The sign at the main entrance to the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock says, “This is a place of prayer and ceremony.”
To be honest, I was afraid to go to Standing Rock. Not so much of the cops, despite their violent assaults on peaceful protestors, but of the cold and the discomfort. In my mind, I’m like those wizened, tough old biker crones in Mad Max—but in reality, I’m a fat old lady with asthma, arthritic knees and a compulsion to pee multiple times throughout the night, and camping out in freezing weather is no longer something I contemplate with alacrity.
Moreover, the crisis in North Dakota and the election crisis coincided with various personal crises that culminated with the urgent necessity of packing up pretty much everything in the house I’ve lived in for thirty years to prepare it for renovations and partial sale, and a related financial crisis. So it wasn’t the best time to go—but the Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be about the only window of time I could go, and the weather wasn’t going to get warmer.
I also wrestled with the question of what my role should be as a white ally of an indigenous-led movement. Was it an act of colonial violence for me to come, an assertion of white privilege? Should I just donate the money my ticket would cost, and stay warm?
But I’m a public person, with a platform of writing and speaking, and I knew I would be a more effective advocate if I went there myself. And I hoped to be able to make some contribution. My training collective, Alliance of Community Trainers, would be there, and my old action buddy Lisa Fithian had been there for weeks and was organizing actions. So I interrupted my marathon of packing and cleaning, and went.
And as soon as I saw the sign, I knew I was right to come. For decades, I’ve been writing and speaking, organizing and teaching around the simple concept that spirit and action go together. Activists need some kind of spiritual base to sustain what is very hard, sometimes dangerous, and often frustrating work. And spiritual folks need to be engaged with the world, taking action to alleviate suffering and protect the sacred.
So how incredibly affirming it was to walk into a place where everything is grounded in ceremony and every action is seen as embodied prayer. Lakota spirituality is not my tradition, although deeply aligned in values and world view. But I have no authority or permission to hold ceremonial energy or lead—and so I was blessedly free to listen, absorb, and do my personal work in a way that I rarely get to do in my own tradition.
I sat at the Sacred Fire and listened to people speak from the heart about the struggle. I got up early to go to the water ceremony, led by women, where we processed down to the Cannonball River to offer tobacco. I was given permission to offer our Waters of the World, and when an Irish-American woman gave some water from Brigid’s Well, I asked to share one of our Brigid Chants at a time when many people were sharing songs.
I sat in meditation at the Global Prayer for Standing Rock, and heard one clear message that said to me: “White people can’t heal until they come to terms with the Witch persecutions.”
For so many decades, I’ve been writing and teaching about the forgotten heritage of the ancient Goddess traditions in Europe and the Middle East. I’ve been working to recover, or create, the rituals and ceremonies that link us to sacred nature and community. I’ve proudly called myself a Witch, in an attempt to uncover and reclaim that heritage.
And I’ve also gotten worn down, tired of endlessly explaining the same things over and over again, tired of fending off the same nervous jokes or correcting the same misunderstandings. I’ve been more excited to learn the practical ways of earth-healing, to share the formula for compost tea rather than the esoteric formula for some magic spell.
But over and over again, at Standing Rock and elsewhere this year, I’ve been brought back to the importance of that early work. Young people simply do not know the Goddess history—and for people of European heritage, it is vital to know that we also have indigenous roots, have ancestors who knew that water is sacred, and traditions we can connect to that can help us anchor in the land. So many people hunger for that connection—and we don’t have to take it from someone else although we should always be willing to listen and learn from other cultures.
Sunday was our day for a women’s action. Lisa had arranged for me to connect with Cheryl Angel, a Lakota elder who was leading the action and to stay in her yurt. We woke before dawn for a women’s sweat, poured by a Dineh poet, singer and songwriter Lyla June. As I stumbled out into the dark and cold and found my way to the fire, I noticed Lyla June was wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned Boudica—the ancient British woman warrior who led an uprising against the Romans.
A Statue of Boudica in London. Boudica was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
A group of about twenty or more women undressed and crammed into the lodge, and Lyla June spoke to us from the heart about her life and sacredness of water. Then she began to talk about the Witch persecutions—about how the brutal murder of women in European history has separated those of us with that heritage from our indigenous roots.
I was amazed, and again felt deeply affirmed. After the sweat, I led a training for over a hundred people in some of the magical activist tools we’ve developed for nonviolent direct action. Then we scrambled to get ready for the action—a march through the camps and out onto the bridge and the barricades that separate us from the drilling sites.
The march through camp was beautiful—although at a faster pace than I would have preferred. Cheryl Angel was very determined to have a silent, prayerful action, and people were very good about holding the container of silence. I was mostly praying not to have an all-out asthma attack before we even got to the barricades, and thankfully that prayer was answered.
The elders at Oceti Sakowin had asked that no one do actions that weekend, in order not to divert attention from the eviction notice, and because they were worried that actions might not be completely nonviolent. But we had received permission from one of the elders, who asked that we stop at the Sacred Council Fire to do ceremony. When we got there, however, we found that the elders were not in agreement. Some of them wanted us to go back—but Cheryl listened respectfully, and then simply led us on.
