I am, admittedly partially repeating myself here, but this idea feels important on a deep intuitive level… and it keeps coming back to my thoughts, the ideas circling like sharks ready to devour my complacency whole… so here it is…
We need to build the economic self-sufficiency of our local, regional, and national Pagan communities!
We are facing some of the worst economic times, certainly in my lifetime, and it just seems to me as if we, as a community, haven’t really been talking about this. I say this as someone who is a self-confessed blog-a-holic, a member of multiple yahoo-groups, and an avid surfer of the Internet, and who is not all that hard to track down either in his local community or by friends nationwide. I’ve seen some small mention of individual challenges and responses to the hard times we are in, but nowhere have I seen discussions of how we as a community can face and deal with these troubled times. I think it’s about time we started talking about this folks, because the tough times are not going to go away overnight!
I first started thinking about Pagan community economic self-sufficiency in the months after Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett won the lottery, and there were a lot of discussions and posts about his windfall and opinions of all sorts were floated about how a Pagan with a lot of it should spend his money. Then, too, there are the many discussions I’ve heard, or read, about various Pagan owned businesses that shut down for a lack of support. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how various other sub-cultural communities have focused their economic power inward and reaped no small rewards, including any number of ethnic and religious and other sub-cultural communities.
All of these influences have had me thinking a lot lately about how we in the Pagan community could build a stronger community through economic empowerment. For me, economic empowerment means that we, as a community, are focusing our economic decisions on those choices that strengthen our community locally, regionally, and nationally. To strengthen our Pagan community, in this case, means spending our money within our community as much as is possible and practical.
Time after time in the history of my beloved United States we have seen how the ethnic, sub-cultural, and religious communities that form up the patchwork quilt of the United States have been able to strengthen the their communities and build their social ties, and their economic, and political power by concentrating money into community owned businesses and interests. These decisions include supporting Pagan-owned and Pagan friendly businesses, as well as supporting local and national Pagan community organizations, and Pagan charities.
Pagan Owned and Pagan Friendly Businesses
The first thing that I would like to say is that a Pagan business is not necessarily a metaphysical or occult shop. I know, I know, some of you out there are going…
“Well, DUH! Pax!”
But it was both interesting and instructive for me to notice that many, many times, on many separate occasions, when I tried to communicate with others about the idea of supporting our Pagan businesses that the idea of a Pagan business often seemed to be all but consumed by the idea of a metaphysical book and paraphernalia shop. When I look at many Pagan stores or periodicals, most of the adverts are for fortunetellers, workshops, or various metaphysical shops.
Where are our doctors and realtors and other professionals? Where are the Pagan owned home repair businesses, yard services, and plumbers? They are out there, I know because I have run into many of them on the Web and in book stores and at open Circles and community socials. Sadly, a lot of our Pagan business owners and Pagan professionals who may be active in the Pagan community are to one degree or another closeted for fear of the very real economic effects of discrimination and prejudice. Even with full protection under the law you can still be fired, or have your business ruined by a word of mouth campaign or boycott, if you are Pagan.
These fears are real, and serious. Being out as a Pagan can be hazardous to one’s livelihood. What can we do about this?
Within my own experience in the GLBT community, in local newsletters and in local Gay venues such as bars and community centers you will often see ads for various GLBT owned businesses. Realtors, lawyers, doctors, books & gift shops, florists, mechanics, the local Metropolitan Community Church (a GLBT friendly Christian denomination), massage therapists, psychotherapists… all of these and more will have advertisements in their local GLBT newsletters and posted in Queer friendly businesses, as well as in GLBT community directories… jokingly often called “the pink pages” after the “yellow pages” of U.S. phone directories. These community directories are often free booklets that are paid for with advertising fees and donation.
Do you think that GLBT lawyers, doctors, and realtors, are nervous about the possibility of being out could affect their livelihood? Yet still many are willing to advertise in GLBT community directories and publications. Why?
One, those of us in the GLBT community have for nearly 30 years subscribed in a broad sense to the philosophy of supporting our own. If there is a Gay owned or Gay friendly business in my area I am darn well going to use them first… keep the money in the GLBT family! Because of this those who advertise in “pink pages” and in GLBT publications know that they are reaching out to their own community, or to a community they are friendly towards, and one that will actively spend it’s money in house first!
Reason number two, is that for the most part the people most likely to actively discriminate against GLBT owned and friendly businesses are the people least likely to willingly pick up, much less read, a GLBT publication where they would be advertised. As for the “pink pages”, well those are usually only available in Gay bars, GLBT owned businesses, and GLBT Community Centers; none of which are on the bigots top ten list of places to go into or be seen!
To be fair I have seen some ads for paralegals and therapists in some Pagan bookstores, and that is a start. In searching the Internet, I was only able to find one comprehensive listing for a Pagan community business directory; a similar search for a Gay business directory yielded ~ many ~ interesting ~ results.
Once we start identifying our locally owned Pagan and Pagan friendly businesses we must commit to supporting them! When we keep our money in the community, the community will become stronger. By supporting our Pagan businesses we also strengthen their ability to support themselves and in turn our community.
Pagan Community Organizations and Charities
A lot of you are probably thinking of groups like the Asatru Folk Assembly or Covenant of the Goddess, and yes I would certainly encourage Pagans to support some of our national spiritual/religious organizations. I would also never hesitate to encourage you to support your local Pagan Community groups. Is a local Pagan group holding a fund-raising dinner for a campground or community center or local charity? Then go eat a few plates… even on a work or school night already!
Just as there are more types of Pagan business than the occult supply shop, there are other types of Pagan community organizations that we could come together to support through either our membership or charitable donations.
Cherry Hill Seminary is a graduate level Pagan Seminary with counseling and public ministry programs that is currently working at creating a Masters of Divinity Program.
Then there are programs like the annual National Pagan Leadership Skills Conference, now in its 5th year, fostering workshops on issues of Finance, Pastoral Care, and Group Facilitation.
Pagan professional organizations have come and gone, yet some remain. The best current example is, of course, The Officers of Avalon. This international benevolent organization for Pagan Law Enforcement Officer’s and Emergency Services Personnel has also established an active non-profit charitable wing Avalon Cares, which has done some fundraising and participated in several aid and relief efforts! Avalon Cares is one of a number of Pagan organizations doing charitable work, and worthy of Pagan community investment. Circle Sanctuary maintains a list of Pagan groups doing charitable work, for more examples.
Organizations like these, and supporting them as a community, are, I believe, the next step in our evolution as a community. Think about it… having a fully accredited Pagan Seminary… is the idea of a Pagan University, a real academic 4-year degree University that happens to be run by, and offering some programs specifically of interest to, Pagans all that radical or far off a notion?
Imagine the impact, for example, if each of us focused our charitable donations to Avalon Cares for one year? Imagine if every Pagan group in the United States focusing it’s food drives towards a specific food bank or hunger fighting organization like Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), and then specifically donating in the name of the U.S. Pagan community. Imagine if each of us donated even 3 dollars to Cherry Hill Seminary. Imagine, not only, the positive impact we could make in the world, but the positive impact that would have in our community?
We all want a world where our spiritual path, our faith or belief system, is simply a part of who we are; not something that has the potential to get us fired or harassed. We want a world where the leaders of our cities, regions, and nations address issues of concern to our community; rather than writing us off as nuts or “not a religion”. We want a world where the press will jump all over a public official making ignorant of bigoted remarks about Pagans, rather than just letting it pass or chuckling.
Empowering ourselves economically is the pathway to that world.