A gathering of 2500 practitioners of Pagan, polytheist and magical traditions in San Jose, California.
Monday morning, after a very full weekend, we packed up our hotel room and went to the cold, carpeted ballroom to set up chairs into two Vesicae Piscis, each holding the other in gentle arcs. A microphone was set up in the center of the room.
The Pagans of Color Caucus had taken the opportunity afforded by Pantheacon staff who suggested they use this space vacated by a canceled workshop to offer “Creating Brave Spaces for People of Color.” It was needed.
People trickled in, taking their seats. Some words of welcome and explanation were said. And then one of the most potent rituals I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of began.
It was the beginning of the Telling of Truth.
The sort of telling of truth that must occur before there can be any talk of reconciliation. I’ve said many times that before there can be peace, there must be justice. The corollary is this: before there can be reconciliation or healing, there must be truth.
People shouted. People raged. Some spoke so quietly it was hard to hear them. Many others wept. Most of us wept. Stories were told. Opinions offered. One person was angrily challenged in the midst of palpable grief. And after two hours, the Pagans of Color stood in the center as white allies circled around to hold and bear witness. The names of the dead were recited. Loud screams of sorrow and rage cut through the air. And then, more names were sobbed out. And these words, repeated over and over, from a raw and burning throat: “I see you. I hear you. I know you. I love you.” And to the white people bearing witness: “See us. Hear us. Know us. Love us.”
We see you. We hear you. We know you. We love you.
Then we sang.
This was a weekend filled with more instances of racism than I can even recount to you: white people’s swastikas defended, Jewish bankers decried by a workshops attendee, (1) a presenter saying, “it is good to learn Spanish for talking to workers,” a Pilipina told that “Paganism is European indigenous religion" and not for her, people walking by the Pagans of Color suite every hour or two, hissing “racists!”,white people drunkenly insisting they don’t need to understand privilege, a misguided attempt at satire being taken seriously enough that a few people actually wanted to take a workshop on how to avoid the topic of racism…(2)
These are but a handful of the incidents that occurred. I also saw many other forms of simple disrespect leveled at my sisters, brothers, and siblings by white people who should know better. By the time the Pagans of Color Caucus was meeting Sunday night, things had gotten so bad that a group of allies offered to stand outside the doors to make sure nothing interrupted the meeting. (3)
And in and around all of this, Con happened. I know that great workshops and rituals were had by many people. I feel amazingly privileged to have facilitated and participated in the panels that I did. The one workshop I was able to attend – Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie’s “Gods and Radicals” – was fantastic and needs several days of conversations for follow up. But I felt like I was in my own Con: a convention of confronting racism. Of sharing food and drink and building alliances with those who are most affected by injustice, and with those who pledge to actively stand against it.
I saw it this year. I really saw it: the things my Black and brown comrades face daily, but mostly don’t talk about because what white person would believe that things really are this bad?
Meanwhile, every 28 hours a person of color is killed by police or security forces in the US. In the US, every week so far this year, a trans woman of color has been murdered. So many people have been killed just since Mike Brown’s death that I have stopped keeping track. And those are just the ones that come through my feed from the people I organize with locally. I know there are more that never even surface in my awareness.
And yet some white people need more stories to hear just how crushing daily racism is to our Black and brown neighbors and co-religionists. Some white people want personal attention around how badly they feel when asked to confront their own privilege.
We need to start paying better attention.
We need to cultivate a vision of the world we want to build, and that has to include a deeper understanding of the one we all currently inhabit, not just our own small bubble within that world.
The weekend was intense – after the uprising began in Ferguson, and the further escalation of overt racism in the country began, I knew it would be. After statements and non-statements, and out and out silence on the subject of police terror and the slaughter of African Americans, after the relegating of this scourge as a “cause du jour” by some Pagan leaders despite the fact that some of us have been working on these issues for years, I knew what was coming. I had prepared for this, clearing my schedule of all but moderating and sitting on panels that dealt with necessary change: one on nurturing younger leaders, one on bringing race to the table, and one on cultural appropriation.
