Today about two dozen members of the EarthSpirit community joined approximately 40,000 people to protest against the “free speech” rally on the Boston Common. Most of us were on the Common near the State House while some of us joined the marchers who marched from Roxbury to the Common. Happily, our collective numbers overwhelmed both the 30 or so “free speech” folks at the Gazebo and the (at most) 50 or so people who chose to carry racist signs or wear racist clothing in the crowd.
One of the very special things that EarthSpirit has to offer at rallies like this is our singing. Being able to keep a rhythm and having the right song for the moment helped us to channel some of the crowd’s energy. When we were at the top of the Common, several people outside our group joined in with us or thanked us afterwards for the songs we offered. Later, we ran into two folks with a big Flag and some “White United States of America” T-Shirts and we surrounded them and sang to encourage them to make their way out of the Common.
The day was a great success, in the sense that the bad guys were decisively defeated, but it was also a great day because though the majority of the crowd was White, a large percent were People of Color. When Ken and I were thinking about going to the counterprotest, we were pretty nervous. When we committed to going, we were not sure how many counter-protesters there would be. We knew that the chances were small that anything would happen to us, but still, if we were to go, we would be taking a chance that we could have a life-altering injury or worse. We thought very carefully about our decision, but what decided us was that as White people, we are the ones who can most safely stand up to White Supremacists. Several People of Color that we talked to in the week before were even more afraid, knowing that they were more likely to be targeted by Nazis and less likely to get police help. The fact that so many People of Color did show up is a testament to their bravery.
photo by Moira Ashleigh
The speakers reminded us that their groups have been fighting racism and racist systems for years, and that they need our help on an on-going basis, and not just after high-profile racist incidents. A Muslim member of the Cambridge City Council, Nadeem Mazen, reminded us that he and every single Muslim public official lives with regular threats to their person and their family. A Latina woman reminded us that the reason that there were not more brown faces in the crowd is that many Latinos fear that a chance encounter with the police could cause their family to be torn apart. A prisoner’s rights organizer reminded us that the prisoners at MCI-Norfolk are drinking lead-tainted water. They asked us to have their backs on a regular basis, by showing up to smaller protests, to court hearings, and to the State House. They asked us actively work to dismantle the racism that permeates our society.
As members of EarthSpirit all of us, coming from our different traditions, we have learned to build coalitions with each other in order to create a community that can hold and support all of us in our spiritual work. On a larger scale, right now, in Massachusetts, religious and ethnic minorities are coming together to create a society that will support all its members.
by Vince Teachout
Rites planning. Bear with me, there eventually is a point.
I have my own personal Dias de Los Muertos ritual that I’ve done for over 15 years. On November 2, I go to a Catholic shrine and light a votive and say prayers for each of my deceased friends or relatives. For the last 4 years, I’ve tried to incorporate adding marigolds to the candle, like they do in Mexico, with slowly increasing success. I only managed to keep a few alive for a vase, until last year.
Last year was my first Rites, and the directions said to “bring something to decorate your tent with.” Naturally, being a dork, my first thought was flowers!
Then I thought of marigolds. Just before leaving, I went by the nursery and bought a flat of marigolds, which I put around my tent and barely kept alive in the heat. I almost tossed them when I left, but brought them home and planted them.
They shot up and put out masses of blooms, and that’s when I thought “Hey, I can use these for Dias de los Muertos, if I can keep the frost from killing them!” Well, a sudden snowfall in November did half of them in, but I dug the rest up and rushed them inside, and for the first time had enough for almost half my family.
In short, I accidentally stumbled on semi-success. I thought it over, and this year will try them in large pots on the porch, which I’ll bring in at mid-October, regardless of what the forecasts predict.
What does all this have to do with Rites? I’m very excited about intentionally starting the process at Village Builders and Rites, in proper pots around my tent this time, carrying them back from Rites, taking some with me when I go to the Ancestor Shrine at Glenwood in October, and then having enough for everyone in November. I’m just really excited that the process will begin at Village Builders.
On this day when so many people are celebrating science, I wanted to share some reflections I’ve made over the past couple months. When I was young I really thought science was the antithesis of spirituality. I didn’t put any faith in something that I thought tried to explain the unsolvable mysteries of the world around us, and I resented it for defining natural phenomena when, to me, something like fire is so much more than just a chemical reaction. In 9th grade when I started learning about ecological concepts like interdependence, food webs and cycles, I realized that science may not be in contradiction with spirituality. In fact, I discovered that it compliments it in some very potent ways.