At the barricades, the next obstacle was our own security, who were acting more like cops than cops, telling us we had to go back, that they had ‘orders’. Eventually, they let the elders through, and I followed Cheryl, LaDonna who is from the area and owns some of the land we’re camped on, and a group of others, including another Reclaiming Witch, River.
I stood behind Cheryl and listened to one of the most powerful moments of pure nonviolence I’ve ever experienced. She prayed aloud, apologizing to the earth and the waters for our failure to protect them, speaking to the police who stood on the other side of the barrier and telling them that our prayers were for them, too, and for the safety of their children and grandchildren. She spoke with such heartfelt power, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling—and I was watching the faces of the officers change, from that stone-faced cop look to meeting her eyes. I saw their faces soften, and saw them begin to nod. LaDonna spoke, telling them how she had grown up there, how she knew them and had gone to the same schools, how her father had been a law enforcement officer. By the end, when Cheryl told them we were going down to the river to do ceremony, they agreed.
Although I’ve written about nonviolence, practiced and trained people in it for decades, I generally think of it as a great experience. I am ever-hopeful, but rarely convinced, that we can truly change the hearts of our opponents, and more often think of it as a strategy to galvanize the hordes of those who are unconvinced or uninformed, and marshall political pressure on our opposition.
But listening to Cheryl, I began to to believe that maybe we can invite even the police to our table, that maybe a strategy for this time of ever-consolidated power might be, as I wrote in The Fifth Sacred Thing, to fight on the terrain of consciousness, to contest not the guns but the mind that chooses whether or not to use the gun. “Consciousness is the most stubborn stuff in the cosmos, and the most fluid. It can be rigid as concrete, and it can change in an instant. A song can change it, or a story, or a fragrance wafting by on the wind.”
We went, down a steep bank and over muddy ground. I stood behind Cheryl and was able to give her some of our Waters of the World, water we have used in ceremonies and for offerings at sacred places for more than thirty-five years, that includes waters from every continent and ocean and many, many political actions. She gave it to the river, with prayer.
Then we walked back. The action was over, the silence held. Will the prayers be answered? That will depend on the support and the political will we can all muster in the coming weeks.
For myself, I am grateful I decided to go, and even more grateful and humbled by the immense commitment and faith shown by the water defenders.
I had to leave the next day, as the weather changed and a blizzard blew in. This week, with the eviction notice, the struggle intensifies. Please send prayers and every form of support to those who will remain in much rougher circumstances than I experienced.
Water is sacred! Water is life!
This article, from Indian Country Today Media Network, outlines many of the options for giving material support to the struggle. The Reclaiming Spiral Dance cell is donating $500 to the legal collective. If you are in a position to give material support, these are the most pressing needs right now.
A while back, I wrote a post explaining why I was supporting Hillary Clinton for president. It garnered more comments—and more ire—than anything else I’ve ever put up on the internet. Now that the election is looming, I want to respectfully respond to some of the things I’ve heard…
“How can you vote? With all you’ve done and written, how can you participate in this corrupt, money-driven system? I thought you were far more radical than that!”
Political strategies and tactics are not jealous lovers. You don’t have to be monogamous. Direct Action will not feel betrayed if you also vote from time to time—you can be poly in your tactics. And I am. Of course I vote! If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or a person who doesn’t own property, or even a white male who doesn’t belong to the nobility, centuries of struggle and many deaths have bought you the right to vote. I vote to keep faith with peasant rebels and suffragist hunger strikers and civil rights workers braving the lynch mobs of the South, if for no other reason. But there is another reason—because who we vote for has an enormous impact on real peoples’ lives.
“I’m voting for Jill Stein to send a message and build a third party that will be a real alternative.”
You can do that—but if you are in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico or New Hampshire I would beg you not to! And even ‘safe’ states aren’t necessarily all that safe—nor is our democracy should Clinton win the electoral college but lose the popular vote.
And the message has already been sent. It was sent by Sanders’ near-win in the primaries, which we can build on if Clinton wins. But if Clinton loses, the Democrats will not turn around and say, “Oh how wrong we were not to choose the more progressive candidate.” They’ll say, “The country has swung to the right and we must head right or be left behind.” That’s what happened when Reagan won, and Bush, and Nixon, for that matter, and even though I believe they are entirely wrong-headed, whoever wins will claim a mandate.
The way to build a third party is from the ground up, starting with local campaigns and building a base and an infrastructure. That’s what the right wing did—taking over things like school boards and city councils. That’s where the Green Party is most effective and successful, and I’d like to see more of it.
“I won’t vote out of fear.”
“Don’t make decisions out of fear” is one of those helpful rules of life we tell ourselves when we need some extra confidence. And there are times when it makes sense—say, when questioning whether to dive headlong into a wild, passionate love affair.
