January 2013 Earth Activist Training in Pictures!

I’ve been wanting to write about our Earth Activist Training but made the mistake of actually taking a few days off, afterwards—then got swept into the vortex of a trip down to LA for meetings about The Fifth Sacred Thing movie, and workshops, and more travel….and too much time on the Freeways and not enough quiet down time on the computer to organize the pictures and get them up…and then the killer flu….

But here’s pictures! It was an amazing training—our most diverse yet, because we had a little money left over from a grant, so I decided to offer diversity scholarships to people of color who are working on environmental and food justice.  The scholarships got snapped up – and then we had more awesome applicants, and more…so I sent out appeals, and so many of you responded that we were able to bring them all!  Thank you!

Charles Williams and I taught the course, but we had some awesome guests–beginning with the wonderful Pandora Thomas who teaches environmental awareness in historically Black colleges around the US:

Eric Wilder, an elder of the local Kashia Pomo Nation, came and taught us about local culture and ecology:

Eric Wilder shows his chart of Kashia seasonal herbs and foods.

A rainy-day hands-on project–making A-frames to find contour and digging swales on a very steep Cazadero hillside!

Charles Williams gives us instruction--inside the yurt while the rain pounds down!

We began inside, then moved out when the sun came out!

Tying the A-frame together.

Erik Ohlsen, of Permaculture Earth Artisans, a brilliant young designer and teacher, was our guest on several days.  Here he shows us the best use of a swale:

The designer is the recliner!

Our EAT administrator, Susan Park, is handy with a pickaxe as well as a computer!

But it’s not all digging ditches!  We took a field trip to Erik’s amazing model permaculture homestead in Sebastopol:

He had them literally hanging from the rafters–or at least, the trees!

Katrina Zavalny, who came and presented on her work greening big corporations, like Disney, helped Erik illustrate the seven-layer food forest:

And Erik demonstrates yet again that the designer is the recliner!

From his home, we went on to Erik’s new permaculture ranch and business incubator on the outskirts of Sebastopol–an ambitious and inspiring project!

The chicken ark:

Uh-oh–Carmen is pursued by a stalker!

Brandy runs the Girls2000 Program for Hunters Point Family back in San Francisco–one of the programs Earth Activist Training has helped support for many years.  I was so thrilled that she was able to take the course!

Susan inspects Erik’s keyline plough:

Back home in the hills, we had unusually warm and balmy weather for our second week.  We worked on installing an aquaponics system for our greenhouse pond:

Charles supervises onsite!

Many, many loads of gravel!

And our final hands-on was a full day of making cob, brown-coat, natural plaster:

Good cobbing needs drumming--and Naima provides!

And then, finally–design presentation day!

Dave, Brandy and Rushelle present their project.

Lila presents the permaculture design principles.

All the groups did great jobs on their presentations, and all the students graduated with Permaculture Design Certificates!  So that’s a little taste of the course–lots of work, lots of fun, lots of learning!  We are so deeply grateful to all of you who contributed and made possible this fabulous, diverse and rich experience!

Posted in Earth Activist Training, life on the ranch, permaculture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

My State of the Union

During Obama’s State of the Union message, I was scheduled to give a talk at Northern Arizona University on “Women Taking Action: Using the Insights of the Feminist Movement.” As part of it, I decided to write the State of the Union as if Obama were suddenly possessed by the spirit of the nurturing, caring, life-sustaining values that women have often carried. Here it is—you can compare his speech and see how well he measures up! I am indebted to astrologer Caroline Casey, the brilliant host of the Pacifica radio show Visionary Activist, with whom I spent much of the weekend at the Conscious Life Expo in L.A., for the phrase “until now!” She uses it as a mantra when people get all caught up in how bad it is and how wrong we all are and how doomed we are—she just adds “until now!” Try it when you get caught in a downward vortex!

My sisters, brothers, frères and countryfolk,

The State of the Union is not well. We have defined aggression as strength and poured our resources into killing, starving everything that serves and supports life. We have served the greedy at the expense of the needy, allowed children to go hungry, the poor to lack shelter, the sick to lack care, the wounded from our wars to go unhealed, the aged to be abandoned. And we have utterly failed to address the greatest challenge of our age, the destruction of the earth’s climate and the meltdown of our global life support systems.

Until now!

For now we will work together to heal this mess!

We will siphon away money and resources from war and death to life, to health care and education that inspires and empowers, to arts and imagination and invention and research, to the protection and regeneration of our wildlands and farmlands, to things that enrich our lives and help us to thrive. No longer will we meet the dangers of the world with brute force and firepower—but instead we will look at the causes of violence and change the conditions that breed hate.

Now we will feed the hungry and house the homeless, care for the sick and the wounded, assure the comfort and the security of the elders, because that’s what decent people do. And if our society can’t do this, it’s not worth protecting.

We will cease rewarding greed. Those who benefit from the system will now pay their fair share to support it. We will change the laws that in the past have allowed them to control it, and return power to the people. And—here I’m speaking to the 1%—you know what? Your lives will actually be better. You might have somewhat less stuff but richer relationships, less control but more time, more sense of wonder, more peace of mind. And if you really need it, we’ll name some bridges after you and let you cut some ribbons and open some health care clinics and child care centers, just like the Queen of England.

