On Inclusive Practice

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The following is the transcript of a speech given by the author at the Berkeley Pagan Alliance Festival on May 7th, 2016.

Some of you have heard the work that I’ve done on antiracism and antifascism in the Heathen community and the Pagan community.  Instead of talking about what we work against I think it is better to talk about what it is we are working for and what it is we are trying to build.  In a word the best way to put it is inclusive community.  Now what I would like to offer as far as what that is, simply my opinion and speaking only as my thoughts on this, inclusivity doesn’t just mean that everybody can show up and everybody can do their thing.  What it means is we have a community that is genuinely founded on values of human dignity and respect for all people who are in our community as well as the expectation that all who are participating in our community are showing that same respect and treating others in our community, regardless of where they come from, what color their skin is, their gender, their gender identity, their sexuality, anything that they are treated based on a platform and understanding of respect for all.  This is also understanding the only way we can truly build a community that is inclusive in this way and is truly respectful is that we ensure everybody involved is reciprocating this.

This may sound a bit confrontational but I think it is necessary to say that if we are going to be an inclusive community.  There are people who are coming into our spaces and are refusing to respect others and are refusing to recognize this basic dignity of others and using the immutable traits of their victims as justification for doing so that these individuals are people who should not be welcome in our communities.  They are showing they do not have the respect for others and that for them this basic human dignity is not important to them.  If these are things that are important to us and are critical principles to us then we have to make a firm stand for these things.

Now I know there are some who have criticized the work that is done by advocates for inclusivity and by antiracists and antifascist activists claiming that we are starting some inquisition or a witch hunt or something.  All it is we are asking is that people live the values that they claim to uphold and that when it is necessary that we all act with the moral courage to show that when we say we are inclusive, that when we say we open hands with hospitality to all who would seek shelter, especially today, that we deliver it.  Those who will not respect others, those who muscle their way in to our spaces and who assert based on claims like, “I’m white therefore I’m right” or other such notions that those people be excluded. Their actions are ones that are not respectful of either what our community stands for or others who are in our community.

This is something that is known as being a big problem in Heathenry but it is not something that is unique to our community.  There are many who are pushing these same ideas across all different facets of Paganism, some with greater degree of influence than others, and just because it is not as visible does not mean that we should excuse it.  Just because doing this work makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean we should shy away from it.  What matters is that if these are principles that we truly believe in and not simply nice ideas that we put out because they sound nice and they make us feel good then we need to be willing to do these uncomfortable things.  We have to be willing to challenge ourselves and each other to build a better community, be better people, and not just because on some abstract level it’s the right thing to do but because it is a matter of people’s safety.  It is a matter of people’s security and it is a matter of our community’s future.

If we are going to allow ourselves to be defined by those who would use Heathen practice or any Pagan practices as justification to marginalize, to dehumanize others then I do not see what future we can have.  We’ve all seen in history, both recent and less recent, what happens to those who go down that road and it is very hard to come back from it.  Instead let’s move forward.  Let’s build community bravely, in principle, and let’s not compromise on these things that we hold dear.  Let’s say what we mean, mean what we say, and do as we say.  If there are any who are reaching out to us, who genuinely seek to participate in respect and with dignity towards all, and that we welcome them and we embrace them.

There’s a lot of ways we can do this.  Part of it is simply beginning the conversation.  It also means we make ourselves available and we make ourselves accessible.  For those who have questions we answer those questions honestly.  For those who bring up these issues of discrimination and of exclusion that we, where possible, first meet the conversation in good faith and that we give them space.  Only should we draw the line when people make clear by their actions and by their words that they truly have no interest in respecting what it is we stand for.

It is an honor to be here at a festival that honors all of these things based on these ideas and that the Pagan Alliance is an organization committed to building inclusive community. It is my hope we keep making this the reality and that inclusivity becomes the norm and not simply a topic that is up for debate and something that is unclear as to what it is.  At the end of the day it is about respect and human dignity and those are things that I believe are worth fighting for and rocking the boat a bit.  The result for people is well worth the struggle.

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