But sometimes fear is an appropriate emotion. Should you dare to dive headlong into a pool without checking for rocks beneath? To eat that unknown mushroom? To dance freely and spontaneously out into traffic?
Fear is the Goddess’ way of keeping us from doing really stupid things, and there are times to listen to fear, and heed it. Fear can be a life-saver! And in this election, fear of a Trump victory is an absolutely rational emotion—and that alone would be a good reason to vote for Clinton.
“I must choose what my heart tells me.”
This is a good, romantic reason for choosing art instead of accounting for your college major—but it really has nothing to do with voting. Because what our hearts tell us is mostly that we want something completely other than anything the system offers—and we already know that. But at this moment we have a serious choice between two versions of what the system offers—and one is much, much worse than the other. Now is one of those moments when we need to use our heads and think strategically.
“The Democrats are just as bad.”
No they’re not. What they are is not as good as we hope they’ll be. Yet Clinton’s policies are very good on some key issues: gay rights, women’s right to choose and women’s equality, and civil rights. She’s running on a Democratic platform that is the most progressive ever, that includes raising the minimum wage, returning to free public universities, expanding and improving Obamacare and adding a public option—bringing us closer to a single payer system, appointing a decent set of justices to the Supreme Court that will uphold civil liberties, and rolling back Citizens’ United. She believes climate change is real and will be susceptible to public pressure to rein in the oil companies and be a stronger protector of the environment. Her foreign policy is hawkish but at least it lies within the realm of sanity. It’s not like she’s running against Gandhi—she’s running against “Why have nukes if we don’t use them” Trump!
“The lesser of two evils is still an evil, and I would therefore be evil—or at least, morally impure—if I voted for her.”
Noam Chomsky wrote a brilliant critique of the ‘moral witness’ approach to voting—pointing out that the point of lesser-evil voting is precisely to do less evil—and that’s good! Here’s what he has to say about moral voting: “The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.”
You can read his full critique HERE.
So when you vote, think about what world you want to wake up in on November 9…
Hillary Clinton wins big, and progressive forces celebrate and then mobilize to push for real action on climate change, an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline, an end to militarized policing and the rampant murder of people of color, economic policies that benefit the disenfranchised, and a sane foreign policy. We build on the momentum from Sanders’ campaign and see some key changes get made.
Donald Trump wins, and every racist and bigot in the country celebrates. Every bully has a field day: every misogynist now has license to grab and snatch and harass as they please. He appoints Supreme Court justices that repeal Roe vs. Wade, uphold the rights of white cops to shoot people of color with impunity, and decide that gay marriage—indeed, gay sex, is once again illegal. He repeals Obamacare and anyone with a Latino last name lives in fear of deportation. He undoes every gain that has been made around climate change, and derails every international negotiation. He carries his bullying personality into foreign policy discussions and embroils us in war after war, perhaps even pulling that nuclear trigger. Progressive folks spend the next phase of our lives fighting for things like keeping some minimal funding for health care, keeping ourselves out of jail should we happen to love someone of the same gender or need to terminate a pregnancy or worship in a mosque instead of a church, keeping some small measure of economic gains for the middle class (forget the poor) and digging our bomb shelters before the nuclear retaliation hits.
Hillary Clinton wins small—possibly the electoral college but not the popular vote. Trump makes good his threat to contest the election, whips up his supporters to roam the streets in vigilante groups. A lot of people get hurt or even die—most likely, women, people of color, gender-nonconforming people, or anyone who looks suspiciously Latino or Muslim.
So, folks, we’re down to the wire. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get out there and vote. No politician will get us where we need to go—but I believe Hillary Clinton’s election will set move us forward in the right direction. And then the rest is up to us!
In the third and final presidential debate this week, Trump spoke a line that undoubtedly cost him the last of any Latino support he might have had. Speaking of immigrants, and with his face in his usual squint of disapproval, he muttered archly, “We have some bad hombres here… and we’re gonna get ’em out.”
Or at least that seems to be what he intended to utter. I think if you’re going to insult people in their own language you should at least learn to pronounce it correctly. What he actually said was not ‘hombres’—men—but ‘hambres’—hungers.
And in that he is correct. There are some bad hungers out there, and they might account for Trump getting as far as he has. Even if he is soundly defeated, as I firmly hope he will be, those hungers will continue to gnaw away at our common fabric unless we pay attention and address them:
This isn’t a bad hunger in and of itself—we all feel it. It’s a primary need, perhaps even stronger than sex. And millions of people in this country are struggling to maintain their sense of self-worth, because it’s very hard to feel worthy when you lose your house, when your job goes away, when you are scraping pennies together to pay the electricity bill. Where this hunger turns bad is when we gain that sense of value by putting someone else down, when we elevate ourselves by denigrating another person or another group. It’s like the energy-drink of self-esteem, a cheap shot that pumps you up for a moment but doesn’t truly nourish. Or maybe, like cocaine; (what about that sniffing? Just saying….) dangerously addictive.
