2015 has been one hell of a year. So many incidences, so many opportunities to engage, so many open doors for social change, so many tears. This year has probably been one of the most challenging years for those who are pushing for social justice, and there have been a lot of areas of need as a result.
When thinking about the closing of 2015, I have been reminiscing on some of the most courageous work of people I feel honored enough to share this work with, and I am continuously inspired by the voices, leadership, social activism, love and encouragement of the people on this list.
As I have said the two years before, this list could go on and on. There are many people who deserve to be on it, and so much work that has been done in 2015. It is a hard time to be a social change agent within general society and within any intersecting community, including Paganism. The people on this list don’t just work within Paganism, but work within greater society with their passion and activism to create and inspire change that will ripple into the many different areas of our world.
I had many people to choose from this year, and many of the people I put on the previous years lists were also so active in 2015 that it was a challenge to choose. A good challenge though.
I will add that I am grateful to everyone on this list, and the years prior, for continuing to contribute to the needs and hope that our society can change for the better. I learn from each and every person on this list. Thank you for your service.
(This list is in no particular order)
Yvonne Conway-Williams: Not only has Yvonne been a part of the Pagan community for a while, she has been a supportive person in Pagan organizations such as Covenant of the Goddess (COG). Most recently she took a bold step after recent organizational upheaval, and became the National Co-First Officer of COG. As a woman of color, Yvonne is lending her experiences and adding color to the leadership of a historic organization within our community.
Yvonne is also one of the founders of a new group that started this year, United Pagans of Color. This group hosts a monthly meeting of support for Pagans of color in the Long Beach area of Southern California. According to their facebook page, “The United Pagans of Color is a healing community for people of color and allies to come share their experiences with racism and participate in discussions of diversity, reclaiming our voices and our rightful place as part of the hidden community amongst the greater Pagan circle.”
Sacred Well Staff (Yeshe, Barry, Meredith, Albert, Grey, Lou and other wonderful staff): The incredible staff of the Sacred Well shop do so much wonderful work in the local Oakland/Bay Area community in which it resides. Offering a range of diverse classes, readings, merchandise and shiny things to look at, it is a local favorite for many people in the East Bay. We are very lucky to have a few GREAT shops in our local area. But that is not the reason the Sacred Well staff made it on this list.
This shop, under incredible leadership, puts social justice issues at the forefront of many things that they do. I love going there, to the shop on a majorly commercialized street around Lake Merritt, and see their Black Lives Matter sign on the front door. Any day you walk into the shop there will be candles on an altar honoring the victims of people killed by police violence, racism, misogyny, and the ills of society. Several times they have created candle labels and gave them away to people who want to send energy or ask for justice for these victims. On any given day someone can walk into the shop, get some engaging conversations going with staff, tap into magic, and see social activism in action within the Pagan community.
Darcy Trotten and Jasper James: The Pagan team from Northern California, Darcy and Jasper, came out strong in 2015 with two projects pushing the boundaries of social change. After the first time at PantheaCon, this couple made some commitments to do work within our community for healing, change and social action. Two projects facilitated by both of them spoke to me greatly. Their #altarsforjustice project and a series of “Spirituality and Social Justice” Workshops are additions to the growing need to acknowledge the intersectionality between multiple social and magical communities.
In a interview I did with Darcy and Jasper for a Wild Hunt piece, they explained the altar for justice with the following. “We have an ongoing public art project going on. Inspired by photos of [the] large Justice Altar at a recent Pagan Festival, #AltarsforJustice is a series of small shadow box altars that are, by and large, memorials to those killed by police violence and hate crimes. Initially, this project was conceived as a local one. We wanted to make space for those experiencing grief over the brutal deaths that we have been collectively experiencing in the news but had no real outlet to express our sorrow and our solidarity. Art is a powerful method of communication and I realized quickly that these altars could start to connect people around social justice issues.”
Despite challenges and opposition, this duo continued to hold space for these projects in 2015 and support meaningful work and observances.
Beverley Smith: Beverly is not new to Paganism or to being a change agent. Her show In the Streets With Beverley Smith, sponsored by the Lucky Mojo Curio Company, runs on the LMC Radio Network every Tuesday night. Beverley does the hard job of following and learning about all of the social injustices, police brutality and killing of unarmed Black people in America, and sharing information and thoughts on that in her show.
Her strong magical influence is felt within Pagan circles and communities, and she reaches outside of that as a passionate Black woman that isn’t afraid to be a consistent advocate for social change and equity. She does this inside and outside of our community, bringing awareness, information and passion to the work.
Heather Greene: In 2014 Heather took over the Wild Hunt and in 2015 she broadened the platform to including areas of reporting previously undone. Heather added additional staff, reporting and columnists of different ethnicities, socioeconomic brackets and from different countries to the landscape of The Wild Hunt team. She has pushed the boundaries of the Wild Hunt to include several pieces that speak to a wide range of issues, including Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, mental illness, issues of child abuse, and mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris.
