I was reminded the other day that it has been a year since I’ve written a blog post. When I started writing this blog I had planned on at least writing a post once a month. I saw a great value in engaging with the community and with the larger world around me through this medium, a place to exchange ideas and information with a broad audience, and a modern community meeting hall. And then 2016 happened.
By 2016 I had seen a trend in the pagan blogging community that I was having a difficult time accepting. To those of us paying attention to the larger world, there was a shift occurring in the general global rhetoric and politics towards a true ugliness, a type of fear and hate mongering that inevitably leads to violence and bloodshed. We saw the consolidation of power of far-right hate groups and watched in horror as their armies of trolls and goons started to rekindle the fear and loathing and aim their barbs at marginalized communities, creating the targets for the scapegoating necessary for authoritarian and xenophobic regimes to take hold of global politics again.
Any student of history has seen this before. These people are trying nothing new. Divide and conquer, fan the flames of fear and prejudice, control the message of the media or try to discredit those you can’t control. This is straight out of the fascist playbook, so clear that if you look hard enough you can see the margin notes of a host of dictators and would be dictators scribbled across their words and deeds.
During this moment of the rise of hate speech and violence in the world, I watched as our community continued to tear and rend at each other over what amounted to differences of opinions over spiritual practices and how different people viewed the Gods. I watched the great pagan Internet “wars” between atheists and polytheists, or wiccans and traditional witches, or sneeches that have stars on their bellies and those that don’t, finally ending with the “battle” between Marxists and fascists, the latter finally starting to get closer to the heart of the terrible maelstrom at our gates but unable to remove personal vendettas and attacks from their rhetoric and by failing to do that, divided our community at a time when we desperately needed unity and dialogue.
It was during 2016 that I also stepped into the role of Chief of the Coru Cathubodua and started to reflect of the role of leadership in our communities and more importantly what constitutes failed leadership and what constitutes successful leadership. Because our community needs leaders, but not the type of leaders that are commonly modeled right now.
Leadership is a word with a broad spectrum of meaning attached to it. To some, the word leadership is synonymous with authority, and authority, no matter what the form, is something to fight against. To others, leadership signifies a person or group that will make all the decisions for you, to them a leader is someone to rule you, a parental figure that they hope has their best interests in mind. This type of vision of leadership can be dangerous in a political climate where “strong men” and tinpot dictators claw for real world power.
This breed of top down leadership will ultimately fail us, preying on our fears and insecurities while binding us in lies and controversies. Leaders that sit apart from the people pointing fingers and making demands from them always show their true natures eventually. Leaders that demand authority and power over others but have no skill or talent for leadership fill our world today, and when the illusion of power fades and the reality and sacrifice of leadership becomes clear, they fail and flee and attempt to destroy the institutions they wanted to control. But thankfully, there’s something else that happens in times like these, something hopeful.
2016 was an excruciating year for most of us. We watched as tragedy after tragedy unfolded while our attention was demanded by an election that twisted the level of discourse to mudslinging and vitriol and more importantly emboldened and inspired the worst aspects of humanity and turned hatred into a virtue and a path to power. By the end of the year our community could clearly see what many of us had been aware of for years, the true danger at our gates. The specters of fascism and authoritarianism were no longer just philosophical differences that needed to be weeded out from within our small community, but real live monsters, stomping around our streets attacking the most vulnerable among us. People who tried to lay claim to the pagan blogosphere quickly found that real world terrors were demanding their attention and those in our community that thought it wise to cozy up to the far right to make a public show of how much they disliked the left, discovered that no matter what they did, they would never be far right enough for their new friends and were attacked and abandoned by them.
As 2017 dawned on us we found that things were worse than we could have possibly imagined. Gone was the pretense of an inclusive and just nation. Hatred and targeted violence have become commonplace. The failure of our elected officials and our crippled republic is abundantly clear now and the monsters are running the show.
But as our new reality sunk in, I saw a change in the leadership of our community. I witnessed the leaders that had always relied on a top down style of leadership fall silent, either too frightened or too stunned to take the actions needed to protect or inspire those that looked to them for direction. I watched many of the people the community looked at as leaders or elders because of some level of fame or popularity that they were attached to, fall into a state of “I can’t even….” and become paralyzed with their own fears and insecurities. But most importantly I watched members of our community, some recognized leaders, some not, step up and start to help others in whatever way they were able to.
During times of great crisis one would expect the social order to fall to pieces and devolve into chaos. But one of the beautiful things about humanity is that in most cases this is not true. Studies show that during times of extreme societal trauma, wars , economic and natural disasters, that instead of societies falling apart, that communities almost always come together, forgetting previous divisions and prejudices and working together for the safety and benefit for all. Contrary to what the apocalyptic films tell us, that when circumstances are at their worst, humanity is at its best.
In our community I witnessed an outpouring of action and support from great numbers of people. Safety networks were created, individuals gave their time and energy to holding close those that needed it, people reached out and built connections and alliances designed to create a stronger and more resilient community and started creating safety nets to catch those of us that might fall through society’s cracks.
This is the type of leadership that is going to carry us through this troubled time. Leaders that stand alongside the rest of us, shouldering as much work as the person next to them. Leaders that inspire by their actions alongside their words, pulling people together to address tasks that are too great to handle alone. Leaders that lead from the frontline not the safety of the back of the crowd.
These leaders are here now, doing the work, taking their share of the burden, and helping those that are struggling with theirs. These leaders are often young , sometimes unlikely, they come from generations of powerful people, raised on stories of rebellion and resistance, their earliest memories rich with strength of character and the toppling of unjust empires and they have a message for the monsters.
Their message is, We are the children of the Rebel Alliance, the Fellowship of the Ring, and the Browncoats. We are the inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, the Indigenous Solidarity Movement, and of Stonewall Our sense of justice comes from these modern myths and current struggles and encompasses rooting for the underdog, fighting the good fight, and doing the right damn thing. As things get worse in the world around us we will come together despite our differences to fight to protect our communities. We will stand side by side and do the work that must be done to create and maintain a safe and just world for everyone.
And in that is where I lay my hope.