This arises from Hunger Number One, above, and Trump has turned it into a national sport. When something distresses us, the go-to reaction is to blame somebody else. That is how politicians serve us so well—better, even, than your ex-spouse. Trump is a master at it—he manages to blame Clinton for everything that has or hasn’t happened in the last thirty years—as if she had been Absolute Monarch instead of Senator and Secretary of State in a system with many conflicting powers contesting one another.
It’s natural, when somebody hurts you, to want to hurt them back. Most of us learn to resist this urge sometime around kindergarten, but it remains in those deep recesses of the heart. When we blame, we desire to punish. Seems only fair. You hurt me—I long to hurt you, to teach you a lesson. This hunger is dangerous, as it can so easily instigate violence. Trump’s election—should the Gods hate us all—threatens to unleash the pitbulls of violence against women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and anyone else who becomes a target.
Bad hungers are not just the purview of the right wing.
We are all susceptible. I hear people on the left, disappointed that Sanders is not our candidate, wanting to teach the Democratic Party a lesson, eager to blame Clinton for everything including Trump’s candidacy itself, looking for conspiracies behind every rock, or feeling powerless, giving up on the political system altogether and giving away the power they do have.
Resist the Bad Hungers!
Fill yourself up with real self-worth, not based on money or shallow attention, but real relationships, community, the work you do that means something to you. For every hour you spend reading the internet or obsessing about conspiracy theories, spend two walking in nature, or playing with your kids, or working on something you care about.
Then go out and vote, not out of petulance, but out of hope, for the person you believe will create the best conditions over the next four years for building deeper community, planetary health and true abundance.
I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton—although I know she’s not perfect. But I admire her courage under fire, I applaud her strong defense of women’s rights, and I trust her to move us in the direction I want to go. Not to get us there—that’s up to us to organize, pressure, and envision the new world. But to create the best conditions in which we can do so.
Watching the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in the wake of the release of Trump’s sexual assault tapes, was a gut-churning, visceral experience for me and, I suspect, for every woman who has ever suffered from sexual assault or the fear of rape. Clinton won my admiration and respect for her grace under fire, and her ability to remain focused, clear and smiling while Trump stalked her.
Trump literally threatened her, saying he’d jail her if he becomes president—a new low in American politics—and then proceeded with a display of disrespectful and intimidating body language, pacing, turning his back, and looming up behind her for all the world as if he were auditioning for the role of predator in a film noir thriller.
Every communication involves both text—the words we say—and subtext—everything else, tone, body language, syntax, etc. Trump’s text was bad enough: besides threatening to jail Clinton if he wins, he promised to ramp up the nuclear arms race, support more development of oil and coal, and continued to defend his racist, sexist positions on women, people of color, immigrants and Muslims. But his subtext was downright creepy—from the dismissal in his tone every time he mentioned his ‘locker room talk’ to the lurking, snuffling monster imitation of his physical presence, not to mention the venom in his voice every time he said the word ‘she’.
Yet even while he dissed and dismissed Clinton, he also attributed to her almost Godlike powers, continually complaining about how, although she’d been in politics for thirty years, she hadn’t solved crime or education or poverty or a host of other problems. As if she were a Queen with absolute power, not a participant in a system with multiple conflicting powers, checks and balances. Or maybe not a Queen, but that other deep archetype of female power—a Witch!
Oh, a Witch! For decades I’ve been writing about the legacy of Witch persecutions and how they leave us with a collective fear and distrust of women’s power. I’ve embraced that archetype to attempt to transform it, but watching the debate and the discussions around this election, I see how deep and powerful the unconscious images are.
As disturbing as Trump’s performance was, I find it almost more alarming at how many people—including friends of mine that are staunch progressives—join in on the chorus simultaneously inflating and disparaging Clinton’s purported powers. “A vote for Clinton is a vote for murder/suicide”. “If Clinton is elected, your children will become cannon fodder.” “Clinton showed her true colors, and they were ugly.” “Calling all Hillary sheep…the poor lambs are so going to be disappointed if their savior Queen is elected. But in their usual stupidity they will excuse her by telling themselves that Trump would have been worse.”
Huh? What is going on? Why this venomous hatred for a woman who actually has one of the better progressive track records of recent times? Granted she’s a long-time, professional politician, who has made mistakes and compromises. Yes, she takes money from Wall Street—so does every other politician except Bernie Sanders who made a huge step forward by showing just how far you can go on small donations. But he is the exception. As long as politics are dependent on money, politicians will be beholden to money. Why this intense hatred so specifically focused on Clinton?
At the end of a talk I gave last week in Santa Barbara, a young woman approached me and said something I found extremely insightful about the current political moment. Her name is Margaret Gregston, and I want to credit her because women so often don’t receive credit for our contributions. “People think they hate Hillary Clinton, but really they hate the political system,” she said. “Hillary Clinton is bearing the brunt of people’s dissatisfaction with the whole thing, just as women always catch all the flak.”
