Mourning and Organizing Locally

I just got done processing the election results, meaning I drank, cried, and was glued to facebook  for most of the day. I felt significantly better when I went for a bike ride and talked to one of my friends face to face for a bit. One thing someone posted was “Tonight we mourn, tomorrow we organize:”

So I’m posting links to some articles and petitions because I feel like it’s more helpful than sitting around being depressed. This is not an extensive list. If anyone has info on other organizations to help marginalized peoples please feel free to leave info in comments.

Jezebel article on organizations to donate to or volunteer for

Change.org petition for the electoral college to follow the popular vote

Local places to volunteer with or donate to:

The Gender Health Center

Women’s Health Specialists

Sacramento LGBT Center

Harm Reduction Services

Sol Collective

Black Lives Matter Sacramento Chapter

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My Experience at a Board Meeting about Social Justice at The Enchanted Tree

This past Saturday evening my sister and I attended an open forum board meeting at The Enchanted Tree regarding the treatment and experiences of pagans of color as well as the backlash over the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops that the organizers had moved out of the space citing hostility from the rest of the members of ETO.

I walked in to a haze of sage smoke and the president beating a drum in the class room as people were filing in. We sat down in the back with a friend who had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to attend this meeting as she had to attend the workshops every month. Everyone was given a maximum of five minutes to comment to the board and the board was only obligated to meet for an hour.

Some people stated that the workshops and articles posted online had no place in the organization and that social justice did not qualify as a spiritual practice, and how much they didn’t like  stuff being posted calling all white people racist even though I couldn’t find anything on the forum stating so. One board member read a statement that explained why she had resigned her position.

One statement read during the meeting and shared online:

An Open Letter To The Membership of The Enchanted Tree,

Over the past several months a number of issues regarding the treatment of Pagans of Color at The Enchanted Tree have been brought to the forefront by several members of the board, teachers and members at large.

Several Pagans of Color and allies contend that they have been made to feel as though they are not welcome at the Enchanted Tree. This is the result of over four months of pushback against requests from PoC at the Tree for 1) more inclusive programming 2) more awareness around cultural appropriation 3) more teachers/traditions represented 4) acknowledgement of a budding path being built by an intersectional coalition group that establishes social justice as a legitimate spiritual path.

These requests have been met with a campaign by the leadership of the Enchanted Tree to have social justice issues declared “non-spiritual issues” or to have the lived issues of Pagans of Color that affect them spiritually declared “political” in nature and therefore unwelcome. This consistent politicization of the bodies of the Pagans of Color who attempted to get involved with certain Tree activities has led to a clear sense that these PoC are not welcome at the Enchanted Tree unless they are silent about their issues, their lives and their spiritual needs.

Several Pagans of Color feel they have been silenced and pushed out of a supposedly inclusive space due to the unwelcoming nature of the Enchanted Tree. Numerous attempts have been made by the facilitators of the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops, the attendees of the workshops and several board members, to reach a peaceful resolution with The Enchanted Tree Organization. These attempts have been met with hostility, defensiveness and the suggestion that the financial difficulties of the Enchanted Tree Organization are somehow linked to a decrease in membership due to the suddenly active presence of Pagans of Color and their White allies working for change.

The workshops have had to find another home, and many members, including board members, have felt that due to harassment, The Enchanted Tree is no longer a spiritual refuge of any kind. We encourage all members to reread the mission statement and see where The Enchanted Tree is but a sapling in the realms of compassion, wisdom and community building. To be unaware of the suffering of some members and to silence their voices is to be irresponsible at best and to be complicit in their pain at worst.
With this, we commit to creating spiritual sanctuary for those working for justice.

I have tried to like The Enchanted Tree as a space even though they didn’t usually offer things that interested me. I’ve been studying witchcraft and paganism since I was eleven and I’m thirty-one now. Most of the usual workshops and classes were things I already knew from books I read in high school, so when the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops were brought up I thought “Yay, something that matters!” I attended all but one of these workshops and I found solidarity, genuine healing, grief, catharsis, and empathy. At no time was I made to feel bad for being white, straight or cisgender.

Early into the board meeting I experienced what I consider my “Jump The Shark” moment. One of the problems I have observed online and in physical space is using vague and general “love and light” warm and fuzzy statements being used to shut down any serious discussion of real pain and crisis. During the meeting the mother of the board president used her comment time to sing a song. I was seriously expecting it to be Kumbaya, but she started singing “Come on people now, smile on your brother…” and things kind of went downhill from there, at least in my opinion. I don’t fault her personally because she probably really thought she was being helpful. But I sat there thinking Oh my fucking GOD, are we seriously devoting five minutes of a board meeting for the Board President’s mom to sing a little song!? 

