Friday, June 19, 2009

The growth of political violence in the United States

I have been working on this entry for several days. Today I learned of the murders of most of the members of the Flores family in a home invasion by members of an anti-immmigration vigilante group. - sm

When I was an undergraduate, in the late 80s and early 90s, I rather unexpectedly did a lot of research on terrorism.

At UMBC, I started to understand not only what a loaded word "terrorism" is, but how culturally programmed. The professors who team-taught my political science class in Third World Politics challenged us to pay attention whenever we heard or read the word "terrorism" being used -- to notice who was using it, and whom they were describing. In addition, they challenged us to replace the term "terrorism" with the term "political violence" whenever we read it or heard it, and see what that did to our thinking and perceptions.

When I got back to Bryn Mawr, I took social psychology with Clark McCauley, one of whose specialties is the study of terrorism/political violence. Also an eye-opening experience.

You have to understand, this was before September 11, 2001. The majority of what Americans called "terrorism" back then was divided into two kinds: "terrorism from above," or state-sponsored terrorism, and "terrorism from below," or guerilla warfare/terrorism. The places Americans talked about this happening in were in the "First World" and the "Third World" -- the Middle East, Africa, Europe, South and Central America. Not the US -- not yet.

But my point is that we talked about both kinds. The political violence of guerrilla groups in Lebanon, Nicaragua, Iran, El Salvador, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories populated the news, as terrorism-from-below. But state-sponsored political violence -- particularly from repressive regimes and military governments such as the Soviet Union, East Germany, and El Salvador -- was recognized as terrorism-from-above back then. The massacre in Tiananmen Square made huge news in the West. The terrorism of the Soviet Union was still active in the news through the late 80s. Even the shootings at Kent State were still understood as state-sponsored terrorism. I could go on.

Nowadays, when we talk about "terrorism," we talk primarily about violence-from-below, rather than about state-sponsored terrorism. And we very often talk about religious extremists. But they're usually people who are either far away or from far away, whose skin is not white, and who are not Christians.

We rarely talk about people right here in the US whose political violence should rightly be called terrorism -- especially not if they are are white, right-wing, or supposedly Christian.

In the summer of 1992, I worked with McCauley doing preliminary research that was part of a larger project of his, on the question of what helps prevent violence-from-below in political movements. Many political movements start out espousing non-violence, but many of them come to resort to violent tactics -- against first property, and then people. What makes that change acceptable to some groups but not others? What factors protect or insulate a movement against that change?

He wanted me to study a group that, unlike the New Left and the environmental movement, was still non-violent, and had an unprecedented paper trail -- the ecofeminist movement.

(I pretty much said to him: I'm a feminist, and I'm a Witch, and you want me to spend three months reading eco-feminism and related material, writing about it, and talking with you about it. Twist. My. Arm.)

So I read a lot of primary materials from the New Left, the anti-nuclear movement, different aspects of the environmental movement, the women's spirituality movement, and eco-feminism.

The ecofeminist movement, it turned out, didn't meet all of the requirements for McCauley's larger project -- for one thing, a great many of the movers and shakers of the ecofeminist movement had been previously involved in the New Left, and many ecofeminists were part of the anti-nuclear movement.

(Reading Robin Morgan's accounts of her time in the New Left was... illustrative. Interestingly, she also went on to write about terrorism and political violence.)

But, the ecofeminist movement did provide some useful insights. As, in a way, did the New Left, by contrast.

In all the material I read, one thing stood out over and over as a protective against the development of violence in a political movement:

Refusing to dehumanize the enemy.

Not only did the eco-feminist movement consistently refuse to demonize the enemy, its adherents insisted on finding ways to see opponents as human, as real people -- and even as an embodiment of the Divine. It could be something as simple as going around a circle at the end of the day in an action, each participant naming something that emphasized the human quality of someone with whom they'd come into conflict that day. It could be making sure to address a police officer or soldier by name, not merely title or rank. It could be making a practice of asking opponents about their families. It often included ritual and magic, and could be as intimate and formal as taking time in circle to name "enemies" and affirm, "Sergeant Jones, thou art God," "Jane Smith, thou art Goddess," as well as naming allies and those present, affirming, "Sara, thou art Goddess," "Tom, thou art God."

Why am I writing about this now?

A Friend of mine shared a link to an interview with David Neiwert about violence in political movements and about his new book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. (Click here for publisher's web site.)

