TWH –The student-led movement to change gun laws had another highly visible step on March 24, when the March for Our Lives took place in Washington with sister marches held in as many as 800 locations nationwide. It could well be the largest gun-control rally ever held in the nation’s capital, and has also been fingered as one of the largest youth rallies there. Taken as a whole, these marches comprised one of the largest protests in United States history.Within the overlapping Pagan communities are individuals and groups which embrace activism as part of their practices, and they participated in actions on both coasts as well as deeper inland. Two board members of the Solar Cross Temple, and one from the Earthspirit Community, spoke about this work.
The current gun-control push has been dubbed a “children’s crusade,” as it was spurred by survivors of February’s Parkland shooting. That image has not been shaken by the fact that the action now has well-heeled adult donors and many adults have marched Young people remain at the forefront of the current movement against gun violence.
The model of youth leadership was echoed within Earthspirit, according to member Donovan Arthen. While members of all ages participated, it was the community’s younger members who pushed for involvement.
“I was on the fence about attending the March for Our Lives for many reasons,” said T. Thorn Coyle of the Solar Cross Temple, “but Saturday morning, I felt compelled to bring signs against racial profiling and police violence and for, of course, love.”
Coyle brought the reminder, as she said, that this country needs to deal with state violence against member of racial and ethnic minorities to the march in Portland, Oregon. While this particular concern was itself a minority viewpoint being expressed at the this march, but Coyle said she was not the only one with such signs.
Solar Cross board member Courtney Weber also marched in Portland. Unable to hold a sign or drum as she has in other marches due to an arm injury, Weber used her body to express support for the gun-control principles that the organization has espoused, including bans on assault rifles and larger ammunition magazines.
Back on the east coast, there were formal Earthspirit delegations in Washington, Boston, and Northampton, Massachusetts, according to Arthen. Members also marched “in pairs or solo in many other actions,” he said. He believes that at least 40 Earthspirit members were involved.
Arthen said that, within Earthspirit, the March for Our Lives not only is about protecting the lives of children and the future they represent for humanity, but also “preserving the honor and rights of people who use firearms responsibly in their lives.”
Safety in communities of all sizes for every resident, and addressing the power imbalance evident in the political debate over apparently competing rights, are also concerns. “We have representatives of all those constituencies within our community,” he said.
“Our community’s heart, longevity, and stability relies upon the lives of our young people, and their safety is a primal concern,” Arthen said. “In nature, the fiercest defense comes from parents, of their young.”
“It was great to see so many people on the streets, and wonderful to support young people organizing,” said Coyle. “Young people have been organizing against gun violence for years,” as she noted, “such as the Dream Defenders in Florida, and the student walk outs and protests in Ferguson among others.”
While some pundits maintain that these young leaders are simply pawns of adults seeking fresh faces to advance an ideological viewpoint, those interviewed for this article framed the march as being organized and led by youth. “There was a large number of youth, many of which held signs saying they would be voting for the first time this fall,” Weber observed.
Weber has a friend who was a student at Columbine High School on the day of the 1999 shooting incident, which is considered to have started the broader push back against second amendment rights in the U.S. “I have seen how [that shooting] still impacts her life, even 19 years later. Now, I have a four-year-old nephew and a three-year-old niece. I don’t want them to grow up in a culture in which preparing for gun violence is as routine as practicing a fire or earthquake drill. I also fear every day that the victim of the next police shooting will be a friend or colleague of color,” said Weber.Arthen gave additional details about how internal Earthspirit processes supported younger members in their desire to get involved. Through a practice called “sparks of inspiration, ripples of change,” any member who is “fired up” about an issue can bring it to members of the community and its board of directors to seek support, he said.
Those sparks translate into ripples as other members help to find housing, make signs, and arrange transportation, among other things. Arthen said that the group’s older members “are not passive by any means, but our young people have really stepped up, pouring energy into engagement with the world.”
“My hope,” said Coyle, “is that the conversations around gun violence, mental health, war, and policing continue and grow more nuanced and grounded in the reality that many poor and marginalized people live with on a daily basis. As an abolitionist, I would like to see us build systems of restorative justice, community safety, and mental health support rather than the current punitive and violent systems we have in place.”
Weber said that there was at least a small amount of counter-protesting in Portland. “There was a smattering of pro-gun people. They were shouting into a bullhorn, trying to overpower the teenaged speakers. The Unpresidented Brass Band surrounded them and drowned them out.”Many Pagans embrace magic as a way of effecting change, and participating in protest marches can be seen as acting in accordance with magical intent. Both Coyle and Arthen affirmed that esoteric work accompanied participation in the March for Our Lives, as well as their activism more generally.
In Earthspirit, there is a “myriad of individuals doing personal work all the time, just as with any collection of Pagans,” Arthen said, but one of the spiritual tools they consistently use during marches is the community’s collection of chants. “By bringing the chants and music we use in ritual,” he explained, they “build energy and magic in our communal process to create a physcial presence to link energy to a place, direction, and physical manifestation of intention.”
Coyle said that “joining the march was part of a longer term magical act against state violence that I’ve been involved in since I was a teen. This includes actions against war and anti police-violence, particularly in the case of extrajudicial killings. I’ve blockaded, marched, and been arrested as acts of will and magical devotion, invoking my gods and goddesses, and use prayer, spell work, and candle magic to support these ends. I’ve also done work with city egregores to try and shift the balance of magic toward community safety. I’m particularly interested in spell work and working with egregores as a way to support manifest-world actions.”
Earthspirit members work on broader issues tied to the current gun-control debate on a regular basis, according to Arthen; that may be one reason that this particular issue resonated with them. For example, a Mother’s Day ritual held each year focuses on sending peace into the world, a reflection of the fact that the holiday was first established in memory of Ann Jarvis, a Civil War peace activist.
“A shift is coming,” said Weber, and “this is just the beginning.”
[A quote from T. Thorn Coyle regarding being an abolitionist was misattributed to Donovan Arthen due to a copy/paste error. This has been corrected as of 1312 Eastern time, April 5, 2018.]
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