Unless you comprehend the lives of others, some of their words or actions may feel strange.
They may even run counter to your very reasonable beliefs and practices.
And then one day you see. Or hear. And your well ordered sense of reason is blown into one thousand pieces, and scattered by the wind.
You are left within the burning rubble of your comprehension, and from within the piles of stone, you see a world you never could perceive before…
130 people crowded in a ballroom circle, talking about pain, and fear, and grief, and inequity. Talking about why Black Lives Matter. Working the ways of restorative justice.
Near the close of this “Restorative Justice: Black Lives Matter” workshop, I began a drum beat. I had asked the white people in the circle to let the Black and brown people in the room start the vocalizations and rhythms, to lay the foundation for our weaving.
Body rhythm started. Then a voice rose, chanting “freedom.” Other voices added, building. Dancers moved into the center. Voices swelled and shifted, the rhythms built, one on top of the other. The room filled up with music. And then, weaving itself over what we had established, came another voice, a louder voice, chanting:
“No justice! No peace!”
Others joined this voice, high and low, soft and strong. “No justice! No peace!” Underneath it all, the call of freedom continued. The rhythm built.
Until we all turned toward the center, concentric clumps of moving bodies and raised voices shifting to a vast tone, as we sent our cries up and out into the world.
This was a beautiful, powerful thing.
Afterward, a white man approached me to ask a question. He’d needed to step back from the energy raising, because he didn’t want to be sending “no justice, no peace” out as a prayer, as a spell, as a working of magic. He didn’t want to invoke a lack of peace and justice.
This makes good sense. We are often taught: don’t phrase things in the negative. And: make sure to be careful what exactly you call in.
I paused a moment and replied, “The phrase is short for ‘If there is no justice, there will be no peace.’” I also said that I had made sure we ended with strong toning, letting the words drop away into pure sound. He said he was able to step back in for that.
There was more I wanted to say, but I could feel others wanting to step up to talk, to have a moment. So I let it go.
Part of me wished I hadn’t. There was so much more to the conversation than we even began to touch upon.
Because, you see, if we were only thinking magically, he was mostly right. We want – mostly – to state clearly to the cosmos and our Gods exactly what we want to bring about. What we want to conjure. What we want to draw in.
But… if we were thinking from the places in the rubble, staring up at whole new swathes of sky, if we saw and felt the lives our siblings actually lead…the very magic that we make would change.
We would see that sometimes what we need to conjure is the power to get things done, and the insistence that we will let no person, faction, or force stand in our way.
I’m not calling this man out. He was clearly thoughtful, and a person of good will. I just want us all – particularly those who are any combination of white, able bodied, middle class, fill in your own blank – to pause and think:
“What magic might be necessary to tear down the old world in order to build anew?”
I’ve been involved in peace and justice work since my early teens. But until I began forging closer ties to Black and brown people, I could not clearly see the brutal conditions creeping around in the midst of their ordinary day-to-day. The constant conditions of racism, disenfranchisement, and inequity.
Worse, I couldn’t feel any of that. And the feeling of it, the slap in the face or the grinding down of depression or the high blood pressure brought about by simply getting along in a world that tells your children they are animals and tells you that you are neither beautiful nor smart… that feeling is what we need sometimes to recognize that nice magic, kind magic, the magic of drawing things in, is not enough.
Sometimes we need a battle cry.
Sometimes we need to shout at the top of our lungs a clear statement to the powers that be and say, “As long as there is not justice here, we will hound you, we will harry you, we will dog your heels, day and night, and you will have no peace.”
Sometimes our magic is a declaration of our power.
Sometimes our magic is both a blessing and curse.
Sometimes our magic tells the world exactly where we stand.
And when we are dealing with issues of justice? When the Black and brown people in the room are stepping to the front – as they should – I’m damn well going to follow their lead.
copyright T. Thorn Coyle
March 9, 2016
With deep gratitude to Crystal Blanton, who teaches me Restorative Justice and lead the circle with me, and to Katrina Messenger, who began the “freedom” chant, and to Beverley Smith who shouted “No justice, no peace!” and to everyone else who spoke and sang and pounded feet that day. And to all my comrades who weave the words of magic and do the work of justice, every day.
This Restorative Justice circle happened at Pantheacon, a large Pagan and Polytheist conference in San Jose, California. Crystal and I also led an RJ circle at the Parliament of the Worlds Religions and plan to continue this practice at other conferences.
For more information on Restorative Justice and our work, please contact Ankhira for a schedule of upcoming Solar Cross classes: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is another reader-funded essay.
I give thanks to all of my Patreon supporters, who donate every month so I can offer one essay and one short story to the general public for free.
I give thanks to new patrons Tony and Angela, and to supporters Constance, Stone, Omorka, Unwoman, Shemandoah, Sarah, Rain, Cid, Alley, Mica, Christine, Vyviane, Katie, Emilie, Louise, Victoria, Greg, Ealasaid, Jennifer, Louise, Rose, Starr, Sinead, Lyssa, Aeptha, Cara, Crystal, Angela, Misha, Eridanus, Cheryl, Lori, Soli, Peter, Angela, Ambariel, Sonia, Jennifer, Ruth, Miranda, Jeremy, Jonah, Michelle, Jenny, Jen, Mir, Ruth, Emilie, Jonathan, Kate, Roger & Nancy.