Most importantly, we’re going to address the destruction of the living systems of the planet. No longer will we allow practices that imperil our climate or our aquifers, or threaten to release radioactive poison over the land. We know that we must make big changes: in our energy systems, our technology, our economy, our food growing systems, our ways of living. But we also know that together, we can do this! We can work together and make the shift to a new world in balance with nature.

We already have the technologies we need—solar, wind, renewables. We can make the transition wisely and swiftly. And we will invest in the research that will bring a thousand new ideas into production, using the resources we still have to create what we need for the new world.

We will protect our forests and wild lands, our arctic wastes and our desert refuges. This year we will plant millions of trees, to suck up carbon and to provide shade and habitat, fruit and nuts, wood and mulch, quiet and beauty.

We will nurture our soil, for building healthy organic soil is the best and fastest way to broadly and safely sequester carbon. That soil will grow healthy food close to where we live, creating true abundance. We will support our farmers to make the transition to humane, organic agriculture, and support our young people to connect to land, to start urban farms and schoolyard gardens, to plant groves of fruit trees and food forests, to grow true abundance for us all.

We will root our industries and enterprises back into local communities. No longer will we subsidize, with cheap fossil fuels and tax breaks, their flight to faroff places with the cheapest labor and the most lax environmental and safety standards. Instead we will demand that they provide for real needs in ways that assure lives of dignity and security to those who do the work. We’re redesigning our cities so that people can live and work, learn and enjoy their pleasures in true community.

We can do this—and more! Imagine how it will be, next year and in years to come, when I can stand before you and say:

This is the State of our Union—we have fed the hungry, cared for the sick, comforted the aged, restored the homeless to their homes, sent our young people forth into life well-educated and debt-free, built thousands of acres of healthy soil, planted a billion trees. We are still challenged by the results of generations of degradation, but we have turned the corner. We’re well on track to an energy-rich world of 100 percent renewables. We’re happier, healthier, more creative, more inventive, safer and more secure. And most of all, we have that wonderful feeling of unity and enthusiasm that comes when we work together.

God—Goddess, Creator, Great Spirit—whatever you want to call it, including our collective human power—bless this great country, and blessed be you all!

Posted in climate change, sustainability, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Winter Solstice 2012

Winter Solstice 2012—it’s here!  Tonight is Solstice Eve, and I’ll be dancing around a bonfire at the beach, then keeping an all night vigil at home, then singing the sun up tomorrow at dawn.  The old candlewax is scraped out of the candleholders, and the yeast and flour are ready for our midnight bread-baking.

This Solstice seems especially portentous.  It’s the ending of the Mayan Calendar, a 30,000 year cycle—though not the end of the world!  Yet this year has felt apocalyptic, with floods and drought, mega-storms and horrific massacres—the ones the media pays attention to and the ongoing violence of drones and wars and Occupation that go ignored.  We know the climate is changing, we sense great forces contesting for the future. Either we make the deep shifts in our ways of living and working, succeed in what Johanna Macy calls The Great Turning, or we confirm our long, slow, deadly decline.

Solstice represents hope and regeneration.  Out of the longest night, a new day is born.  The deepest darkness gives birth to light.  Tonight, we can draw on that tide of energy and weave some magic for the transformation.

Some of you may already be on your way to join in ceremonies at Mayan temples or jungle retreats.  Others may be dusting off your altars, or looking for a ritual to join.

But maybe some of you don’t have a spiritual community.  Perhaps you are feeling that you want to do something, and yet don’t know what it might be.  Here’s some ideas, and any time over the next few days, between the 20th and 23rd, is a good time to do them.

Solstice can be a time for personal work, for letting go of inner pain, regrets, mistakes, blocks.  Fire and water can both be good tools for doing this.  Stir some salt into a bowl of water.  Sit with it, and let the painful feeling arise, and as they do, breathe them into the water, stirring counterclockwise.  When you feel the wave of emotion has passed, sit for a moment and allow yourself to believe that change is possible.  Imagine it as a spark of light, that begins to grow as you stir clockwise.  You can sing or chant or breathe to raise the energy.  When you feel the bowl is glowing, take a small sip and consciously take back the transformed energy.  Look back at some of the situations that have been painful and imagine how you might do them differently.

If you have a fireplace or woodstove or a way to make a fire outside, you can do a similar cleansing with fire.  Sit by the unlit fire, draw or write your regrets on paper, then light the fire and let them burn up in the flames.

Solstice is also a time to honor the cycles, the seasons and the elements.  You don’t have to be at an ancient pyramid to watch the sunset or to gather with friends at dawn and sing up the morning sun.

And Solstice is a time for connection, with friends, family, children and community.  Gather with friends and create a feast, and take time for each person to name their hopes for the new era as you raise a glass or pour a libation, and to commit to something they will do to help midwife it into birth.  At my house, we like to bake bread, kneading in our dreams and visions.  The rising dough is like the swelling belly of the Great Mother, pregnant with the New Year Child.  At dawn, the bread is ready, and we bring it up to the hill, still warm, to eat as the sun rises.

