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Article ID: 15074

VoxAcct: 281235

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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RSS Views: 21,210
Accidental Activist

Author: Christopher Blackwell
Posted: May 20th. 2012
Times Viewed: 2,493

How often do we hear Pagans say that they can't do anything because they don't have any other Pagans in their neighborhood or in their town, or within driving distances to help/join them? Let’s not forget the ‘lack of money’ or that they are also ‘busy’ with many other things in their lives.

activism: noun; the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

So how about being politically active? Well then perhaps we may hear that they don't ‘like’ politics. It is dirty and cruel and just not nice. Don't forget the excuse of each of us is only one person, what can they do, and, of course, politics never changes and ordinary people are helpless against those with wealth ad power. We see the same excuses about doing anything to actually work for, and thus create, meaningful social change. Some of these excuses even may be true in part.

excuse: verb [ trans.] 1 attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense) ; seek to defend or justify; 2 a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.

Basically an excuse is something we create to justify either what we do, or what we don't do. As long as we have our excuse, we are not willing to change or make a change happen.

I live out in the Desert in Southern New Mexico. I live ten miles from the nearest town. I rarely see another Pagan. I can't drive any more; I have to use a walker. I have always been poor, and now I have health issues on top of it and I am getting older with more limits on the way. However none of that stops me from being a Pagan activist, being involved with my Pagan community (and not just my Wiccan Community, but the Heathen community, the Druid community, Ceremonial magician community) , and even doing a bit of interfaith work, plus being a pen pal to Pagan prisoners. There are others who do a lot more, as I am limited, but none of my limits stop me from being an activist.

Now I didn't plan to be an activist. I am something of a loner, and I don't get along well with people on the long run. I need a great deal of time to myself. I am also bipolar.

So, with all that, how did I end up being an activist, and how do I do it? Well let’s start in the beginning: I became a Wiccan in 1984. The Moral Majority had risen to power in American politics, and as I said, I knew no nearby Pagans. I had no Internet and long distance phone calls were far too expensive. So the first problem was to find a way to connect to the Pagan community.

It took a few years of traveling around the west mining until I found an ‘invitation only’ Pagan festival. I was asked not to tell anyone where it was. Being Pagan was very closeted then and very private. I asked people at the festival for advice. Some Pagan books were suggested and then I searched out a teacher. Somehow I became an initiated Alexandrian. That would be the last teacher I would ever meet.

One of the groups that I heard about was Circle Sanctuary, one of our oldest Wiccan communities and their newsletter Circle Network News. It came out four times a year by snail mail and that was my first way of keeping up with what was going on in Pagan communities. I found the ‘letters to the editor’ section quite interesting and so I contacted several of the writers and asked if they would like to be ‘letter friends’. Half of them responded back. At that time I was a person who had trouble writing a page-and-a-half letter that was worth reading but I learned writing by doing, unaware that writing was going to not only be my main contact with the community, but also my way of activism.

At that time, in Congress we had Senator Jesse Helms, a right wing conservative who decided to take advantage of the new grab for power by the religious right. In committee, he decided to add on to a Post Office appropriation bill a little amendment denying the cheaper bulk rate mailing to non-profit organizations if they were related to Satanism or Witchcraft. Though this is blatantly against the U.S. Constitution, who was going to stand up for Witches or Satanists in the midst of the rise of the Christian Right?

As luck would have it, this happened between quarterly issues of the Circle Network News and the Pagan groups had to scramble if this could be stopped. So in the case of Circle Sanctuary, they spread the news by postcards and snail mail. This was costly to do on a very limited Pagan organization budget and no one knew if it would have any effect. Pagans were still mostly in the broom closet… for good reason.

So I and other Pagans suddenly were faced with writing letters to the Senate. Many of us were not normally politically active. Letters began to pour into the Senate and to the committee that the hearings for the new amendment were taking place. Hundreds of letters, then thousands of letters poured in against the amendment. Pagans had their friends and family members, Pagan or not, write against it. The ‘sure-fire amendment’ never left committee. It crashed. Had it gotten to the floor of the Senate, or been argued out in public, it might have succeeded with organizing power of the Religious Right. It was the first political victory against a powerful Senator who was the darling of the right wing.

So that was how a very isolated, poverty stricken, Wiccan got introduced to political activism. Writing became my vehicle of activism and I learned the art of letter writing as I wrote. I would develop as many as forty Wiccan letter friends each month, and also my first Wiccan prisoner penpal. I even had a few foreign letter friends. As luck would have it, I discovered that what one Wiccan told me would often be the subject of a question by another Wiccan and so I learned to network information. Networking became another form of activism. Sometimes my letter friends thought I was wiser than I really was. I became a source of information because of the strength of networking contacts, each of us sharing whatever information we had with others.

Ever met a born-again Wiccan? You know the type… has to tell everyone about his/her new religion, not realizing that it can be just as obnoxious as the Christian version. I am afraid that was me. So when our local newspaper got a new reporter who had this neat idea to do a series on the Occult in our county, the editor knew just where to send him… to interview me.