The other low point in the meeting for me was when an official sounding letter was read from a person with a lot of important sounding credentials saying that he didn’t consider ETO to be a racist organization and the people complaining about it were spreading lies.It was quickly pointed out that the writer of that letter was the Vice President’s boyfriend. They essentially said “We’re totally not racist, my black boyfriend says so!

And when the woman who came from L.A. expressed a desire to know what lies were supposedly spread not one person on the board could give an example.

I even heard someone say they didn’t see color. And my sister later said she wanted to scream at someone “That’s NOT what White Privilege means!” 

This meeting is when I decided I was done with The Enchanted Tree. Oddly enough my problem wasn’t racism. I think it’s A PROBLEM to be sure, but my problem personally was so many people so determined NOT to be made uncomfortable that they alienated anyone who was trying to make a real difference. This makes me sad because now I’m not confident that this community would support me if I tried to do anything “controversial” like a pagan prison ministry, fighting any sort of injustice or even helping the homeless.

This past weekend was not the first time I’ve been disappointed by my spiritual community center, but it was the first time I’ve been embarrassed by it.

This breaks my heart because pagans don’t have many options for community, especially if they’re brown. If I was a chistian and didn’t like the Catholic or Methodist church by my house I could go to almost any church of my choosing in any neighborhood. No so for pagans. Especially Pagans of Color. On a local pagan facebook the other day I saw a guy with a confederate flag as his profile picture asking about groups to join. Even if that person is a full blown White Supremacist he will likely have an easier time finding a community than many pagans of color will. And as a straight, white wiccan, I find that horrifying.

On Spirituality and Social Justice

The spiritual community center I go to is currently hosting a series of workshops on Spirituality and Social Justice, which I have found to be a wonderful experience and they have been well received by those who attended them. We shared stories of the intersections of gender, sexuality and skin color, honored trans and black lives lost to violence, allowed space for real grief and healing for people who needed healing the most.

They have also gotten quite a bit of push back from other people involved at the center. Or rather articles posted on our facebook group got push back, since to my knowledge the people most vocal about their opposition to these workshops and articles have never set foot in the workshops and likely didn’t bother to read the articles before screaming that they don’t belong in the space. I feel this push back is unwarranted because no one is forcing those people to attend the workshops or read the posted articles. For those who people who might be reading now, there’s this little thing you can do on facebook posts. You can click “I don’t want to see this” and it will disappear from your news feed

One woman who I haven’t seen in the physical space for at least a year had the very strong opinion that this work doesn’t belong in the group. Since I’m part of the group I was thinking Gee for someone I NEVER see in circle you seem awfully comfortable speaking for me. Interestingly enough I came across this woman’s YouTube channel where in a video talking about her lack of engagement ring from her engagement she talked about child labor in African Diamond mines. Funny that she seems to think Black Lives Matter if those live are safely confined to Africa.

Interstingly enough at least half the attendees at any given workshop were cisgender white people, myself included. And we were never expected to apologize or feel guilty for being white or cisgender. We were simply asked to hold space for People of Color and Queer people who were suffering. I said during a workshop exercise that I care about LGBT issues because being straight did not protect me from homophobia growing up. One reason I will never say the problems of people of color aren’t important  is I believe being white will not protect me from anything.

I would ask anyone crying about how uncomfortable you’re being made by these workshops to really examine why you’re uncomfortable and why you don’t want to be exposed to the things that make you feel that way.

I’m Wiccan/Buddhist so a core part of my spiritual practice is to do my best to avoid harming people and to reduce suffering. There is a big difference between genuine suffering and simple anxiety or discomfort, and to me the mere avoidance of discomfort is not conducive to spiritual growth.

I may not be brave enough to actively fight for Justice in this world but I think we should applaud those who do make that work their primary practice.

Further info on social justice in Paganism:

http://thechampagnelife.blogspot.com and http://activismarticulated.com  websites for the workshop organizers

http://crystalblanton.com Author, Social Worker, and Pagan activist (read her books!)

http://tthorncoyle.com Author and activist in the Bay Area

http://solargrosstemple.com

http://paganactivist.com