It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair. –Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’
I attended the Pagan Activist Conference hosted, funded, and organized by the Pantheon Foundation this weekend.
I was excited. Thrilled, actually. I was offered a “Press Pass” to attend for free, which was fucking awesome, because I couldn’t afford to attend otherwise and damn did I feel I’d be missing out. I mean, they’re “my people,” yeah?
Dammit. I wish I could report back with something warm and glowing, but with each panel I sat in, I found myself more and more depressed. The idea was great. Get a bunch of activists to talk to other activists about their causes and commonalities, share struggles and tactics and analysis. Community building at it’s best, I had thought.
Let’s Not Talk About It
The first panel was the most exciting for me: Pagan Environmental activism. Starhawk’s presence particularly thrilled me, and when it came time for questions, I asked one. Unfortunately, the answer made me feel a bit belittled and utterly alienated.
The question? How much has the commodification of American Paganism led to a divorce from Environmental issues, and how much did the Green Scare of the mid 2000’s (which caused many anti-Capitalist environmental activists to go silent) contribute to this?
The answer I received was so dismissive you would have thought I’d just said something about UFO’s and the primordial lizards who inhabit the British Monarchy. Or, perhaps, I forgot I was sitting at the children’s table. Or maybe I’d just said I wanted to have a threesome with my parents. I don’t even remember the answer that was given, because it had nothing to do with my question, but it can be heard in the videos which will be available later.
But hey! There were more panels, so I shook off my disappointment. I missed two the next morning due to throwing out my back, but I eagerly sat in on the panel about gender. That one at least touched on Capitalism a bit (lots of ‘twinkle hands’), but the moderator asked to re-state my question and the answer I received was not a response to the one I asked. Still, that was a highlight, as was Thorn’s keynote.
The phone call-in system for the conference is wonky, unfortunately. My call dropped off during the other panel I looked forward to the most, “Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists.” John Beckett had just begun to speak as my call was dropped, which was a great disappointment. Technology always disappoints me, though.
The panel which made me understand precisely why I’d become increasingly depressed at a larger narrative throughout the conference, however, was the one on building infrastructure. Each session led in with a short plug for the work of the Pantheon Foundation, the non-profit built by Sam Webster to help fund Pagan causes. The Wild Hunt, which pays me to write, is now under the Pantheon Foundation’s umbrella, so you might understand that any critiques I have about them are in essence ‘biting the hand that feeds me.”
The infrastructure panel ended up being an extended discussion of the Pantheon Foundation. The first 30 minutes or so were Sam Webster explaining how Paganism needs money. He read that (awful) poem about how “the coin is for all,” and explained to us that corporations can be bad or good, and he creates the good kind of corporations, and we need lots of money for stuff.
By the time the third panelist has finished explaining to us how to raise lots of money for things, I proposed a question which was (happily) asked in its’ entirety. I do not remember the exact wording, but it was like something like this:
“How does raising money for infrastructure cripple or mediate activist critiques of Capitalism? That is, what place for a Pagan Anti-Capitalist within this?”
The answer? Apparently, it doesn’t cripple anyone. And there’s nothing wrong with being very rich, and Capitalism has its problems, but we can work on righting those so this is a non-issue and let’s raise money!
By the time Alley Valkyrie spoke, I was overcome with such despair that I could barely take joy in her words.
Ai Vist Lo Lop
There’s an old song, in Occitan, called “Ai Vist Lo Lop (I see the wolf).” It’s a children’s song now, though like many such songs, it’s a rather despairing song about poverty. Also, in one interpretation I’ve read, it’s likely a dirge of the poor upon seeing the alliance between government, priests and landlords:“I see the wolf and the fox and the hare I see the wolf and the fox dancing All three danced around the tree… …When I see the wolf and fox and the hare there’s nothing left for us anymore.”