And Solstice is a time for magic—for linking our intentions with symbols and images that channel energy to bring them about.  Symbolically, the Great Mother goes into labor tonight, to bring forth the Child of Light, the new sun, the new era, the new day.  We support her efforts with our gatherings, our chants, our songs, our ceremonies, and the real work we each do, our own labors toward the Great Turning.   Change always requires sacrifice—letting go of something, if only our old, destructive ways of being.  But every loss, every emptiness, opens the way for something new to be born.  In darkness, the seed takes root and the new sprout pushes toward the light.  In the dark of the womb, the spark of life is kindled.  Out of the longest night, the new day is born.

So let this Solstice be a time when we all put our intention toward the change, and draw forth the strength, the courage and the determination to bring that new world into being.  A world where we know that we are not separate, but connected, not the masters of the world, but nature’s children, her partners and healers, where the currency we strive for is not money or power, but love.  We are creative, magical, radiant beings, and when we link our hearts, our vision and our actions together, as the Wheel of the Year turns, we can indeed turn the world around.

A blessed Solstice to you all!

Reclaiming is the Pagan/Wiccan tradition I work with, to find out if there is a Reclaiming ritual near you, go here:


More information on magic, ritual and Solstice celebrations can be found in my many books, especially:

The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess

And Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Tradition, with Anne Hill and Diane Baker.

Find them here or ask your local bookstore to order them, or order them from any online bookseller.

Also check out the audiobook Earth Magic, available on Itunes.

Posted in earth-based spirituality, Goddess, Paganism/earth-based spirituality, Winter Solstice 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

I Feel So Much Safer Now!

I feel so much safer now, don’t you?  Now that so many states are allowing teachers to bring guns to school!  High time!  Why just yesterday I took little Emmie to kindergarten for her very first day.  She looked so adorable with her pink-enameled Baby Browning packed into her Hello Kitty holster.  I felt so proud!

I slung my Remington over my shoulder—it’s only a semi-automatic but I didn’t want to be overdressed.  Pulled up in the Hummer and noted with a sigh of relief that the entranceway was fully covered by the George Zimmerman Honorary Militia Unit Number 101.  Emmie was a little shy but relaxed completely as we walked up the allee of AK 47s keeping us protected from any harm.  Those  militia guys are so sensitive—using their silencers to avoid upsetting the children when, for example, just behind us they dropped little Shondel from next door in his tracks when he asked, “Why you got that big gun?”  Alas, his mother didn’t take it well and began wailing hysterically, even though the nice militia man explained to her that he’d just saved her from the budding terrorist she was nurturing in her bosom.  But you know those people have a hard time listening to reason, so he shot her too, in self-defense, of course.  How glad I am that we can stand our ground!

The Principal, Mrs. Malice, met us with a warm hug, clasping little Emmie to her bosom with a Wilson combat fixed-blade in one hand and an Uzi in the other.  Then we made our way down the hallway, careful to step around a few stray corpses, nothing to worry about really, just a bit of malfunction in the settings for the drones that patrol during class.  You won’t be so quick to sneak out to the bathroom without your hall pass with these babies cruising!

We entered the classroom.  Miss Grudge, Emmie’s new teacher, gave her a big smile and a playful burst-in-the-air from her classic Thompson sub-machine gun. So high-spirited, yet I could tell by her Glock in the shoulder holster and the classic Colt 45 on the desk that she has a no-nonsense, serious side.  The little kiddies were having a fun game of target practice with their pint-sized Smith & Wessons, so good for their hand-eye coordination!  And Miss Grudge is such a creative teacher.  She really knows how to spot the teaching moment—like after little Billy shot a couple of toes off by accident, why, all the little children learned to count to eight, right there and then!

I left little Emmie for her first day at school, my mind at ease knowing she was well-protected from any crazed terrorists or evildoers who might threaten her life or her freedom!

Truly, the only downside that I can see to our new weapons policy is the little incident in the State Legislature when Senator Avarice introduced the new pension reform bill.  The gallery was packed with teachers and after he’d been removed in the body bag his cohorts took one look at that bristling battery of gunbarrels and rapidly voted all educators a hundred percent raise plus full medical and dental benefits and a generous life insurance plan.  Surprising how much less we hear these days about state employees and their bloated entitlements.

America’s teachers—best armed, best paid!

Posted in gun control | Tagged | 9 Comments

Now That The Election is Over…

I wake this morning with a profound sense of gratitude.  The election is finally over, and Obama has won a second term.  As well, although there were some big disappointments in the night, and some key things still in doubt, many good things happened.  Elizabeth Warren won a Massachusetts Senate seat, giving us a strong progressive voice in the Senate.  Gay marriage won in at least two states, and it was a great night for marijuana, and not just for what you had to smoke to get through the evening!  Now you could do that legally in Colorado and Washington state!

What does an Obama victory mean for progressives, greens, anarchists and radicals far, far to his left?  To those folks who couldn’t morally bring themselves to vote for Obama, or possibly even to vote at all?  Who grew furious at me for urging people to get to the polls and admitting that I voted for him?

I say it’s a good thing.  No, Obama won’t enact the policies we want.  For one thing, he’s not an absolute monarch and he still has to contend with a Republican Congress.  For another, even though he won’t run again in four years, some other Democrat will and they will still need big bucks to do it.  Complaining that politicians are tools of the corporations is like complaining that your sheep have wool.  Unless we change this system, that’s the nature of the beast.

So how do we do that?  We organize and agitate.  We don’t sit back, like many did four years ago, and expect the system to change itself.