Neiwert discusses recent terrorism in the United States: in the wake of the suppression of a Department of Homeland Security report warning about a potential upsurge of right-wing political violence, we have the assassination of an abortion provider, the uncovering of a plot to assassinate President Obama, and a killing at the Holocaust Museum. [And now, the murder of a family of Hispanic immigrants.]

And Neiwert also talks about the factors that encourage that political violence/terrorism, and some ways to resist it.

As I've been reading the interview, I've found myself saying to myself, Yes, yes, yes.

Some things that have stood out to me:

Joshua Holland: There is a lot of ugly discourse in this country, and there always has been. What makes eliminationist rhetoric different from the kind of run-of-the-mill nasty stuff that we see on all sides of the political spectrum?

David Neiwert: Right -- there is a lot of hateful rhetoric that floats around on both sides. What's unique about eliminationist rhetoric is that it talks about eliminating whole blocs of people from the body politic, whereas most of the hateful rhetoric, in the case of people on the left, is directed at an individual -- George Bush or Dick Cheney and various characters on the right. That's one of the key differences -- when right-wing people talk hatefully, it often is directed at entire groups of people: Latinos, African Americans, gays and lesbians or liberals.
JH: People they deem to be inferior.

DN: Deemed inferior, or not even human. That is a critical aspect of eliminationist rhetoric. It often depicts the opposition as subhuman -- comparing them with vermin, diseases or carriers of diseases. I think for me the classic historical expression of eliminationism in America was Col. [John] Chivington's remarks prior to the Sand Creek Massacre, where he urged the white Colorado militiamen to kill all the Indians they encountered, including women and children. He said, "nits make lice." That to me is pretty much a classic eliminationist statement.
Something I saw over and over in my research for McCauley's project was that when groups start seeing opponents or members of other groups as not-human, that's when violence becomes acceptable. And starting to lump opponents together into groups, rather than seeing individuals, contributes to this.

This is one reason I react strongly whenever I hear anyone refer to cops as "pigs." I grew up in a large city that had problems with police violence; it's not naivete on my part. I've also worked with amazing people in law enforcement during my humanitarian work. But calling cops "pigs" -- or calling union-busters, or even anti-choice murderers or anti-immigrant murderers "pigs" -- is not okay with me, because it's dehumanization. Seeing cops, even security guards, as "pigs" is part of what sent the New Left down the slippery slope from non-violence to violence. Dehumanization opens a door in the psyche to violence.
One of the things that I learned while studying hate crimes is that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed by ordinary people, not by members of hate groups. Yet it's also the case that the vast majority of hate crimes are accompanied by hate-group rhetoric. So in a lot of ways hate crimes are a manifestation of the way right-wing extremism has permeated the broader culture. But more than that, these ordinary people also believe -- and I might add this includes the white supremacists -- that what they are doing reflects the secret desires, the unspoken wishes of the community that they believe they are defending.
When you stand up to them, when you engage in the act of standing up to them, that knocks that plank right out from under them, because when the community stands up and says, "No, these are not our values, this is not what we believe in, what you are doing is wrong," that takes that belief away.
I am reminded of the power of collective action. I am reminded of a recent article in the New York Times, "At Last, Facing Down Bullies (And Their Enablers)," which talks about the pioneering and successful work of Dr. Dan Olweus in mobilizing bystanders to counteract and prevent bullying.

I am reminded of the collective response of the San Francisco gay community on the night of the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, and of Holly Near's song "Gentle Angry People":

We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives...

I am reminded of my peace witness trip to the Middle East. I am reminded of successful reconciliation work I've witnessed and learned of, in the US and abroad, between family members, political enemies, and survivors and perpetrators of violence.

Neiwert talks about the importance of engagement, of not demonizing the enemy -- and of not heroizing one's self:
So when we engage them, I think it is fundamentally important that we try not to see ourselves as heroes, that we don't turn them into the enemy but rather people like us, human beings who have frailties and have flaws and engage them in a real way, because that is how we are going to pull them over.
We are not going to change people's minds by pointing at them and calling them bad people. We are going to change people's minds by taking care to honestly engage them as one human being to another. That is the only way I think that we really can succeed.

The kind of engagement that Neiwert and other activists for peace, justice, and non-violence are talking about is hard work. It requires a particular combination, of an open heart and self-protection, and that does not necessarily come easily.