Heather Greene has shown incredible vision, strength and endurance as a leader of our Communities largest news outlet. She has also continued to work towards equity in voice and access to different views in 2015.
Jaime Morgan: Jaime is well known to PantheaCon guests, and presenters, and has served as a part of the Senior Programming leadership for the last 7 years. After three years as co-head of programming, she moved into being the head of programming and leading this team for the last two years. We have seen Jaime doing remarkable things, from organizing the vast presentations of the Con to writing the anti-harssment policy that was released in 2014, and yet 2015 she gave even more to our local and national community.
Jaime was the main staff member present and supporting the people of color during the 2015 PantyCon mishap. She was present, listening, of service, empathetic, and a true ally in the challenges that arose this past Con for many of the people of color. One of the most supportive things she did was offer a last minute slot and space where POC and allies could come and have an open forum to discuss their experiences and process all that we were carrying. It is still, to this day, one thing I will not forget about all the PantheaCons I have been to. And she didn’t stop there.
Jaime’s next contribution was leading a team to wade through 487 proposals for the upcoming 2016 PantheaCon, 223 of which were accepted, to select programming for the upcoming Change Makers theme.
Brennos Agrocunos: Brennos is a writer, one of the founders of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood and a dedicant of the Morrigan. He is also an activist, the kind that takes to the streets to demand accountability and social change. I am not sure how many protests and actions that Brennos has supported or demonstrated at this year, but I know that I easily lost count because there was that much happening in the Bay Area in 2015.
While out on these actions Brennos wears his Coru Cathubodua clergy jacket and is often holding a sign. He has participated in local MLK marches, interfaith actions, local police brutality incidents and vigils. It is always amazing, comforting and inspiring to see Brennos on the front lines for social change and as a Pagan.
Melissa Murry: Melissa is not new to social justice or activism. She has been working in various avenues of activism for some time. Whether it be local politics, housing rights, or trans inclusivity, Melissa has always shown a lot of heart and done a lot of work in intersecting areas. For well over a year Melissa worked on the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) campaign in Houston, Texas.
One of the things I have always admired about Melissa is her ability to use her own life experiences, her connections within community, and her education together to position herself in righteous community level interventions. And even though she was recently recovering from her battle with cancer, she continued to fight for the rights of others.
Sad to say that HERO did not pass, but that just means there is a lot more work to be done.
Pagans of the Interfaith 14 (Marrissa Evans and T. Thorn Coyle): Both Marrissa Evans and T. Thorn Coyle were apart of a group of 14 interfaith leaders that did a rally and sit in at the Alameda County Court House in Oakland, California in November of this year. This action was in support of the Black Friday 14, a group of people that shut down BART in 2014 as a part of a national action and was being charged by the Alameda County district attorney.
All 14 of the interfaith leaders were arrested and charged with trespassing. Out of the 14 leaders, two of them were Pagan activists and leaders within the community. Marrisa Evans and T. Thorn Coyle were the two Pagans that were a part of this action, put their own freedom on the line, and represented a broader reflection of clergy within the interfaith and activist movement. And their action paid off. The district attorney dropped the charges against the Black Friday 14, even though the Interfaith 14 still have to go to court for their trespassing charges.
Rhyd Wildermuth: Writer and known anti-capitalist Rhyd Wildermuth founded the Gods and Radicals adventure in 2015. Since it’s inception Gods and Radicals has been a ongoing source of writing from a variety of talented authors about many different topics of resistance. Rhyd not only brought this site to fruition and gathered a bunch of strong writers to write on topics not hosted in other arenas of our Pagan world, he also edited and published the Winter 2016 collection of essays in A Beautiful Resistance.
Lots of movement in a short time, with dedication, focus and an end goal of providing space for these challenging dialogs and critical exploration to happen. Hosting these amazing pieces and making some of the often hidden dialogs and writing more mainstream within our community fosters a lot of discussion and supports mainstream cultural shifts. We all benefit from these cultural shifts that change the status quo.
The coming year will bring our intersecting communities and community members additional opportunities to make an impact. My mother use to always tell me to leave something better than I found it; I think that applies here. We all have a responsibility to leave it better than we found it. I am grateful to those on this list who do the work and mirror to everyone great examples of what that looks like.
I will end as I have the last two years…… The more we speak, the more we are heard. The more we stand, the more we are seen. The more we give love, the more we learn to receive it back. And for all of those reasons, I want to give a personal thank you to the change agents on this list and everywhere that continue to do the work to make it a better world for us all.
Here is to another year of supporting one another in making change, setting culture, personal growth, and standing up for social justice.
Now, let us all keep working with the Gods by our side.