But organizing after an Obama victory is like bicycling with the wind at your back, instead of peddling into a stiff head wind.  I’ve lived and organized through the victories of Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush, and believe me, this is better!

And we have a lot of organizing to do.  Last year, Occupy Wall Street galvanized the country and put the issue of economic inequality front and center.  Had that not happened, we might have seen an election where all the debates centered on how best to reduce the deficit and what more services we could cut.  Let’s give three big cheers for Occupy Wall Street—who right now are valiantly doing relief work in parts of New York City hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Read about their efforts here:  http://www.alternet.org/occupy-wall-street/how-occupy-sandys-relief-machine-stepped-post-superstorm-void?paging=off

Now we need to focus a similar spotlight of attention on climate change, the most crucial and least-addressed challenge of our times.  Never again can we have presidential debates that don’t even mention the issue, where the candidates outdo each other to prove how much coal and oil production they can take credit for.  Obama has done some good things on the issue, notably pushing the auto industry to adopt more fuel efficiency standards and allowing the EPA to regulate carbon.  He could and must take much bolder leadership on moving us onto a new path.  He won’t do that in a political climate where a Romney can credibly utter the phrase ‘green energy’ as if it were a dirty word.

We need to push much, much harder, to make it not only politically feasible but vital for him and others to stand up against the biggest of big money issues.  350.org has been doing stellar work, but they need far more support and we need a wide spectrum of efforts that will make it impossible for politicians to dodge the issue.  And we need a clear grasp of the solutions—which do exist!  Here it is in a sentence:  conservation, efficiency, a shift to safe renewables, relocalization, and carbon sequestration in healthy, organic soil the way nature has done it for hundreds of millions of years with a device called ‘plants’.  I’ll say more about this in some future post, but for now, know that the spectrum of solutions to climate change are also solutions to our economic, social and health woes.  They involve three c’s:  community, connection, and compost—all things which will make our lives better in many, many ways!

There are other key issues we need to push Obama and all the politicians on.  Economic equality should remain high on our list.  Obama has supported egregious assaults on civil liberties, and all of you who complain about that are quite right.  And peace—we’ve got to press him to get us out of our endless wars, stop his program of assassination and to bench the drones that kill children and civilians.  There’s a lot to do!  Check out Juan Cole’s wish list:


So, for those of you who see Obama as just the cuter, browner face of corporate control, here’s my advice.  First, drop the bile, if you can.  It’s not attractive, it doesn’t win over those in the confused center who vote against their own interests, and it’s bad for your brain chemistry.  Can we make civility the new vitriol, please?

Then take that churning, burning, bottled-up energy and do something with it.  Decide what you’re most angry and bitter about, and work on the issue.  Join a group or start one.  Write letters to the editor or sit in trees—just earn every hour of complaining with an equal hour of organizing.

And look around at the next meeting of your ideologically pure affinity group.  If it doesn’t look as diverse as the crowd celebrating Obama’s victory last night, start asking why, and how you might respectfully build a broader, if less pure, coalition.  What are the priorities of the communities of color, of immigrants, of the economically marginalized and politically disenfranchised in your area, and how might you offer service?

Okay, first take the day off.  Maybe the week.  We all need a bit of a break, here.  But don’t take the month or the year or the next four years off.  Elections are the smallest part of what we need to do to change the world.  The real work is up to us.

Posted in climate change, Occupy movement, political activism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

Elections 2012: Lessons from Katrina

“I’m not inspired to vote,” she says.  “Everyone I know is voting out of fear, not inspiration.”

I’m in Chicago for their first-ever Bioneers conference, and the beautiful, clear-eyed, curly-haired young woman before me has just told me that my previous blog inspired her to register.  She can’t know how gratified I feel, hearing that.  As a writer, you hope you influence people, but rarely do you get direct confirmation.

As we talk, I think about fear.  We denigrate fear, we sneer at the fearful and the cowardly, and fear is definitely an unpleasant emotion to carry, but perhaps fear is actually a fine reason to vote.  Fear, after all, is one of the great life-force emotions.  Fear arises when we are threatened, and primes us to act.  Fear cuts through denial, and gets us up off the couch.  It’s a great motivator.

Generally I’m more in favor of hope and vision as motivators, for the long term.  But elections are not poetry readings nor religious revivals.  Our hopes and visions are inevitably ground down in the mills of pragmatism when electioneering turns to governing.  Hope and vision are what we agitate for in the streets, clamor for in our protests and petitions and demonstrations, and build together in our neighborhoods and towns and local communities.  Until we make some overarching changes in our larger systems—most notably restraining the influence of big money!—our hopes will always lead to disappointment.

Nonetheless, who and what we vote for, and against, is vitally important.  We should be afraid, terribly afraid, of what will happen if the Republicans can claim a mandate for policies that increase economic inequality, hamstring the government from everything positive that it does to help people, denigrate women and deny the reality of climate change.

We’ve just seen one of the biggest storms in history inundate the East Coast.  We can expect more.  Although climate change was never mentioned in any of the debates, it is the overriding reality that will shape our future and that of our children and grandchildren.  We are already seeing its impact, in drought and floods, tornadoes and more frequent and powerful storms.

