. Maybe it’s a hold-over from the hippies who rekindled Paganism in the 60s, perhaps it’s an embracing of spirituality and rejection of materialism and capitalism.
Associated with this is our relationship with the law and with authority. Pagans, witches, and other magical folk, have been marginalized for so long that we forget to use the law to our advantage, even when that law was constructed to protect us or gives us the tools to build what we need. Likewise we sometimes attack authority thinking that it can only be oppressive.
This is quite problematic. Authority begins with the self; yet so many are disempowered that they are not the authority of their own lives. But we can start from where we are, with what little we have. We can then build out from there structures of action and responsibility, which is what creates true authority. As these structures interweave with other people, each their own center of authority, larger more dynamic and powerful structures can be built.
Inevitably, leaders emerge to pilot the institutions the structures create. Recognizing that these institutions are yet another tactic to change society, and that the leaders of those organizations are working to enact the will of those aggregating to create the institution, can help us to realize that this too is form of social activism.
It won’t solve every problem, and only some have any use for it, but certain problems will be hard to solve without these tools. It also has the virtue of being a subtle yet profound means of subverting the dominant social order through alternative, networked, modes of authority. Each success transforms another part of our world.*
What to do now that the PantheaCon panels and protests are done? What is the positive creation we can engage in to build a better future?
Overtime, I would like to continue to hear from the overt social activists on what we are able to do. They have done a lot of thinking on the subject. Much of the discussion so far is criticism of self or other, invaluable to understand and be motivated to solve the problem.
Better still that we have also been hearing directly from the oppressed and abused. This should guide our actions. An action plan or at least a strategy is needed that will change our culture or our subculture. What kind of program, what actions can we do to improve conditions? What actionable suggestions can we take back to our small groups to make things better? I’d like to hear some more ideas and apply them.
As for myself, I have a strategy I have been using for decades, one common to the folks working in religion or spirituality. I’ll keep teaching the tools of spiritual empowerment. I’ll keep setting the table to welcome any who wish to do the work, irrespective of race, or gender, or other characteristics. I will continue to build groups and institutions to embody and transmit the wholesome values we must live by if we would live in a just and peaceful society. I will continue to find ways of aggregating the power of individuals and groups into forces that cause good change. These are where my skills and talents lie and how I am best used. There are many other approaches to the problems before us, we will need them all to succeed.
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* Author’s Note: Technically I am an anarchist, of what some call the syndicalist variety. For some concrete examples of how this can work look into the Viable Systems Model by Stafford Beer. It gives a powerful tool and examples for robust self rule. The goal is to use this method of organization for the Pantheon Foundation as it matures. More here.