Thank you, Margaret! Much has been written about the misogyny involved in the virulence of people’s hatred for Clinton. But there’s an aspect of this that goes deeper than simple misogyny. It goes to the heart of the risk all strong women take when we stand up, especially publicly—the deep archetype of our collective fear and mistrust of powerful women. We risk being seen as the Witch—She whose powers are immense and unfathomable, scary and malevolent.
Where does that archetype come from? Dorothy Dinnerstein, in The Mermaid and the Minotaur, a book that came out when I was a young psychology student, talked about the projections that burden women. As infants, we see our mothers as the Goddess-like source of nourishment, comfort and well-being, and yet even the best mother fails us at moments. We awake hungry, or uncomfortable, we get ill or injured, and because Mom appears to us to be all-powerful, we believe her lapses in care are deliberate slights, and her limitations are purposeful withholding.
At the same time, Clinton bears the brunt of another common projection onto women—the Mom Who Spoils Your Fun, the dull, fuddy-duddy restrictor of pleasure, the enforcer of homework and bedtime, the Responsible but Boring One. She pays a price for being sane, rational, responsible, committed, with a long record of actual political battles and achievements, wins and losses. How mundane, how dull, compared with Trump who gets to play both Rebel Adolescent in revolt against that same political system we’re all frustrated with, and Flashy Divorced Dad offering us a trip to the bizarre horror-show amusement park of his fantasyland, while every now and then channeling the authoritarian Voice of Dad, telling Hillary she should be ashamed of herself. No wonder his supporters aren’t disturbed by his bullying and lies—they don’t see themselves suffering the brunt of them, they want to be him! While nobody sane wants to be Hillary—slogging along in the trenches of public service, valiantly trying to talk about children’s health care while dodging a hailstorm of accusations and the fallout of her husband’s transgressions.
So, I’m speaking to my friends and allies on the progressive side—can we stop the viciousness? Like her, don’t like her, criticize her, but leave off the venom, please! Your vitriol hurts women—all of us. It reinforces the archetypes that see women’s power as dangerous and malicious, the same archetypes that contributed to the burning of Witches and that make women vulnerable targets of male rage.
Vote for Jill Stein if you like—I won’t. I don’t believe a protest vote makes sense at this moment. We had our protest vote—that was Sanders, in the primary, and it was tremendously effective. It pushed the Democrats farther to the left than they’ve been in decades, and we can build on that—if Clinton wins. If by some fluke she loses to a bigoted, racist bully, at best we’ll spend the next four years desperately scrambling to limit the damage. Every racist killer cop will take heart and the alt-right will claim a mandate for racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, and possibly nuclear war. We will lose whatever small margin we still have left for addressing climate change and avoiding massive global environmental meltdown.
At this point, Trump’s chances of winning seem slim. But even a slim chance is still a chance, and surprises can happen—look at the Brexit vote, where all the predictions were that it would lose.
I would rather see the Green Party focus its efforts on local elections, on running people for school boards and water boards and town councils where Greens can be effective in important ways. That’s how the right wing gained their power base. Stein’s policies are great, but she has no experience that would qualify her to fight off the sharks in Washington if by some miracle she got elected.
I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton—because I support her policies on women, on children, on climate change, on the human rights of people of color and immigrants in this country. I want to see her appoint the next Supreme Court justices so that we have a chance to overturn Citizens United and get rid of the worst abuses of money in politics. I am wary of her foreign policy, but I believe with her as president we will be in the best position to organize, to increase the progressive base and push for those bigger changes in the system that we all want to see. I also think that those traits people don’t like about her—her ability to strategize and her political savvy and insider knowledge—are exactly what’s needed for her or any politician to have half a chance of getting anything done in this current polarized climate.
But whether you do or don’t agree with me, please get out there and vote! There is much more at stake than the presidency—there’s the House and Senate, local and state elections, referendums and local issues that have vital impacts on real people. We need a Democratic landslide to send a strong message that we reject racist, sexist inflammatory politics and that they won’t be rewarded. We need to break the obstructionist Republican deadlock on the House and Senate. We need to do everything we can to turn the country back from a dangerous, destructive path of hate and discrimination. Clinton is not Emma Goldman or Mother Teresa—nor is she Cruella de Ville. She’s a real, human being with a solid track record and policies I partly don’t like but mostly do, and I’m proud to support this strong, savvy, responsible woman whom I believe will move us forward on the vital issues of our time.
To celebrate the start of summer, I am giving away two signed copies of City of Refuge
Imagine a world
Where Nature is our greatest teacher
and all beings are honored as sacred.
Hope is alive in the City of Refuge!
In a world that often seems to be upended by chaos, stories that envision a positive future are crucial tools for continuing to keep focused on hope. City of Refuge is a powerful example of that. If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy for yourself yet, head on over to the Facebook post on my author page to enter to win one. Just click like on the Facebook post and comment with your favorite quote from any of my writings and you are entered to win.
Two winners will be chosen by me and notified through Facebook. The contest ends on Friday, July 1st, and is open to anyone residing in the United States or Canada. You can see the official contest rules below.