I’m remembering a night before I left Eugene, sitting around a fire with my lover, another lover, and Alley, drinking hot cocoa and talking very late into the night. I remember thinking that it was the last time I would feel I was understood by others, the stars wheeling overhead, the firelight reflecting off the underside of cherry and maple leaves, our talk about the problems of the world and our fierce hope crackling with joy, votives of hope rising with the sparks from those flames.
We’d talked some about this sort of thing, and also how there’s very little space for folks like us except the ones we create. Like ghosts living in the walls, or chamomile in the cracks of sidewalks, or sometimes like the three pigs fleeing the wolf, hoping eventually to find a safe place to stand and fight.
There’s very little place for those of us who want to stand and fight, to attack the wolf we’re fleeing from.
At best, a non-profit Foundation can help fund a few things that make life a little better for some people, but it cannot actually fix the problems it address because it needs Capitalism to continue. If it wants more money, it needs its funders to do very well in Capitalism so they’ll give it more money. It cannot attack the wolf, only help build more straw huts for the wolf to blow down while hoping the wolf does well enough that it has more straw huts to build.
Consider: the non-profit agency I work for shelters and houses homeless people. This is a very, very good thing to do, but the one thing it actually wants to do (end homelessness) it cannot do. It gets its funding from governments which tax Capitalists and from individual donors who do well by Capitalism and want to “give a little back.”
It can never attack the Capitalist logic which creates homelessness without endangering its own funding. It can argue for a kinder, more humane Capitalism, just as some environmentalists have been pushing to “green” the American wars by minimizing military carbon emissions, or have praised the military installation at Guantanamo Bay for using solar and wind power.
I suspect this is why Capitalism was the one thing no-one talked about in the presentations of the Pagan Activist Conference this weekend. The whole thing was being funded by a Foundation that requires the continuance of Capitalism (and expressly states that the “coin” trumps the sword of insurrection or the cup of ‘Dionysian’ rebellion). I do not assert there was a pre-determined plan to avoid it, nor am I suggesting Pantheon asked anyone not to talk about Capitalism. But in the minds of most of the panelists, who are bright, caring, passionate and deep-thinking folks, I suspect they sensed this same denkverbot.
But why talk about Capitalism, really? There are more immediate problems, right? There’s all these blown-down houses–we should repair them.
Yes. But we can’t keep running from the wolf and whomever else has decided to dance with it.
You cannot address each individual societal problem without also attacking the machinery behind it. Activists who care about animal rights, the environment, immigration, prison justice, anti-war, homelessness, gender and sexual equality, poverty, or other ills and don’t address Capitalism are ignoring the one thing which unites all our struggles:
- The commodification of animals in industrialized slaughterhouses is created to maximize profit.
- The damage to the environment from fracking, clearcutting, and pollutant dumping makes money for CEO’s and shareholders alike.
- The manufacture of racial tension of poor peoples against each other maintains a distracted, divided and powerless work force unable to organize against exploitative employers and governments.
- The imprisonment of whole populations of people and the illegalization of immigrants cloisters away threats to private property and culls the labor-pool.
- Foreign military interventions profit arms manufacturers while brutalizing young men and women looking for a way to afford college.
- Homelessness inculcates fear into the minds of the housed worker, who won’t risk missing a debt payment or going on strike lest they, too, suffer as the homeless do.
- Cities and towns which build roads instead of public transit ensure petrol and automobile industries have a steady consumer base.
- Patriarchal structures within Capitalism ensure half of society never makes as much as the other half, pitting the genders against each other (and villifying any who attempt to transgress those divisions), while extracting free domestic labor from people who just happen to have a second X chromosome.
- Even illness profits people. Every HIV+ person, every cancer diagnosis is a new source of income for pharmaceutical and medical corporations. Cures don’t make money, treatment does.
Until people cannot make money from human and non-human misery and suffering, activists can only be combat medics, doing a quick patch-up while the bullets continue to fly. Until the wolf is killed, we’re always going to be running to the next house and praying that, even though it was built with money from the wolf, the owner might not have been dancing around that tree, too.