But it can be learned, it can be supported, it can be done -- and it can create change.

What are we going to do -- you, and I -- to contribute towards this kind of engagement, this kind of change?

How are we creating magic?

How are we nourishing openings to grace?

How are we nourishing That-of-God and That-of-the-Goddess in each other?

What are we doing to prevent violence?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Social Media at FGC Gathering

From FGC today:

SOCIAL MEDIA AT THE GATHERING: Planning to Twitter? Use hash tag #fgc09. Blogging? Tag your posts FGC09. See posts and tweets at

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sacred duty or littering?

Imagine trying to prevent death by giving water to someone who's been trekking across the desert. Imagine facing up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for it.

15 June 2009
BORDERLANDS: CPT reservist and other volunteers leaving water for migrants face littering charges.

by John Heid

"I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” (Mt 25:35)

Tucson, Arizona On 1 June 2009, CPT Reservist John Heid and two other companions placed three-dozen gallons of water on an active migrant trail in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR), southwest of Tucson, Arizona. The three were confronted by a Fish and Wildlife officer, escorted out of the area, and face possible prosecution for littering...

Also on 1 June, a volunteer from No More Deaths faced criminal misdemeanor charges of "knowingly littering" in U.S. District Court in Tucson. He had placed containers of water on an active migrant trail in BANWR last December. (See On 3 June, a jury found the No More Deaths volunteer guilty of the misdemeanor "knowingly littering.” He faces one year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Sentencing will occur on 11 August 2009.
Click here for more information.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Is America Surrounded by Paganism? Newt Thinks So - Windows & Doors

Is America Surrounded by Paganism? Newt Thinks So - Windows & Doors:

I invite believing Pagans to define paganism and hope that some will do so here. I am pretty certain that any time a non-follower describes any tradition, without at least the active presence of an actual believer or two, something bad is bound to happen. Any doubts? Think about how Judaism has been mangled over the centuries by non-Jews twisting it to meet their needs for a spiritual foil.

My guess is that is what Newt was doing with paganism, and since it's no longer acceptable in most quarters to do that with Judaism, he simply picked on another group which has fewer defenders. It was wrong to do to Jews, and it's wrong to do to pagans.

My thanks to Jason over at The Wild Hunt for the link. - sm

Friday, June 12, 2009

Held by my Meeting

In the last six weeks or so, I have been feeling incredibly held by my Meeting.

Some of it was being on the planning committee for Meeting for Grieving and Healing. Some of it has been another clearness process with which I've been engaged with the Meeting. Some of it has been my ministry oversight committee. Some of it has been my Faith and Practice study group. All of these have been opportunities for me to be in community; to nurture, develop, and be present with my connections with Friends and the Meeting as a whole; to minister; and to worship with Friends in deep ways.

This weekend at Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, we are going to tackle two interesting and potentially challenging issues (that I know of), both of which I have strong feelings about. And I'm looking forward to it.

It's not that my Meeting is perfect. In the last ten months, I've witnessed some of the ways in which we've fallen down on our job of being in community with each other. But I've also witnessed some openings I've not seen in the other Monthly Meetings I've been part of. I've witnessed daring love and ministry. I've witnessed integrity. I've witnessed the Meeting as a whole being able to hold seemingly contradictory truths at the same time without diminishing either or denying the seeming contradiction. I've witnessed elephants in the living room (Meeting room?) being named and addressed with a minimum of drama.

Most of all, for me, I have come to feel known.

Writing that, it strikes me that my major complaint about our itinerant life has been that feeling of not being known. Not being seen, recognized, understood, and known for myself, for me, for who I am. That's something I've missed desperately from my life in Philadelphia. And yet, I was ready to leave Philadelphia for a short time, for many reasons -- one of which was that there were definitely ways in which I felt like people were seeing me through old lenses, and I thought leaving and coming back might help change that. As well as provide me some opportunities to grow. (But I sure thought my time away would be shorter! This has all been much different than what I expected.)

In Ann Arbor, particularly my last spring there, I started to feel known for myself in the context of a small handful of people, mostly related to Judaism, music, and dance. That was such a blessing.

But I have never felt as known, or as held, by a Meeting community as I do right now, or felt how much that can affect my life.