Many of you know that I have spent my adult life immersed in the study of science, and specifically ecology. I have found that the more I understand the world around me, the more I can appreciate it. Since starting work as an educator at the Franklin Institute, I have had many opportunities to learn about how to best communicate science to museum guests, including one session about how the brain actually interprets and stores information.
This training left me with a lot to think about, but one thing especially stuck out. At the beginning, we were asked what we had always wondered about the brain. The group answered with a popcorn of questions that piqued my curiosity about every question someone else had asked. We were told, later on, that the question was specifically intended to prime our minds for learning—that inspiring inquiry, or wonder, releases dopamine in the brain, thus improving attention and focus.
After that activity I have been thinking a lot about that word, “wonder.” What a word. It is used to describe a state of inquiry and curiosity, a way of seeking new information— “I wonder why those ants walk in a line?” But it also describes a state of amazement. To stare “with wonder” is to perceive something so astounding that it is almost unbelievable. I have come to believe that “wonder” is that place, that liminal space between science and magic, and as a scientist and an animist, that is where I want to live.
To gaze with wonder at the night sky is so much more if you know that there are about as many neurons in one brain as there are stars in our galaxy, and that there are about the same number of galaxies in the universe. To handle soil means so much more if you know that it took hundreds upon hundreds of years to develop, and that it is home to billions of living beings right in the palm of your hand. What do you miss if you look at fire and just see a combustion reaction? What do you lose if you don’t notice its ability to transform and destroy, or the way gazing into a flame can transport you to a whole other place?
I am disappointed not to be at the science march, but like every day at work, I have spent today bringing science into people’s lives. I have asked guests to wonder with me, to come up with questions, to try and notice and discover new things about the world we so often take for granted. I share this with you so that maybe you’ll make a point to come up with a new question today (if you do, let me know what it is!). It seems to me there is no better way to celebrate science than to take some time to wonder.
by Steve Trombulak
At Feast of Lights last month, Deirdre invited me to participate in the Saturday morning plenary, called “Walking on Uneven Ground.” The purpose of the plenary was to involve the entire community present for Feast of Lights in a common conversation about the recent earth-shaking shifts in our country’s social fabric. For most of us, the results of the election in early November and the subsequent administrative appointments have fundamentally altered our sense of the ground upon which we walk. The gains we have struggled to achieve over the last 100+ years for peace, justice, and the environment are now under assault at a level that we have not seen in decades, nor at a level that we thought we would ever see again.
Indeed, we now walk on uneven ground. We are at a point in history, and in each of our own personal narratives, where each of us needs to answer the question, “how is it that I will now choose to walk?”
My life’s work is as a teacher, environmental scientist, and conservation advocate, and it was with the context that Deirdre asked me to participate in the plenary. How does someone with my interests choose to walk now that everything I hold dear is threatened?
My response ended up coming in two parts, the first about science and the second about my own personal approach to the path forward.
How I choose to move forward as a scientist and in the domain of scientific inquiry is actually quite straightforward: Regardless of the issue, if it is affected by data, you need to (1) know what you are talking about, (2) speak your truth, and (3) repeat your truth, over and over again. It’s that simple, and I can speak more about all of that at another time if any of you are interested.
What’s hard, however, is finding a way to maintain the strength and the courage to do this in the face of such resistance and outright evil. Fundamentally, I have done it for myself by finding my anchors that allow me to translate spirit into action. For what it is worth, these four questions have been my anchors … through Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the Lesser; through Vietnam, Iran/Contra, and the First Gulf War; through 9/11 and every market crash since I had to worry about a job; and through every environmental fight waged and lost, of which there have been too many to count.
My anchors are simple. I continually ask myself four questions, reminding myself of my answers and thus reminding myself of who I am, moored firmly on the ground despite how uneven if may be, and what path I travel.
Where do I come from? This keeps me connected to my past. Where I come from has many dimensions: geographic, cultural, emotional, social, experiential. We all come from somewhere, and if we lose sight of that, we not only risk losing a piece of ourselves, we also risk losing our real connections – our bonds – to others. For example, I am the son of an immigrant. If I ever forget that, I risk losing my ability to empathize deeply with any assault on the plight and rights of immigrants today.
Where am I now? This keeps me connected to the present. Where do I choose to live now, and why? How do I imagine that place to be beyond the labels that others may put on it? For example, some would say that I live in the State of Vermont. However, I tend to say that I live in the People’s Republic of Vermont. Why? Because it reminds me in a forceful way of how I conceive my landscape to be not just in terms of its geography but the social fabric that knits together the people there. If I ever forget that, I risk losing my sense of true community.
