Aug 022010
 

VoPP!When Jason first invited me to write for Pagan+Politics, he asked me to cover news and topics that might be relevant to Pagans who are pacifists, but also news about pacifists in the Pagan community.

The first request was easy. What news isn’t relevant to the present-day Pagan with a persistent predilection for peacemaking? So much of what gets reported today is rife with violence, war and conflict born of obstinacy and ignorance. Even for someone like me, much more comfortable waxing philosophical-poetic than reporting in journalistic-style on national and world events, it was easy to find a plethora of topics to write on.

But news about Pagan pacifists? That request seemed a bit more daunting. One mark of the effective peacemaker, like any artist, is how effortless and natural he can make the work appear, and the dull story of peace-at-work rarely makes the news except in extraordinary circumstances. Plus, I had no “in”s with pacifistic leaders and activists in the Pagan community, and no networking ties that would help me keep track of their various goings-on. Sure, I was a peacemaking Pagan, but my pacifism, like my Paganism, has often been “solitary” and creatively subterfuged to look like, well, everyday kindness and rational living. Of course, I could set up a few Google news alerts to help me out and keep me informed. But Pagans are still only a small minority almost everywhere in the world, and pacifists likewise are for the most part considered a “fringe” political force. I don’t need to draw you a Venn diagram of exactly how big of an overlap two minority groups make in the eyes of the daily news cycle.

And that’s when my whole “active engagement in creative peacemaking” thing kicked into high gear. As a pacifist, you don’t just sit around waiting for war and violence to happen so that you can take to the streets with your cleverly-put signs and sourpuss faces. You get moving, you get active, you get creative and joyful, and you make peace out of whatever you happen to have on hand. So I began to think, “You know, if I can’t find a lot of ‘Pagan pacifist news’ going on out there… why don’t I make some?”

And ‘lo, the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project was born!

From this seed-thought of being a news-maker grew the full-fledged idea of hosting a website to showcase and archive voices from the incredibly broad and diverse Pagan community. Now absolutely anyone walking a Pagan path and engaging in peacemaking work can make the news and have their stories heard. Harold the Heathen, Danielle the Druid, Wesley the Witch — move over, Joe the Plumber, you’ve got some company.

The VoPP project seeks to highlight the voices of ordinary peacemakers in the Pagan community, while also providing resources, well-researched articles, suggestions for peace-centered ritual and practice, and a helpful directory of individual and group contact information for Pagan pacifists from all over the world. The premiere issue of VoPP, launched on Lughnasadh 2010, has already gone international, with essays from Pagans living in both the U.S. and the UK. And there’s more to come! Each month’s issue will feature an interview (check out the Interview Application page, and the next voice on VoPP could be you!), along with a variety of articles on nonviolence, history, ecology, media, and social justice. The VoPP collection of solitary and group rituals, spells and meditative practices will continue to expand, as will its network of movers and shakers in the world of practical peacemaking and activism in the secular and Pagan world communities.

But most of all, my personal hope is that the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project will help Pagans and non-Pagans, pacifists and non-pacifists alike to extend the on-going discussion about peacemaking, justice and creative civic engagement as a vital aspect of the spiritual life. I hope that the presence of VoPP and similar resources help to change the conversation around words like “peace” and “pacifism” in the same way our conversations about “feminism” and “environmentalism” have changed so greatly in the last few decades. I hope for a time when even conservatives, cynics and pragmatists can call themselves pacifists as well as feminists and environmentalists. And I hope that Voices of Pagan Pacifism can help inspire and celebrate that change.

Jun 082010
 

Like many other states, Maine has a primary today.

I’ve been pretty busy helping local candidates involved in legislative race primaries or nominating caucuses, and maintaining my own neutrality in a hotly-contested Democratic gubernatorial primary as well.

I have also spent a bit of time listening to the Republican primary contenders, and have found some of their views pretty scary. Peter Mills, long time state legislator from a political family that has produced some good Democratic office-holders including our wonderful attorney general Janet Mills, appears to be the most moderate of the GOP field.

Sounds good, but I’ve got a Peter Mills story that puts it all in focus.

Peter Mills also ran in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, and lost to Chandler Woodcock, who had the support of the religious right. As part of Mills’ campaign “travels” he made the round of the Social and Political Action booths at Common Ground Fair that year.

Now, if you’re ever in Maine in mid-September, get up to Unity and visit the fair. It’s a real old-fashioned ag fair, lots of animals and vendors of organic food (after all, it’s organized by the Maine Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Association), and no games of chance or carnival rides.

EarthTides Pagan Network has an informational booth at the fair every year, and 2006 was no exception.

I was staffing the booth alone (everyone else was doing the presentation on Paganism in Maine), when up walked Peter Mills. He had been going up and down the aisle shaking hands and introducing himself. Up he walked to our booth, holding out his hand to me with a big smile on his face, when I could see his eyes track up and behind me to the sign over my head, “EarthTides Pagan Network.” I could see his eyes read the sign, tracking left to right. The smile disappeared immediately, replaced by what could only be described as a look of disgust, of revulsion or at least grave annoyance. He pulled back his hand, turned on his heel and stalked out of the tent.

Now, four years later, this man is considered the most moderate of the Republican candidates, and, by some “pundits” a likely winner.

It’s experiences like this one that keep me in involved in politics. Whether you think the two party system is the best possible one (I don’t), whether you think the Democratic Party is wonderful (I don’t), the facts are the facts: we will never be safe unless those who refuse to shake our hands are out of power.

Think about that, consider alternatives, and do what your heart says.

Mar 122010
 

Every once in a while there’s a news story about a teenager that stands the usual stereotypes on their respective heads.

Constance McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, is openly lesbian. She announced that her prom date would be another young woman, but the school administration refused to allow a same-gender couple at the prom. Instead of tossing her head, getting all huffy, and walking off in disgust at all grownups, Constance is suing her school. Good girl! For more, check out this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kafNkX1At8

Now, I know proms in themselves are controversial.

I’ve heard people say things like “We should take all the money we’re spending on the prom and donate it to the local food pantry.” Maybe so, but for lots of teens proms are a night to celebrate approaching adulthood, a night to make memories (good or bad).

Kids who manage to stay in school until the end of senior year are, in many places, the minority. They deserve the rite of passage (a familiar concept for Pagans), the experience of formal dress, of a lovely setting, and of trying to act like an adult while not exactly feeling like one.

But most of all, they deserve the right to enjoy that wonderful night with the person of their choice. I’m proud to say that, here in Maine, we’ve got that covered, on paper at least. On February 9th our Human Rights Commission released a set of draft guidelines designed to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

So what’s the Pagan angle here?

Simple.

If Constance McMillen had been barred from her prom because she was wearing a pentacle, would she have gotten the same national news coverage?

Would Rachel Maddow have written about her in her blog?

Would so many people be applauding her courage for suing her school?

What do you think?