Now this created both excitement and panic as I had a partner who did not want his business to be affected by his significant other's crazy religion. It was also when I suddenly realized that what I said could reflect on other Wiccans. I agreed to the interview under certain ground rules: one we would use my Wiccan name, and two, the business would not be mentioned at all and three, I wanted to see the article before it went into print. I told the reporter, I was only worried about the facts being correct, not what slant he chose to put on it. As I was the only member of the Occult community he knew about, he agreed.

I tried to think on my feet as carefully as I could. Then some time went by and, as I had not heard back from the reporter, I was drove into town every day to check the newspaper wondering if I had been so smart in giving the interview. Then he did get back to me and I did my best to check out the interview. I continued to drive into town each night to pick up a copy of the newspaper.

The article came out on the bottom half of the front page. It did have an occasional error, but nothing serious. Then I waited to see what the consequences would be. His second follow-up article was an interview with local religious leaders on what they thought about the Occult. Actually, I was surprised at how mild their reactions where. There was one minister who did storm into the newspaper demanding my name and address, but they refused to give it out (and protecting its sources) . I still sometimes write letters to the editor on Wicca and they still print them.

In Circle, the editors announced topic themes, and I began to write my first very short pieces and that experience led me to write more one-page articles to other newsletters... one in England and my first articles to Pagan Africa, in South Africa (and all still by snail mail) .

With the 1990s comes the Internet and I begin to play with the computer at the local library (often freezing it up) . At first, few people in my small town seemed to be interested in computers, so the librarians put up with me on their only public use computer. I discovered The Witches Voice and what became their news section. As a result, I learned a bit more about the American Wiccan community and occasionally got involved in other written protests.

Then to my surprise, my partner decided to write his first book, and that required getting a computer. We are talking about dial-up service and a whole three gigabytes and a computer at home, so now I began to really explore the Internet and the ever expanding number of Wiccan and Pagan web sites. In time, I would be up to checking twenty web sites a day. I learned more, I did networking of information, and eventually I would discover a Pagan rights group that became Alternate Religions Educational Network.

In 2004, I was asked to create a newsletter for AREN. I had never done one, but having seen several I knew I didn't want another boring newsletter and I decided it should come out eight times a year, once each sabot. Sometimes it is good that I don't know what I am getting myself into, or I might not do much of anything. The first newsletter called ACTION was ten pages long and I did not even know how to put in the page numbers. Eventually I would have to buy a decent editing program, which was more expensive than I would've suspected.

AREN was busy in the President Bush years and there was plenty to write about, including an ongoing case of AREN's that would go all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. ACTION at that time was just for members. As it slowly grew in pages, I began to look for other news that might affect Pagans by researching articles on the Internet. This was still on dial up service. It took four years to get past 100 readers, and I was passing out 25 of those myself to my friends, printing a couple of them to send to two Pagan prisoners, as they didn't have internet service.

Meanwhile, getting older and with noticeably less energy, I began to think I might have to give up ACTION, but instead, in 2008, I changed the format to interviews. It was also about the time that we considered going public. It proved to be a lot more popular in the interview format. I also began to start reaching out to the other communities, and through organizations in Europe, South Africa and elsewhere, and began interviewing people in various countries around the world and through them getting more suggestions of whom to interview.

Now that was my way of becoming activist. Your situation is different, but whatever skills you have please use them for the community. How often have you heard Pagans complain we keep saying we are a community but where IS the community? Well you don't have a community until most of it starts working for the community… everybody giving what they have to give and learning to work together with those they sometimes might not even like for a mutual benefit. You don't have community if everyone sits on the sideline. But you will have a lot of burnouts if only a few members are carrying to whole load. If each of us does a little, we will get that community we say we want.

One thing that I have learned is that everything seems to work in ebbs and flows. This is true of everything in nature, including in human society and politics as well. Under one set of conditions, one group will benefit and another will wither. Then the conditions change and another group benefits and the other one withers. However, if a group learns to adapt they may survive and come back strong again. It is a matter of learning which tactics to use, pushing and progressing through the time when things are flowing in your favor, and holding on to all you can save when it works against you. But you have to take action under both conditions.

And sometimes you have to be public. It is hard to make progress while hiding.

If we can adapt, our community will survive and continue to grow and will gain more rights and hold on to them. But we can't sit on the sideline waiting for someone else to give us our rights, or for the world to become a fairer place. We have to make it happen.

When our rights are most in danger is when we have to most aggressively use the rights we have, or we will lose those rights and gain no others. If we don't do it, there are always others working against us for their own personal agendas. Ebb and flow is how it goes. Only activists make it happen. It does not matter how much or how little talent you have, how much or how little time you can give, or if you are rich and poor, each of us have something of value to give to our community…and if we freely give it, our community will have the power and the hope to make the changes we need, wherever we are.

"The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn't know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says that he hates politics. He doesn't know, the imbecile, that from his political non-participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber, and worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations." --Bertolt Brecht


Christopher Blackwell

Location: Deming, New Mexico

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