Why am I here? This keeps me focused on the future. It is far too easy for me to go through each day trying to simply go through each day. Demands of work, family, finances, health, and so forth can too easy consume every waking hour. And with that comes a growing sense of powerlessness in the face of the evil that thrives when the social fabric is torn. And with powerless comes resignation, fear, and withdrawal. If I ever forget that I am here to honor, protect, and restore the diversity of life on this sacred Earth, I risk surrendering to the forces of evil and withdraw from the fight.
Who do I speak for? (Okay, technically this should be “For whom do I speak?” but that wrecks the symmetry of the four questions, so I tend to cut myself some slack on this. After all, these are just questions that I ask myself.) This keeps me focused on the world around me. It reminds me that I am not alone. It reminds me that my work and my actions are not just about me. There are always others that are affected by what I choose to do. If I ever forget that I walk on this ground with others and that I have a responsibility to consider them as well, I risk making too much of my life just about me, and thus risk losing my soul. And this question has been so important for me in my life, that I have tattooed my answer to it on my body so that I will never forget.
So, these are my anchors that continue to give me the strength I need to walk on uneven ground, and I give them to you to use or ignore as you will. So mote it be.
My understanding of what it means to be a Pagan is to try to live in right relationship with the gods, the land, and the people, including the ancestors. My gods are those that are comfortable in New England’s woods and hills. My land is this rocky landscape of New England. And my people and my ancestors–on Mom’s side, at least–are New Englanders: sea captains and dairy farmers, teachers and laborers. Whatever granite is in this place or in my ancestors lives on in me and in my Pagan practice.
And that granite is why I am so driven to speak out against racism.
To help me explain what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and borrow an ancestor: my friend Kirk White‘s father.
A Yankee like a Rock
Kirk’s ancestors, like mine, were among the first Englishmen to arrive in North America. Like mine, this landscape was where they found their home. And like me, my friend Kirk and his family before him has loved New England–Vermont in his case, Maine and Massachusetts in mine.
Now, Kirk grew up on the farm his family had owned for over a hundred years. Farming in New England, though, has never been an easy way to earn a living, and, like other families before and since, Kirk’s family found other ways to pay their bills. So when Kirk was growing up, his dad Ron was a contractor.
During the real estate boom of the 1970s, Ron got hired by a big developer to build houses for vacationers in Vermont. There was a lot of money changing hands.
Now, standard practice in construction, then and probably now, says that the people under you get paid when you get paid. So the construction workers get paid when the contractor gets paid, and the contractor gets paid when the developer gets paid. But sometimes, there are delays. And on this job, there were lots of delays.
People have to eat. Ron had a crew under him, filled with workers who needed to eat, and who couldn’t wait until next month or next year to do that. So Ron took out loans, and did what he had to do so that all the people working under him got paid. Because he knew what it was like, to need to feed your kids today on money you won’t have until tomorrow, and he wasn’t going to make people deal with that.
Then it turned out that that particular developer wasn’t going to pay anybody; his deals had gone sour. He declared bankruptcy, and Ron and his crew were way too far down on the food chain to ever get a share.
Ron had paid his workers. They were fine. But Ron’s debts were all in his own name, and he had no way to pay them. Worse: that was the year his house burned down. One of Ron’s sons died. His wife had a heart attack. It was just that kind of year.
The sensible thing to do would have been to follow the developer into bankruptcy, but Ron couldn’t make himself do that. He felt himself honor-bound to repay all those loans, all that money. No court would have held him to it–but his own integrity did. So he busted a gut doing every kind of work he could lay hands on. His wife went back to work, despite her heart. They couldn’t rebuild the house, so they moved into a trailer… and Kirk grew up in something very near poverty.
Ron scrimped and saved and drove himself for years and years… and in the end, he paid it all back. Every last dime.
In the end, it was Kirk himself who paid that last $40,000, when he took possession of the farm–and the integrity–that came down in the family to him.
When I began working on this essay, I called him on the phone. I’d only heard the story once, though obviously it had left me with a strong impression. Then, after some basic fact-checking, I asked Kirk the question that had been on my mind. I asked if, growing up, he’d ever resented it–making do with so little when, if his Dad had been a little less unyielding, he might have had so much more.
“To be honest,” he said, “I never thought of it until just now, when you asked.”
