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Is Learning To Breathe Activism?

As Mother Davis pointed out yesterday, now is a time America needs its citizens to reject apathy and re-embrace activism. Activism is not a fringe activity in American culture, as many right wingers like to claim it is. Activism is at the heart of American society. It’s what democracy calls for. In fact, the United States of America was founded by activists. The Constitution was written in order to encourage citizens to remain activists. If we are to be patriotic American citizens, we must be activists.

But, what counts as activism? As the word itself suggests, the heart of activism is action. Unfortunately, that’s not how everyone sees it.

Starhawk, the neoPagan guru, calls herself an activist. She says of herself,

“Because I believe the earth is a living being, because we are all part of that life, because every human being embodies the Goddess, because I have a fierce, passionate love for redwoods and ravens, because clear running water is sacred, I’m an activist. And because the two hundred richest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest forty percent, because every ecosystem, traditional culture, old growth forest and life support system on the planet is under assault, and because the institutions perpetuating this unjust system are global, I’m kept very busy!”

On her web site, Starhawk has a whole page that she entitles “Activism Resources”. Far out!

But, what activism resources for actual action are actually on Starhawk’s “Activism Resources” page? I can’t find any.

Starhawk does post her schedule on her Activism Resources page. On that schedule, I see that from today through Sunday, Starhawk will be participating in the Reclaiming Community’s Dandelion Gathering. The purpose of the gathering is, well, to gather, or as Starhawk puts it, “to see just who we are”.

There is, incidentally, a charge for attendance at the Dandelion Gathering: As much as $450 for the whole extended weekend, or only the low, low cost of $55 per day. I never knew that dandelions had to pay big bucks just to get together.

Is paying hundreds of dollars to go to a gathering to hang out with other people a form of activism? It sounds more like a holiday to me.

To be fair, Starhawk does have more to offer on activism than just trippy pagan tourism packages. She also has an entire page of Ideas for Magical Activism Training. Here’s a sample of what’s offered there:

“Grounding: before ritual, during action, as a daily practice so you can do it instantly. Together with breathing from the belly, it’s a prime “Don’t Panic!” technique. Moving while grounding. Wide attention, eye contact — staying present.

Casting a circle: Both for making sacred space, and for protection, with variations for invisiblity, changing the energy in a rotten place (like jail).

Calling the elements: Basic familiarity with correspondences of air, fire, water and earth, calling them in in tense and difficult situations, drawing vitality and energy (even through concrete), working with the elemental powers.

Invoking the sacred/deity: Finding your personal allies and the allies for the work of the action, getting to know them, invoking under stress.”

Is this activism? Is “breathing from the belly” a form of political action? Does “casting a circle” actually accomplish anything? I don’t see how. All these ideas are activity without action because they’re completely self-centered, focused on making the person who does them feel better without having any impact in the world outside the self.

True activism is a social activity. It can start out with spreading information, as Thomas Paine did with his pamphlets in revolutionary times. It can take the form of demonstrations of mass will, through public demonstrations. It can progress all the way up to civil disobedience. But learning to breathe using one’s diaphragm? Spending time with dandelion people in the woods? No, that’s just not in the same category.

Lest I be accused of doing the same thing as Starhawk, and just talking activism without actually sponsoring any real activism, let me give you an activist task for the day:

Give your support to Oceans-21 (the short name for the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act, introduced in the United States House of Representatives – H.R. 21). The bill is being considered for passage this month, but could easily die from neglect if American voters do not urge their representatives to keep working on the legislation.

The oceans are in grave environmental peril, due to pollution, overfishing, habitat degradation and climate change. Oceans-21 would establish a framework through which the American federal government could begin to address the marine ecocollapse that is currently taking place. It’s not a complete solution but the legislation is an important step in the process of dealing with the crisis. Oceans-21 would:

- Establish a national oceans policy
- Strengthen the ability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess and address the marine ecological crisis
- Establish a national oceans advisor and committee on ocean policy to work on solutions
- Facilitate regional coordination for a cooperative approach for ocean policy
- Establish an Oceans and Great Lakes Conservation Trust Fund

Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your Representative in the House. Then, spread the word. Tell 5 friends about Oceans-21, and ask them to make a call as well.

That’s taking action. When you’re done, you can still breathe from your belly and cast a circle if you want to.

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