Starhawk, Pagan author, Reclaiming Tradition co-founder, and social justice activist will be visiting the Twin Cities in support of the Occupy Minnesota movement next Monday and Tuesday, December 5-6th. Starhawk will be appearing Monday, December 5th at Mayday Books, 301 Cedar Ave S, on the West Bank, Minneapolis from 5-7pm offering a meeting facilitation training session. The Occupy General Assembly begins after at 7pm at the Occupy Minneapolis site, 300 S. 6th St, Mpls, MN. This is a fairly spontaneous trip and further details of Tuesday’s schedule and further training opportunities will be updated.
I interviewed Starhawk by phone this morning about Pagans and the Occupy movement.
What do you see as your role for the Occupy movement in Minnesota?
My role with the Occupy groups has been trying to plug-in around training and meeting facilitation. That is where I have the greatest contribution to make, and I have seen the biggest need. Everyone suddenly decided to go out for large consensus in the park, but most people don’t have any training or experience with meeting facilitation. General Assemblies are not the easiest place to start in facilitating a meeting! I have many years of experience with consensus and with different forms of meetings and group process and with democratic and horizontally structured group organizing. I think this type of group is very familiar to us in the Pagan community.
What particular experiences and perspectives might Pagans bring to the Occupy Movement?
What Pagans bring is first, most of us have experience working collaboratively in circles or small groups. That is a form of organizing. We have a basic approach to life, spirituality, to the world, that doesn’t depend on an external authority, No, we are our own authority. Secondly most Pagans learn about energy and awareness, and that is really key in preparing for action and holding and maintaining non-violence in the face of violence. Facilitating a meeting is a lot of watching the energy and moving with the energy. Thirdly, I think we bring an ethic that we are supposed to take care of the Earth, and take care of our people. We are all interconnected. We have to live our lives and shape our society based on those values. That is why the Occupy movement is really exciting.
How can Pagans learn to be successful working transparently together in larger and more diverse community groups?
I have a new book out called “The Empowerment Manual, A Guide for Collaborative Groups”, that is all about the challenges we face working in groups. Whether we are Pagans or political activists, as soon as we try to work together we realize we have to work with other very different people. They are irritating, annoying, and they often think differently than we do. They have their power issues and we have our own. I wrote the book because I saw so many groups of a wide range of types, struggling with the same issues. I wanted to provide a framework that would be helpful. Part of the issue we bring is we come into these groups saying we have “perfect love and perfect trust “, but no one really taught us how to do that. We come from a system that is very top down. In your family, if you and your sister have a fight, Mom comes in and says, “Break it up, You go over there, you stop beating up on your brother”. There are circles that have a High Priest and Priestess, which can create its own problems, but there are a lot of circles who don’t. They may be working collaboratively, and there is no “Mom” to say “Break it up” and say “You are right and you are wrong”, or, “You make amends to her”. Many groups are intuitive or loose around a lot of things, which is great. When you start being intuitive or loose around money and keeping account of your money, that creates a fertile field to have conflict and create suspicion and accusation. I think of transparency and accountability as ways to set the stage, as when you grow a garden, You prepare the ground and you fertilize it to grow certain things and to favor certain things. If we set up our groups with healthy boundaries, with an understanding of different types of power and how people can fairly earn social power with a system for accountability, well then we can invest trust in one another. Allow people to have autonomy and freedom of action and creativity, so groups can work really well together.
The Occupy movement makes collective agreements for action, how can Pagans learn to be patient enough for the consensus process and resolution of conflicts to take place?
One thing is to recognize that we all have conflicts and we often frame them in that old way of “good versus evil”. In essence that is not a Pagan framework. The pagan framework is around balance. Many of our conflicts are really conflicts around “good versus good”, that is, we have competing values that are both good values, that we both may share, but it about their balance. For example if we want to teach a class do we charge money? We have one set of values that says, “Spirituality should be free, and should be freely offered and accessible.” We might have another set of values that says, “Work should be sustainable and people should get paid for their work.” Women are always being asked to give away their time and energy. Both of those are ‘good’ sets of values, but we need to find the best dynamic balance between the two of them. I encourage people to think about conflict in terms of learning. If you are in conflict, getting negative feedback, etc., step back from the framework of defense and come back and say wait, “I am learning something from this”. It may be I am learning what a wrong-headed person thinks about me, or learning a piece of something about myself that may be painful or wrapped in a vicious personal attack, maybe there is some kernel under there that I can learn from. Then we don’t have to be so defensive and up in arms about every conflict that we are involved in.