He paused, thinking. “It always just seemed to me that it was the right thing to do–the honorable thing. I guess I just… admired him for it.”
And that, to me, is integrity. Integrity like bedrock, like the land itself.
When I say that “I’m a Yankee,” what I mean is, I consider myself to be walking in the footsteps of men and women like Ron White. Granite integrity may be hard to live up to, but like Kirk, that’s the kind of person I aspire to be.
That is what I’m proud of. But–and if you are a black or brown reader of this blog, you’re probably here way ahead of me–I don’t get to hold onto the pride of my heritage unless I’m willing to own the shame.
Receiving Stolen Goods
Our Yankee forebears were not innocent of the stain of racism. Neither, for that matter, am I.
I’m not just talking about slavery–though all the New England states had slavery; they just ended it a little sooner than other parts of the country. (Should we make a virtue out of having ended the theft of lives sooner–through a gradual emancipation–than other parts of the country? “We Stole a Little Less Than Some White People!” what a ringing endorsement of our integrity!)
I do not stand apart from these injustices. My ancestors profited from a system that marginalized and robbed people of color. Those sea captains I’m so proud to claim in my family tree? The New England shipping industry was built on the Triangular Slave Trade. Whether my direct ancestors ever participated is almost beside the point: the industry was created by it. Likewise Maine farmers owed their prosperity, in part, to supplying that same industry, before as well as after the abolition of the slave trade.
It would be one thing if the injustice had stopped when the Age of Sail had ended. Then I could at least hold my father’s side of the family innocent bystanders to the crimes of racism! But it’s not so.
Did you know, for instance, that Maine wouldn’t allow Native Americans to vote until 1953? And not only was the land I love so much stolen from its original owners, but Indian children, growing up in Maine, were stolen from their families in order to “kill the Indian” in them right up through the 1990s.
Then there are the ways that, during my lifetime and my parents’ lifetimes, my prosperity, as a white woman, was assured in part by denying people of color equal access to government help. From the benefits of the GI Bill to FHA loans, my government colluded with banks, realtors, and colleges to be sure that my (white) ancestors would prosper through programs deliberately designed to discourage access by people of color.
I never asked for this. My parents never asked for this. Nevertheless, the fact remains: my family’s prosperity was paid for in part by the marginalization of people of color, in New England and elsewhere.
Honoring my Ancestors; Honoring my Debts
Here’s what I conclude from all this: I owe a debt. If you are a white American, until and unless we stop getting preferential treatment in hiring, education, housing, and law enforcement, you owe a debt. Whether our specific ancestors ever intended to cheat anyone really is not the question–at least, not to me.
Ron didn’t set out to steal from anyone, after all. He didn’t sit back and say, “That was so long ago,” or “It wasn’t my fault,” or “It’s not my problem.” Knowing he had a debt, he worked until he managed to pay it back.
One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors, nor by citing a recent date of ancestral immigration. The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.
What will honoring this debt entail? Will it involve reparations, a financial recognition of hardships imposed? Perhaps. At the very least, it will involve breaking the silence, listening to an honoring the experiences of people of color, and confronting the complicity of white Americans.
Racism exists. It hasn’t gone away, and in fact, it’s still killing people, still destroying lives.
I am a white American. I didn’t ask to have anyone cheated out of anything. I never signed up for it; I never wanted it. But I am also a Pagan and I honor my ancestors. Here is the lesson I choose to take from them: It doesn’t matter if it’s “not our fault.” Before there can be Reconciliation, there must be Truth.
We need to be like Ron. Pay our debts.
Speak the truth, work like hell, and pay that goddamn debt.
— Cat Chapin-Bishop is a longtime member of the EarthSpirit Community and a regular presenter a A Feast of Lights. To hear more from her, check out her blog, Quaker Pagan Reflections, on the Patheos Pagan Channel, where this post was originally published in March of 2015. Special thanks to Cat and to Pagan Channel editor Jason Mankey for their assistance in allowing us to repost this.
We’re proud to say that EarthSpirit community member Isobel Arthen was part of last weekend’s XL Dissent protest. Along with over a thousand other students, she traveled to Washington, marched from Georgetown to the White House, and then zip tied herself to the White House fence while others students lay on top of a mock oil slick on the sidewalk.
Photo by Overpass Light Brigade
You can read a summary of the issues with the Keystone XL pipeline from 350.orghere. Speak out by telling President Obama what you think. Contact information for the White House can be found here.