05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage. “For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution.
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. “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’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies. Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”
So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans. The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration? Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote. Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote! Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman. They want you to vote!”
While the two major political parties garner the lion’s share of press and attention, third party candidates for President of the United Sates often struggle to garner attention, equal treatment, and the votes of individuals dissatisfied with the status quo. Many modern Pagans, already predisposed towards questioning the dominant narratives in our culture, have flocked to the Green Party or the Libertarian Party depending on where they fall on various social, foreign policy, and economic issues. In 2008, around 8% of Pagans polled by Witchvox said they were going to vote for a third party, a number that may have been depressed by the Libertarian ticket running noted anti-Pagan activist Bob Barr. This election cycle, with many voters frustrated with the lack of forward movement on a number of issues, third party candidates could see increased numbers among frustrated demographics, religious minorities included. One third party politician that has already made a very public splash with modern Pagans is Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who held a historic press conference with representatives of Pagan and Hindu organizations.
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.