City of Refuge is available on Amazon as an Ebook or Paperback if you don’t want to wait to see if you won the contest!
Official Contest Rules:
NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.
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3. Campaign Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on Friday, June 24th at 3pmPST and ending Friday, July 1st at 8pmPST.
4. How to Enter: The Campaign must be entered by liking and commenting with a quote from Starhawk’s writing on the post on Starhawk’s Facebook Page. The entry must fulfill all Campaign requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. If You use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules, your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Starhawk.
5. Prizes: The Winners of the Campaign (the “Winner”) will receive a signed, special edition paperback copy of City of Refuge (approximate retail value: $29.95). Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. No cash or other prize substitution shall be permitted. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize-related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes, shall be the sole responsibility of Winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by Winner is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Starhawk to use Winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
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As I sit down to write this post, I’m taking a break from preparing for our Passover Seder here at the ranch—a ceremony that’s an amalgam of my Jewish roots, Pagan practice, and our very down-to-earth desire to give thanks and celebrate another season of baby lambs and kids. The goat kind, that is. I’m remembering a Seder I hosted more than twenty years ago, and it is making me think of some of the challenges and rewards of trying to facilitate diverse groups and work together across the lines of diversity.
Two dear friends were co-hosting with me. Both were friends of mine, but didn’t know each other. Marcia Falk, is a brilliant poet, liturgist, author and feminist rooted within the Jewish tradition. She’s written many books of liturgy in both English and Hebrew, including her latest, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Kate Raphael is a lifelong, courageous activist for LGBT rights, justice for Palestine, and many, many sorts of peace and justice work, and an author of a great mystery novel set in the West Bank, Murder Under the Bridge.
At that time, a new tradition was circulating in the LGBT rights community, based on a story that two lesbians had approached a rabbi and asked, “What is the place of a lesbian in Judaism?” The rabbi had purportedly answered, “The place of a lesbian in Judaism is like the place of a piece of chametz on the seder plate.”
Now chametz, for those of you who don’t know the tradition, is yeast bread or bread-related substance, and one of the core strictures of the Passover holiday is to banish all bread and anything remotely related to it. The story goes that when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, they left so quickly they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. I actually believe the custom is older, and has to do with a ritual purification of the remnants of the old grain harvest before bringing in the new. In any case, Orthodox Jews scrub the house from top to bottom, carry out a thorough search for any stray crumbs of chametz that might have crept in, and burn the crumbs in order to purify for the holiday.
So, at our Seder, Kate wanted to put a piece of chametz on the Seder plate to symbolize solidarity with LGBT rights. Marcia was horrified—not because she didn’t support LGBT rights. She was a strong supporter of gay liberation, but putting a piece of chametz on the Seder plate, to her, was viscerally horrifying.
We never really resolved the issue. Kate couldn’t let go of the symbol, which was vitally important to her. Marcia literally couldn’t stomach it. The guests were coming, the chicken soup simmering, and we ended up with two Seder plates at opposite ends of a very long table, for the duration of a very long, tense ritual. Decades went by before I dared host another Seder!
But I tell this story to illustrate some of the issues that emerge when we try to work together across our differences. Today I regularly find myself facilitating very diverse groups. I direct an organization called Earth Activist Training, that offers permaculture design grounded in spirit with a focus on organizing and activism. We offer Diversity Scholarships for people of color and differently abled people working in environmental and social justice, and as a result, our groups often span many sorts of diversity—racial, gender, religion, class, physical ability, age, interests and experience.
Permaculture—ecological design—teaches that diversity brings resilience. A diverse forest can withstand disease or fire or hurricane better than a monoculture of genetically identical cloned trees. A diverse human system has a greater range of perspectives, a wider intelligence and understanding, than a group made up of people who all share the same background.
But a group with different life experiences and perspectives will also have differing needs, ideas, goals, and responses, that can generate conflict. In the role of facilitator or teacher, our responsibility is to create an atmosphere that welcomes everyone, in the fullness and complexity of the many identities we each carry. But that’s not always easy to do in a context in which oppression continues and the pain is ongoing.
So what can we do—when the differing needs in a group intersect in painful ways? When a black mother’s fear for the lives of her boys in a hostile world intersects with a Deaf woman’s pain at being robbed of all her communication devices by a thief the police suspect is a local black teen? When an Egyptian activist’s pride in his heritage bangs up against the blacks students’ need to claim Egypt as Black Culture? When a sincere, heartfelt gift of a precious object triggers an indigenous students’ pain at the appropriation of her culture and heritage?
I can’t answer that in one blog post—or a dozen. But I’d like to share some of my own experience—often learned by making mistakes—the experience of an older, Jewish-American, flagrantly Pagan woman writer and teacher who has been struggling with these issues for a lifetime. I hope to make this the beginning of a small series, and invite the voices of some of the other facilitators and teachers from a variety of backgrounds whom I work with.