After Hurricane Katrina, I went down to New Orleans to volunteer.  I saw first-hand what happens when all the big systems—the government, FEMA, the National Guard, the Red Cross, were absent or mismanaged.  What was up and working was the smaller, self-organized groups like Common Ground Relief, with whom we volunteered, distributing food, setting up a clinic and offering medical care, organizing programs and projects long before the big systems were operating.  The experience deepened my faith in self-organization.

But it also showed me its limitations.  All of our best efforts were a tiny drop in the flood of need.  A hundred, a thousand Common Ground Reliefs could barely have begun to address the extent of the damage.  It required a larger system—a system which functioned in the way that government is supposed to function, with the massive resources and organization that could work on a large scale.

And in the months and years following the disaster, Common Ground Relief suffered its own organizational woes.  Some of its projects, like the clinic, continued and became ongoing institutions.  Many other projects fell short of their potential.

Today, Occupy Wall Street is providing relief in some of the areas of New York.  I salute them and honor their willingness to turn their energies and hard-learned organizing lessons to serve the immediate needs of those whom the big systems have neglected.

Yet there is a world of difference between the disaster response under Obama compared to that of the government-hating Republicans.  Romney has explicitly proposed dismantling FEMA and turning disaster relief over to the states and to private enterprise.  When we consider the prospect of Halliburton and its like profiteering on the pain and suffering of disaster victims in a world where  floods and hurricanes and tornadoes are bound to increase, we should tremble with fear.

And so I’ve voted for Obama.  I’m in California, a so-called ‘safe state’, and might have voted for Jill Stein, whose policies are much closer to my ideals. But I believe that it’s important that Obama win the popular vote, not just the electoral vote so that the mandate is clear—not for him as a person, but for policies which favor a government that actually works for the majority of people, not just the 1 per cent.  I voted for him not because I love him, or believe that he will make it all good, not even because I’d so much rather look at him for the next four years than the slickly-coiffed white guy.  I voted for him because I believe that he will move us more in the direction of what I truly want, and create conditions more favorable for all of us to organize, agitate, and ultimately transform this system into something far more just and fair, something that can inspire us.

Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!  And think of how damn hard the Republicans are working to stop you and people like you from voting.  If they’re pulling out the stops to keep you away from the polling place, don’t make it easy for them!  If they don’t want you to vote, there must be a damn good reason for voting!

Check out Van Jone’s latest: “Don’t Just Vote!”  It has some great resources.


And for you Californians, even if you leave the slot for President blank, PLEASE get out there and vote for the incredibly important propositions—here’s my list:

YES on Prop 30—YES on taxing the rich to pay for our crumbling schools and other vital services, like firefighters!

NO on 31—would allow local governments to opt out of state programs, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation by special interests.

NO on 32—which would effectively cut union influence in elections while leaving corporations free to fund their favorites.

NO on 33—an auto insurance industry scam, essentially.

YES on 34—ending the unfair, racist death penalty (and saving us money!)

NO on 35—sounds good to punish human trafficking, but the relevant laws are already on the books and this could penalize sex workers.

YES on 36—rewriting the incredibly unfair three strikes law to let minor offenders out from a lifetime in prison!

YES on 37—YES, YES, YES on labeling genetically modified foods!  If you do nothing else, get out and vote for this.  Monsanto’s lies, spread by its big bucks, have eroded support for our right to know what’s in our food, and every vote counts!

YES on 39—Holds out of state corporations responsible for taxes on income they make in California.

Yes on 40—maintains our citizens redistricting boundaries.

Posted in political activism | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Elections 2012

Here in California, there’s only two more days to register to vote.  And if you haven’t, I urge you to do so.  Now, I have to say my circles of friends and acquaintances include few if any potential Romney voters.  But they do include people who are so disaffected, or feel so frustrated, angry and disempowered by the political system, that even the sheer raw theater of it doesn’t move them to participate.  And others who enjoy saying, “Don’t vote, it only encourages them,” which is funny but patently untrue in an election year when the far right is working so hard to discourage people from voting.  If they’re going to such lengths to keep people from the polls, there must be something there that we want!

I’m thinking about an exchange I had with a young woman who was in our job training program last year.  We’ll call her Shawna.  I asked the group if they voted.  Shawna said she registered when she turned eighteen, but they sent her the sample ballot, “and I couldn’t figure out all that bullshit.  I threw it away.”

“But Shawna,” I said, “Did you know that all over the country, rich white guys are trying every trick in the book to keep young African-Americans like yourself from voting?”

“They don’t have to try,” she said, “cuz I ain’t gonna do it!”

Shawna grew up in public housing, on welfare.  At eighteen, she’s already spent many months incarcerated in juvenile hall.  Her boyfriend was murdered, another victim of gang violence.  She’s bright, and likes to read, but her education did not prepare her well for either college or a job—and those months in juvie didn’t help.

I didn’t have much success in persuading Shawna that voting was relevant to her life.  Our discussion took place long before this election, and the current crop of propositions wasn’t yet on the ballot.  But were I able to talk with her today, here’s some ways that voting on the issues just here in California might make a difference to her life:

Prop 30 would raise money for better public schools.

Defeating Prop 32 would keep the Koch brothers and the corporate power-mongers from effectively excluding the unions and the candidates who back the interests of working people from political power.

Prop 34 would end the death penalty in California!  Which inordinately affects people of color.