Our whole Temple board had prepared for the weekend knowing that we would need to be strong and present for those who would need support, including one another.
The week before Con, someone quipped on Twitter: “It’s four days until Pantheacon and participants are already preparing to take umbrage at something.” Another dismissal. As though standing up for trans inclusion two years in a row was a trifle. And as if the issue of racism in Paganism wasn’t already quite clearly set to be one unstated theme of this year’s PantheaCon.
Several people asked why I wasn’t teaching classes or leading ritual as usual. They missed me on the schedule. I replied that my work this weekend was with the panels. After the very moving “Honoring or Appropriation” panel – which I hope you listen to when it is up on Elemental Castings – one of these people folded me into a deep hug. He said he now realized that this panel was as big a teaching as I have ever offered. He understood now why I wasn’t teaching my usual classes.
This too, is part of the Great Work.
PantheaCon 2015 was filled with joy, laughter, camaraderie, community, and gratitude as well as physical pain from a minor injury I sustained mere days before. Mostly though? PantheaCon 2015 was underscored by my sense of anger. Anger so wide and deep that by the end, I was back to the states I inhabited so often in my youth: wishing to punch things while remaining perfectly still inside and out. Wishing to punch things, while finding my center and calling on my Gods. Wishing to punch things while offering calm explanations, a compassionate ear, or shoulders to cry upon. Wishing to weep, in the midst of great love.
I’m eternally grateful to those who are taking active leadership during these times of foment.
I'm taking steps to continue organizing with groups and individuals who are committed to building a culture based on love, equity, and justice. I hope that you will join us in this sacred task.
In the middle of the Honoring or Appropriation panel, I paused the hundreds sitting in the ballroom and asked us all to breathe and call upon Compassion and Anger.
I seem to be walking with them still.
And yet, there is also joy in my heart, and joy on the faces of my friends. So I leave you with a few pictures of that joy, taken at Pantheacon 2015.
The sharing of joy is as important as telling our truths to one another.
(1) Late Edit: This originally read "Jewish bankers decried in workshops" which could possibly be read as being done by a presenter. It was a workshop attendee who talked about Jews and the monetary system, and international conspiracy. That sort of speech is often shortened to being described as talk of "Jewish bankers."
(2) Late edit: The authors of the item posted a very thoughtful apology in the comments of the linked blog.
(3)Addendum for clarity: The Sunday evening Caucus was a meeting already on the Con schedule and was separate from the Monday morning meeting I speak of at the beginning of this piece, which was added to the schedule after various events on Saturday upset many Pagans of Color and white Pagans. At the Bringing Race to the Table panel Saturday, it was decided that people wanted more time to process. Con gave this to us all with the Monday slot.
Also, ConOps had offered security for the Sunday eve meeting, but knowing how busy they are, allies stepped up and offered to stand watch. ConOps checked in with us on this, and I believe there was a Con staffer on duty inside the door as well.
I want to thank those on Pantheacon staff and leadership – particularly Jaimie – who really stepped up around issues of race: making space, offering support and security, taking complaints, and making clear there is a zero tolerance policy for racist behavior at Con.
A small group of Pagans, including Solar Cross Temple, have launched Pagans Against Racism as a community resource. Please make us of it.
The three panels I mentioned will all be up on Elemental Castings within the month.
Solar Cross Temple is starting a series of online community classes on leadership, restorative justice, psychology, and other topics in March. Not listed yet but in the works are also classes on unlearning racism and becoming better allies in the struggle for justice.
I honor so many people: Aine, Xochiquetzal, Crystal, Ryan, Robert, Jonathan, Sophia, Jaimie, Elena, Brennos, Morpheus, Patrick...and all the others showing up to help build coalitions of support.
To those concerned about my walking with a cane during Con: I had a training injury – while exercising Monday before Con, I leapt over a giant tire, slightly missed, and landed with full weight on the top side of my foot – I'm healing rapidly and well. Thank you.