So—lesson number one. Clenching my teeth and muttering “Please, Jesus, rapture me now!” doesn’t help.
Remembering the goal is the starting point. If our goal is to create a world of justice, how can we respond in a way that will further that will foster more justice?
When we care about justice in this world, and we experience or hear about injustice, we often feel angry, powerless, afraid. Those feelings are extremely painful—especially helplessness. I don’t know how to get the cops to stop killing black kids and people of color, or how to stop the theft of indigenous land, or how to close down the tar sands. But I might know how to police your language, or shame another white person, or lash out at the messenger who reminds me how dire the situation is and how little I’ve done about it.
But in the role of facilitator or teacher, I can’t do that. My responsibility is to create an atmosphere where everyone can learn and grow and be heard. I can’t be responsible to that role and indulge in blaming, shaming, or name-calling. I need to move the group toward learning, by encouraging and modeling listening, and sitting with the pain that arises, naming and acknowledging it.
Pandora Thomas, who is often my co-facilitator in these matters, always reminds us that the goal is to further real relationships, which include the fullness of conflict and disagreement—not to simply pacify the waters and create a surface harmony.
If we create space in a group to address these deep issues of injustice and discrimination, pain will arise, but so will the opportunity for change and growth and learning on a deeper level. However, the intensity of the pain can also blow a group apart and make other learning impossible if we are not prepared for it.
So I’ve learned, the hard way, to find the right time and space for these discussions. Not too early—for the group needs a chance to settle, bond, and build trust. But not too late. Not late at night, or right before the day off, or right before the end.
Conflict can be creative and productive—when it stays focused on the issues. When attacks become personal, and people get locked into defensiveness, the underlying issues get buried and we lose a huge opportunity for learning.
Had I been wiser, at that long-ago Seder, I might have been able to step us back from the content of that conflict and say, “Hey, this is really about the deep pain of feeling excluded. The pain lesbians feel at being excluded from the Jewish mainstream—and the pain we all feel as Jews about being excluded for 2000 years. Once we acknowledge that pain, maybe we can find some common ground.”
It’s easy to get locked into something that feels like a solution to the problem, but really might only be one possible way to address it. Whether or not we put a piece of bread on the seder plate, discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender folks will continue. In some situations, that symbolic act might strengthen the group’s resolve to challenge and fight that oppression. In other situations, it might simply create division and deflect attention from the real issues. Once we unpack the hurt, and remember the goal, we might be able to find some way together to create a symbol of inclusion that will work for all of us.
Earth Activist Training teaches permaculture design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Upcoming courses include:
September 28-October 2nd at Quail Springs in Southern California
You can stay up to date on all the upcoming Earth Activist Training courses on the website.
We have just launched a new fundraising campaign to support EAT’s Diversity Scholarship Program, which makes training in permaculture and ecological design accessible to people of color and differently-abled people working in environmental and social justice. If you are inspired by the work we are doing, please consider making a donation to our campaign on Generosity. Or you can donate HERE
Photo by Brooke Porter Photography
A note on the bread-on-the-Seder-plate story:
In later years, I noticed that the bread seemed to be replaced by an orange, which seemed to me to be a reasonable substitute. But in googling around for this post, I found this article by Susannah Heschel, who originated the orange tradition in the ‘80s, to symbolize inclusion of women, lesbians and gays, the widows, orphans and all who have been excluded. She asks that we eat the orange to remember the juicy contributions all these groups have made, and spit out the seeds of hate.
Rebecca Alpert, whose 1997 book was entitled Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition, suggests that no lesbians ever actually put bread on the plate. http://forward.com/opinion/172960/slice-of-bread-for-lgbt-jews-and-all-the-excluded/ She should have been at our Seder! Joshua Lesser, after a trip to offer solidarity to the Immokalee workers striking for their rights in the tomato fields of Florida, suggests placing a tomato on the plate for all those still enslaved. http://forward.com/opinion/172962/for-those-still-enslaved-tomato-symbolizes-solidar/ And Rebecca Vilkomerson places an olive for the Palestinians and all oppressed peoples, in commemoration of the olive trees destroyed by the Israeli army. http://forward.com/opinion/172963/put-olive-on-seder-plate-for-palestinians-and-all/ And Susie Kisber recounted for us the story of a seder where the crust of bread was shellacked so that it could be placed on the seder plate but not actually touch it and compromise its ritual purity!
Both Kate and Marcia read a draft of this article and graciously consented to my writing the story, and all of us agree that we’re older and wiser now, and might be able to handle the situation more flexibly.
A living tradition grows and changes—and so can we! The deep message of Passover is that the work of liberation goes on, in every generation. Let us approach it with courage and compassion, and welcome in a new spring of hope.