Prop 36  would reform our horrific ‘three strikes, you’re out’—another issue that is of deep concern to communities of color who are targeted for prison.  Right now, a person who is charged with even a nonviolent offense or a petty crime can go to jail for life, with no judicial discretion.  The reform would make it so that offenses need to be serious, violent ones.  And dramatically reduce the chance that Shawna or her friends would spend a lifetime in prison for some stupid shit they do to be cool at nineteen!

Prop 37 would require labeling of genetically modified foods, giving us all an informed choice about what we eat, and ending the free ride Monsanto and the GMO-producing companies have gotten to inflict their unwanted, unsafe and damaging products on the unknowing public.

And that’s just the propositions!  What about voting for President?

It’s true, neither Obama nor Romney espouse my personal ideals nor champion some of my most important issues.  But there are many, many ways in which an Obama victory would make life better for Shawna, and for me.

Shawna doesn’t want to get pregnant, like so many of her girlfriends have done.  Obama and the Democrats stand strong for women’s reproductive freedom, for making contraceptives available and part of insured health plans, and for protecting a woman’s right to choose.  Romney et al have promised to make abortion illegal—some of them have stated in all circumstances, even rape (because they claim that a woman can’t get pregnant if the rape is ‘legitimate’) or when the woman’s life is in danger (they claim it’s never in danger from pregnancy!?!)  The next president will likely appoint two supreme court justices, which will have a huge impact on protecting Roe vs. Wade and many other issues for decades to come.

Shawna is thinking of enlisting in the military.  For her, that seems like the best option to some sort of future.  While Obama is no pacifist, and continues to support a drone program I find immoral and unconscionable, he did get us out of Iraq.  He is moving us out of Afghanistan, more slowly than I’d like, but at least he’s moving in the right direction.  Romney, on the other hand, objects to any timetable to get out of Afghanistan, and is highly likely to let his warmongering advisers get us into a whole new war with Iran.  Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is closest to my ideals but has no potential to actually win—and if by some miracle she did, she’d have no party backing in Congress, no experience and no clout.

In the Bayview, when there’s money for summer jobs and training, the murder rate goes down.  When the money dries up, the murder rate climbs.  Obama’s stimulus resulted in lots of jobs that summer for Shawna and her friends, and fewer deaths.  Under Romney, the chances of any money for improving the lives of Shawna and her friends are as likely as my becoming a champion girl jockey and winning the Kentucky Derby.  Under Obama—especially if we could get the obstructionist Republicans out of the way—we’d see more resources and more hope.

Then there’s health care.  Under Romney, Shawna’s best hope of getting health insurance would be to go on welfare and qualify for Medicaid, or succumb to the forces driving young people from her ‘hood into prison.  As for me, a self-employed writer closing in on the age where I could soon qualify for Medicare, health insurance remains my single largest expense, more than my house payments, more than food.  And that’s after dropping down to a minimal policy.  Obamacare is not the single payer system I’d prefer and which would make most moral and fiscal sense.  But it’s hella better than what we’ve got now, especially for someone who is not part of some big corporation that helps pay for my insurance.  And should Romney get in and turn Medicare into a private voucher system, it would have a devastating effect on my chances of avoiding a destitute old age!

Beyond Obama and Romney, think what a Republican victory would say about us, the people of the United States.  If Romney wins, no matter by how small a margin or by how many dirty tricks and miscounted ballots, his folks will claim a mandate for the most extreme, right-wing policies.  It would vindicate the right of the 1% to skim the cream and leave the dregs for the rest of us.  The lies, the trickery, the influence of immense wealth, the voter-suppression tactics, the intimidation, the cheating and the overt and covert racism will all be rewarded.

And don’t try to tell me that under a Romney presidency, things will get so bad that people will finally rise up and make a revolution.  I’ve been hearing that since Nixon ran against Humphrey in 1968, and you know what—it’s never happened, yet.  Never even gotten close.  Under a really bad, right-wing President things get worse, and people get more discouraged, more downtrodden, more hopeless and more apathetic.  Organizing and motivating people to take action gets harder, not easier!

If Obama wins, it will show that the American people want something else—a place where the playing field is leveled, where everybody gets a fair chance.  That doesn’t mean I’m under the illusion that Obama will give it to us.  He’ll do what’s doable—and it will be up to us to make it not only doable but inescapable.  Not in the voting booth, but in all the places where we organize and agitate and protest and build alternatives.  That’s never easy—but under Obama the conditions for organizing will be far better than under Romney, if only because hope disappointed is more galvanizing than despair confirmed.

Elections are not the arena where I express my ideals–I do that in the garden, and in my writing, and in the streets.   Elections are where I get pragmatic, because they do matter, and the differences between the candidates can mean life or death to folks like Shawna and to me.

So if you’re not voting out of principle, or you’re in a swing state refusing to vote for Obama because of his real failures to live up to the values he originally espoused, I’d ask you just to stop for a moment and think about Shawna.  Think about me–and not just the impact on my mental health of having to watch that snide, lying, con artist for the next four years!   Include in your ideals the real-life impact a Republican victory would have on a young black woman from the inner city, on an aging writer, on hundreds and thousands of other folks here and around the world for whom the nuances of difference might mean life or death.