I don't know what's going to happen in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business this First Day. I don't know what's going to happen in the workshop I'm leading at Gathering in two weeks. (How many people? How many taking it precisely because they're uncomfortable? Is my workshop going to merge with the high school women's Goddess workshop or not?) I don't know where Beloved Wife and I are looking for our next apartment, or what combination of things I'm going to be doing this fall.

But I am not afraid.

Because I can tell that I am held.

And it's powerful.

IRAQ URGENT ACTION: CPT to move into IDP Camp, asks constituents to contact governments, media | Christian Peacemaker Teams

IRAQ URGENT ACTION: CPT to move into IDP Camp, asks constituents to contact governments, media | Christian Peacemaker Teams

11 June 2009
IRAQ URGENT ACTION: CPT to move into IDP Camp, asks constituents to contact governments, media

The people of the Zharawa Internally Displaced People's (IDP) tent camp fear for their lives as temperatures begin to exceed 38 degrees Celsius/100 degrees Fahrenheit. The camp has no shade trees or structures and no electricity for refrigeration of food. One hundred thirty-seven families share forty-five tents. Many of the people are elderly and children, who are most susceptible to disease.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) will move into the IDPs tent camp on 14 June 2009. They will join voices with camp members to ask the local, national and international communities to help relocate the IDPs to a more livable and humane environment.

(read more here)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Pagan Values, My Quaker Values

Pax over at Chrysalis blog had the idea for Pagan bloggers world-wide to take some time in June to blog about Pagan values. He points out, rightly, that folks in particular other traditions, especially here in the US, dominate the public discourse about values.

I found this immediately appealing. Both because it irritates me a great deal when the Christian religious right pretends it has "values" all sewn up, and because I'm curious about what other Pagans I haven't already read have to say.

I know, in general, what values my spiritual communities and the people in them hold, as well as the values the traditions that have influenced me hold. But modern Paganism, or modern neo-Paganism, is an umbrella term for a very broad, very diverse range of experiences, expressions, traditions, and beliefs. And I'm curious about what values other Pagans hold, and I'm curious about how that's developed over the 18 years that I've been "out" as a Witch.

But first off, what do I mean by Pagan?

I like to borrow the Pagan Pride Project's definition -- or set of definitions -- of "What Is a Pagan?" It's not perfect, but it is definitely a good "functional definition."

A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
  • Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
  • Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
  • Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
  • Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
  • Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.

As you can see, it's a pretty broad definition/set of definitions.

And it can include folks who are part of relatively mainstream congregations, folks who have created or are part of exclusively Pagan congregations, folks who aren't part of any religious or spiritual groups, folks who are Non-Theists or Atheists... And more.

A lot of people describe discovering that they're Pagan very similarly to how they describe what it was like to discover that they're lesbian, bi, gay, queer, or transgender. It's incredibly powerful to realize:
  • There are words for who I am/ what I believe/ what I experience!
  • There are words for my inward truth!
  • There are other people like me in the world!
Many Pagans do, in fact, describe it as "coming out" -- as an outward expression of inward truth.

So now that we've looked at "Pagan," let's look at "values."

Considering the Merriam-Webster definition of values, what are the things that are important to me as a Quaker Witch?

One place to start is with the list of core values we developed in my former Coven in the mid-90s:

Roses, Too! is a Coven of eclectic, feminist Witches. We hold Sabbat potlucks and semi-open ritual, usually on the Saturday (or Sunday) closest to the holiday. Our spiritual backgrounds are diverse: Quaker, Pagan, Jewish, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, Catholic, Atheist, and more.

As Witches, some of the values we share are:
  • Respect and love for the Earth, for all living things, as the embodiment of That-Which-Is-Sacred -- as the Goddess.
  • The courage and honesty to do hard spiritual and emotional work.
  • The compassion to support and bear witness to each other's work.
  • A commitment to justice and to non-violent political activism.
  • An understanding of magic as a way to create personal, political, and cultural change.
  • The recognition of the importance of fun, silliness, and play in what we do.
These are still true for me today.

Part of what had led us to form our own Coven is that while it wasn't hard, in our large East Coast city, to find other people who shared our labels as Pagans and Witches, or people who shared some of our values, it was hard to find people who shared our particular combination of values. There were interesting places to visit, but none that felt like home. (I'm sure my founding co-Priestess will make additions and corrections as needed.)