Pagans often avoid values and ethics discussions, why are they addressed so directly in the Occupy movement ?
In the Occupy Movement a lot of things have had to be addressed by the nature of the movement. When you go down and plant tents in the middle of cities, many of those places became a magnet for people who don’t have other options. Don’t have houses or other living spaces. That is one of the key things the Occupy movement is about, the clear disparity of wealth and economic injustice that many of those people around us experience. The camps are wide open to anybody, which means you don’t have to be in a state where you are capable of understanding other people’s needs. They have been plagued by people who may be drunk, or have mental health issues, or other issues that are right in your face all the time if you are living among them and hold general assemblies and discussion. The Occupy movement has had to grapple with really some of the things that our larger society want to shove away. It is ironic that all over the country the occupations are being attacked, evicted and cleared out often on the rational that “They are just ‘homeless’ camps.” What you really mean is that the homeless people who may be there in our cities all the time are collected in one place and so are visible, and we can’t avoid that issue now. The Occupy movement says, “Well here is a place where people who need social services are all collected, why not provide those services?” What a great way to get people into permanent housing, or treatment, or case management. The truth is most cities don’t have access to those services. If they do have them they are being cut back by the very economic issues the Occupy Movement is protesting. Instead of saying this represents a tremendous failure of our society to take care of its most needy and vulnerable people, they are saying, “Lets evict them all, they are bad, they are dirty, get them out of our sight!”
I have heard many discussions around, “How do we respond to this need in a way that represents our values?” , “How do we embrace people who are so different from themselves? ” In the Pagan community we don’t draw such a big circle, we don’t say we ARE the 99%. In the groups I am in, we set community standards. In Reclaiming, we define our public rituals as all drug and alcohol free, because we want to create a space where people can share on deeper level and where people are not clouded by substances and it is safe for people in recovery. Also it sends a signal that this is not just a party space, it something to come to with a certain state of consciousness. Some of the Occupy camps have also said, “No drugs or aochohol”, others have not. In a lot of ways it is a giant social experiment. If you could get a bird’s eye view of all the different camps you might see how it plays out differently in each of them.
Is the Occupy Movement a focus of your work right now?
The Alliance of Community Trainers (ACT) has been active in training in the social justice movement since 1999, including in the Twin Cities before the Republican National convention. The last few years I have been focusing on permaculture, but now that the Occupy movement started up, that has drawn me back into more training activity. Couldn’t they have checked with me first? I would have said I already have a pretty full schedule! Like postponing the revolution until the spring!
How will the Occupy Movement play out in the next few months?
I am hoping to help the Minnesota group facilitate some of those discussions. I am a California girl and I can’t conceive camping out in a Minnesota winter. I am obviously not going to tell a Minnesota group what they should do! I think all the groups are challenged all over the country for different reasons. They have had tremendous success in bringing people together that have never been activists before. They are a tremendous resource, and a threat in that way. They will have to evolve into a new phase, because of weather, eviction, and opposition, and also simply from exhaustion. Activism never ends.
It is a huge challenge to figure out how to take that energy and momentum and move it in a way that sustains it. Eventually most people have to take care of themselves personally, and their lives. To find a way that people can continue to plug-in and keep the movement momentum going. They will need to resist the pull to get it all sucked into the drama of an election year. My experience in years of social action is that if it gets sucked into the election madness the activist energy kind of dies on the vine. My hope is the Occupy movement will steer clear of being directly involved in electoral politics. People should be involved in it, it is important and has a huge effect on people’s lives, but the Occupy movement is much stronger as an outside force that can put a certain kind of pressure on politicians that it will lose if it is identified as a movement of the Democrats or to re-elect Obama.
Facilitation and Consensus Training is invaluable for any Pagan leader, and training from one as experienced as Starhawk is a rare opportunity! Check for further updates as Starhawk’s schedule is updated.