Then vote your conscience.  But for Goddess sake, get off your high horse and your butts and get out there and vote!

Here’s a couple of links to people who have said this all far more eloquently than I:

Daniel Ellsberg.  “Defeat Romney, Without Illusions About Obama.”


Stephen Zunes. “My Support for Ralph Nader: Ten Years Later: Lessons Learned.”


Rebecca Solnit.  “The Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to my Dismal Allies.”


KQED Guide to the California Propositions:


Posted in Bayview Hunters Point, Health Care, political activism, social justice | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

A Pagan Response to the Affordable Care Act

Jason Pitzi-Waters, of the Pagan Newswire Collective, asked a few of us to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.  Here’s mine:

A Pagan response—or rather, this Pagan’s response for there no universal agreement among Pagans on any issue–to the upholding of the Affordable Care Act has two aspects:  is it good for us, individually and as a community, and is it in concert with our Pagan values.

While the Act is not as good for me, individually or many of us as a single-payer system would be, it is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.  Like many other Pagan writers and teachers, I’m self-employed and have been pretty much all my adult life.  I’ve had health insurance since my mother brow-beat me into getting it in my twenties, with the same company.  While I’m pretty healthy for my age, I’ve seen my premiums go up and up every year, to the point that they were costing me more than my mortgage, more than my food budget, more than anything else.  Now, if I were being taxed for a single-payer system, when my income went down my payments would go down.  But with private insurance, the price just keeps going up and up and up!  When it finally reached over $1200 a month, I started looking for other options.  I tried switching companies, but I’m now over sixty, overweight (not alone among Pagans in being so!) and with minor but irritating health problems that somehow drove my projected premiums up even higher!  So I switched to a lower-cost plan that has a $6000 deductible.  That would keep me from losing my house should I get a serious illness, and having lost five friends in the last five months, mostly to cancer, I can’t ignore that possibility.  I’m still trying to save up the $6000 to have ready in the bank should I need it suddenly—because if I do get sick, I won’t be able to travel and teach which provides the bulk of my income.

Meanwhile, I encountered the dreaded Socialized Medicine when I was in England and needed a new asthma inhaler.  I was able to get an appointment at the local clinic in Totnes—the same day I asked for one.  I saw a doctor, who gave me a new prescription.  He very apologetically informed me that I would have to pay for it, he was so sorry, because I’m not on National Health.  I said that was okay, as an American, I was used to it.  The clinic had a pharmacy on the premises, and the pharmacist filled the prescription, also expressing regret and embarrassment that I had to paid.  He then charged me just over 5 English pounds—less than $10, for two inhalers, each of which costs me about $35 in the US!

I left, infuriated—not at the National Health, but at our own rip-off system.  Why should we pay two, four, seven times as much if not to enrich somebody at our expense?  Since I shifted my insurance, and since my own trusted doctor retired, I haven’t been to see a doctor since, except for a couple of weeks ago when I had a serious bout with asthma after camping out in the desert.  I went to the clinic at the University of California.  I had to fill out a form before I saw anyone, stating my financial qualifications to be seen.  The form informed me that the visit would like cost something in the neighborhood of $450 dollars!  But they couldn’t tell me how much, ahead of time.  No one tells you what any specific treatment costs, before you have it—yet you are expected to pay.  I know there are many preventive things I should be doing, at my age—like keeping a watch on my blood sugar levels, but when money is short, as it often is, I hesitate to make an appointment or sign up for tests that might break the budget.  And I think many others, Pagans and not-Pagans, are in the same situation.

So for me personally, the ACA will help.  The insurance exchanges may allow me to get a better policy at lower cost.  Some of the provisions of the act assure more justice and fairness for everyone.  And while it’s not the National Health or Canada’s public insurance, I believe we are in a better position to push for more when we build on success than we would be if we had to recover from failure.

I didn’t mean to write quite this much.  Do I have feelings about this?  Evidently I do!

Now, as for the ethics.  Our traditions tell us that we Witches were the village healers, the wise women and cunning men who offered herbs and treatment and magic to the sick, especially to the poor.   As such we have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.

I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent.  On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it.  My personal health is not separate from your well-being.  Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control.  If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided.  We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility.  No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us.  Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help.  No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die.  If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.

To sum up, universal access to health care is consonant with our core Pagan values of interconnection and interdependence.  The Affordable Care Act is a small step toward that end, flawed but better than no change at all.  As Michael Moore has said, it should spur us to keep working for a better, more equitable system.  But I believe we’ll do better building on a small success than we would have trying to recover from an abject failure.  I hope as Pagans we can help to lead the way.

Posted in Health Care, Paganism/earth-based spirituality, social justice | Tagged | 23 Comments

Venus Transit and Recall Elections

A beautiful, wild and windy day here in the Cazadero Hills—the day of the Venus Transit when Venus passes directly in front of the sun, a sort of Venusian solar eclipse.  It’s an alignment that happened eight years ago—and not again for another century or more.  Coupled with a lunar eclipse last night.  I’m not much of an astrologer, but those who are say this is a potent moment for calling in the energies of harmony, nurturing and love, the return of the Goddess.

Goddess knows, we need those energies!  For today is the day of many state primaries, and the kickoff of the summer election season.