Some folks saw the Goddess, That-Which-Is-Sacred, only outside the world, not inherent in everything that lives. A number of folks we met were into the supernatural in ways we weren't. Some groups were strongly hierarchical; we were egalitarian. Most weren't able to offer support for the kinds of intensive work we both knew we needed to do in our lives. Some were too "high-churchy" for our needs; we needed something more simple. Some were more dogmatic than we were comfortable with. Not many saw the same kinds of connections we did between our spiritual lives, social justice, and work in the world. Not all Pagans or Pagan groups are committed to non-violence, although many are; not all Pagans or Pagan groups are feminist, although many are. Some groups were much too serious for either of us. Some were actually too light-hearted for us. We needed a balance between seriousness and fun.

So we formed our own Coven. Over time, both the core group and the extended Roses, Too! community grew into just that -- a wonderful, imperfect, organic community. Not all of whom identified as Pagan, or even as spiritual at all, but to whom coming together regularly on the spokes of the Wheel of the Year became important.

My values as a feminist Witch -- the ones that led me to co-found a Coven, and led me to live my life as a Witch -- are the values that led me to Quakerism.

First, on a Coven "field trip" to a Quaker-sponsored training in non-violent intervention. Folks came to this training from faith communities all over the City. We really enjoyed meeting, hanging out with, and working with other religious and spiritual people whose labels were different from ours, but who shared many of our values. (And Rob C. and I still reminisce about how we first became friends by screaming at each other in a role play more than twelve years ago.)

Second, to Meeting for Worship. Many of the people we met at the training -- including quite a few we already knew -- invited us to come to worship. For me, it started out some as intervisitation, and mostly as an experiment in a particular spiritual discipline. Almost right away, however, Meeting for Worship became a regular and deeply important part of my spiritual life.

Third, to Quaker process and testimonies, as I became more involved with the life of my Meeting and other Quaker organizations.

And then, before long, to a commitment to Quakerism as a way of life, because it's an outward expression of inward truth, because it's where the Goddess calls me to be.

The two of us who founded Roses, Too! had both gone to a small Quaker liberal arts college. (I had also gone to a mid-sized state university, another enlightening experience.) Because our alma mater doesn't exhibit much outward, obvious Quakerism, it took me a good five years after I'd graduated to realize how much Quaker enculturation I'd experienced there. One of the things I'm grateful for to this day is how Bryn Mawr provided me with an outward structure for many of the things I believed in and values I'd held before arriving there. The Academic and Social Honor Codes, along with other forms of Quaker enculturation, were things I embraced with a whole heart -- they were outward expressions of my inward truth.

So when Quakerism became my home, years later, it was because of values I'd held ever since I was old enough to articulate what was important to me -- including the values of feminist Witchcraft.

What are Quaker values? To me, they are encompassed by, and exhibited in, Quaker worship, practices, and testimonies. But I think it's fair to say that Friends' worship and Friends' practices, particularly in how we attend to our business together, are rooted in our testimonies:
  • Simplicity
  • Peace
  • Integrity
  • Community
  • Equality
  • Earthcare
  • Stewardship
(For more about the Testimonies, click here, and then click on section 5.)

I have a connection with each of the testimonies on a gut level. Some of them are easier to explain than others; some are more accessible than others; some of them are more of a daily presence in my life than others.

In my Faith and Practice study group in my Meeting, I recently had some breakthroughs in my understanding of both Simplicity and Stewardship. (I love North Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice; it's a gem.) Peace and Equality resonated with me from the beginning. Community and Earthcare are vital expressions of and experiences of the Goddess for me. Integrity has a near-daily presence in my life, if for no other reason than I am living my life as an out lesbian and Witch.

Each of the testimonies has something to say to me, and says something about me, as a Quaker Witch.

So, if you ask me about my Pagan values, you're going to hear about my Quaker ones, too.

And if you ask me about my Quaker values, you're going to hear about my experience of the Goddess and my values as a feminist Witch, too.

My Pagan values and my Quaker values can't be separated. My Quaker values and my Pagan values are the same.

Quakerism is how the Goddess calls me to walk through my life as a Witch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ranya Hamre speaking at Inter-Faith Press Conference in Orange County, CA, May 28, 2009

Rayna is a Unitarian Universalist minister, Pagan, and sister student at Cherry Hill Seminary. This is a good piece for information about Paganism in general and Cherry Hill in particular with respect to sexuality and marriage equality.

Thank you, Rayna! Blessed be.