I have had many teachers and co-explorers on this journey, too many to name them all. But today I’m thinking of some of the friends with whom we began the WomanEarth Institute back in the early ‘90s, an attempt to form an ecofeminist learning environment that addressed issues of racism and exclusion: Ynestra Kind, Luisah Teish, Rachel Bagby, Gen Vaughn, Margo Adair, Shea Howell, and many others. And some of my current co-conspirators in Earth Activist Training and related groups: Charles Williams, Pandora Thomas, Rushelle Frazier, Jay Rosenberg, Brandy Mack and Wanda Stewart.
The self-publishing adventure continues! I now have City of Refuge available on Amazon, both as an Ebook and a Print on Demand paperback book. Occasionally I get an irate message on my Facebook feed or email, something like:
“Starhawk, I thought you were a progressive person—how can someone with your politics deal with Amazon?”
To be honest, I’ve tried for years, decades, to discourage people from buying from Amazon. Their business model contributed to driving hundreds of independent bookstores out of business. They are not great to their warehouse workers, and exploit them. It’s my personal belief that having used books available on Amazon very cheaply has cut deeply into royalties for authors and revenues for publishers and made it extremely hard to make a living as an author.
All that is true. Unfortunately, there is no way to effectively self-publish a book, and NOT deal with Amazon. For that matter, even books that publishers put out get sold on Amazon. Many of those wonderful women’s bookstores and independent bookstores are gone now, and Amazon pretty much is where you have to go if you want to sell books in any quantity.
We can blame Amazon for this—and certainly they are to blame. But so are the thousands of individuals decisions people have made, to buy something quick online instead of going out the door to their local bookstore. But then, maybe you’re too tired to go out to the local bookstore because you’re working a job where the staff has been downsized and the workload has been increased and by the time you get home, you’re too tired to drag yourself back out the door. And that discounted used book you get on Amazon is all you can afford, if you want to read at all.
I originally planned to have the Ebook and some version of a Print-on-demand book also available on my website. Then, in the course of the Kickstarter campaign, we discovered that most people don’t know how to download an E-book and get it into their reader. They’re used to Amazon or iTunes doing it for them. I don’t know how, really, myself—let alone know how to tell you how. So, without support staff, it didn’t seem like a good idea.
We will eventually have the book available online in other places. Bookstores can order City of Refuge now through Ingram Book Company, but I make a very small amount per book sold through Ingram, unfortunately: $3 per book as opposed to about $7 a copy from each Ebook on Amazon and around $8 a copy for the paperbacks I sell through CreateSpace on Amazon. I encourage you all to ask your local independent bookstore to carry the book— even though I make a lot less on books sold to brick and mortar bookstores. If you or your local bookstore wants to order directly from me so that both of us make a few extra dollars, you can have them email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send them a link to order directly. Why was it I wanted to self-publish, again?
Of course, I could print books myself and sell them directly. I did print an extra 1000 copies above the Kickstarter run, and selling them directly is lucrative. But backbreaking. I can’t quite imagine even Amazon has a 73 year old employee with two extremely painful knees over due for surgery staggering around carrying 25 pound boxes of books. I do—and he doesn’t even get paid. Well—he does have some special perks—he’s my husband, but a salary, pension and paid vacations are not part of the package. Come to think of it, my knees aren’t so great, either. And if I could get paid even a warehouse-worker’s wages for the four years I’ve put into the book, at this point I’d be very happy!
So, there you have it. I’d love to live in the world of City of Refuge, in an economy designed to support creativity and compassion. But, in this world, I’ve got to do what I can to make the work sustainable for me. If it’s not, I won’t be a very good advocate for anyone else.
Spring Equinox—Eostar, the festival of the ancient Goddess who gave her name to Easter. The days grow longer—now day and night are in perfect balance. I understand why eggs are such a part of this holiday—not just that they symbolize new life, but now with the longer days the chickens are laying abundantly. I have eggs for breakfast with the deep golden yolks that only come from chickens who scratch in real dirt and eat realbugs. Fertility is all around us. Baby lambs and baby goats frolic in the grass, and it all looks like an animated Easter card!
With everything blossoming and burgeoning with life, it’s hard to worry about elections or climate change or any of the incipient catastrophes potentially bearing down on us. And I’m not trying too hard to make myself worry—in spite of a deeply ingrained cultural belief that if you don’t worry enough about bad things happening, you’ll somehow make them happen. As if worry and stress could create a bulwark to hold back the badness.
I’m letting that go, with this holiday. The really bad things that happen—they tend to sneak up on you anyway, hitting when you least expect them. Worrying can’t ward them off, it can only undercut our ability to replenish our own springs of energy and hope. We need these times of renewal and joy to keep us going and help us weather the storms when they come.
I truly believe the daffodils want us to notice how the light shines through them so they glow, translucent in the late afternoon. The lilacs and madrones want to make us drunk with their scent. Responding to nature with joy and gratitude and wonder is part of our job as humans, part of the way we maintain the balance.
So go do your job—take a moment today to gaze in wonder at an unfolding bud, or to plant a seed, or to really pay attention to the chorus of bird song. Find your inner balance, and let it bring you the renewed energy we need to redress the imbalances in the world around us.
A blessed Spring Equinox to you all!