Whatever your politics, whether you vote or don’t vote, whether you register Democrat or Republican, Green or Libertarian, you are about to be subjected to a barrage of negativity that will go on for months and months, fueled by the deep pockets of billionaires who are now free to spend as much as they want to buy elections.  The Republicans alone have a war chest of a billion dollars!  Think how many mortgages in trouble that money could save, or how many students could get a free college education!  Instead, it will be spent to blanket the country with a miasma of negativity, and the Democrats will be scrambling to do their own counterattacks.  Energetically, we can prepare to live under a kind of gray miasma, a kind of psychic smog.  Yuck!

There are some things we can do about this in the practical realms—ranging from contributing money to good causes to getting out in the streets and staying there, as the students and workers in Quebec have been doing for weeks.  A good, loud casserole—that means banging pots and pans each night as a political protest—might help drive away some evil spirits.

But I want to talk about what we can do energetically.  If you are an ultra-rational sort who doesn’t believe in the woo-woo stuff, here’s where you can stop reading and go do something productive with your day.  But I will say this—whether or not you believe this can influence the larger world, this kind of magic will help shift your own energy.  If you find yourself spinning off into cycles of fear—anquish—despair—fear, this will help!   And if you have more positive energies of your own available, you will be more effective at all the practical things you do.

So if you’re with me, let’s work on shifting the energy around all this.  Why should we quietly lie down and suffer under the toxic thought-blanket the political fabricators are laying over us?  What would happen if a whole lot of us used our intention and focused imaginations to shift the energies?  And why not use some of the energy of this Venus transit—energies which will continue to flood in over the next weeks.

So here’s the idea—a simple meditation you can do alone or in groups, when you have a spare moment or when you find yourself spinning off into those vortexes of impotent rage, stop and do this:

Visualize drains for all the negativity, the fear-mongering and the lies.  Like little spinning whirlwinds, spinning counterclockwise, dust devils sweeping up the miasma of the psychic smog, spindles gathering the toxic wool and spinning it down back to earth, down to the fiery magma below us to transform back into pure energy.

Then visualize a clockwise spiral, a rising vortex of compassion, love and hope.  You could imagine spinning it around some symbol of justice and freedom—personally, I find the Statue of Liberty to be a potent Goddess symbol.

Release that energy, and ground.  Touch the ground, absorb some good, healing energies from the earth, and draw in what you need for your own work and well-being.

Today, June 5, I and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary invite our allies to focus on Wisconsin, using the Goddess atop the State Capitol as a beacon to rouse the forces of truth and justice.  For today is vote on the recall of Scott Walker, the union-busting governor who was the focus of protests and a sit-in in the Capitol in January of 2011, at the same time as the Arab Spring.  Republicans are spending millions to defend him.  Democrats—not so much.  But this election isn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, it’s a test of whether or not massive amounts of money can determine who gets into office or who stays.  Generally the answer to that is ‘yes’—whoever spends the most wins the race.  Money is one form of energy, and most of us don’t have a lot of it.  But we have other forms of energy—let’s see what we can do!

Wisconsin State Capitol buidling with the Goddess on top!

Posted in Goddess, magical activism, Paganism/earth-based spirituality, political activism, social justice | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Requiem for Isis

It seems a strange way to honor my friend Isis—cleaning the house, because she was arguably a worse housekeeper even than I am, if such a thing is possible.  But that’s the thing about death, especially when it comes suddenly and unexpectedly.  It’s not just the sorrow and the grief, but that it seems to suddenly remove the ground from beneath your feet, leaving you hanging in a kind of vertigo, like those cartoons where the characters run off a cliff and hang in the air, legs pumping, for a long, long minute before they fall.  You need something to ground you, something simple and achievable, like doing the dishes and sweeping the floor.

Isis was my friend since we were both in high school, when she was Becky and I was Mimi.  For some reason, when I think of her in those days I always see her in a tree, hanging out in the branches on the grounds of our high school.  We were fifteen.  I had a pack of Tarot cards and a book I’d gotten at henna-haired Mrs. Larsen’s Bookstore down on Hollywood Boulevard.  Isis had a pack of cards, too.  No one ever taught us to read them—we just did, and then we got ourselves a booth at the Renaissance Faire.  It was a camping tent, really, hung with some filmy cloth, and I made myself a princess dress with a high waist out of iridescent gauze, and we told fortunes for days, and hung out with Witches and beadmakers and potters.  Isis was smart and funny and cynical and fearless, a round, bossy girl with milk chocolate skin and a huge smile—a smile that always made you think she knew some

Isis went off to college at Antioch and I somehow ended up stuck in LA, going to UCLA and living in a frat house turned commune, in one big room with nine people.  My boyfriend and I shared the closet together.  Isis came to visit once; I could tell she didn’t approve of my lifestyle, which really had little about it to approve of.  We didn’t talk for a long time, but finally reconnected, I think, at our High School 10th class reunion.  By then I had cleaned up my act, ditched the drugs and the boyfriend and actually had a book scheduled to be published.  I had also become Starhawk, and she had become Isis.  We’d each found our way to the Goddess, on separate paths, but we became friends again.  I remember walks in the park when her daughter Morgan was a baby, with our big dog Arnold washing Morgan’s face with his tongue as she sat in her stroller.  The baby didn’t seem to mind, and neither did Isis.  Isis came to Witch camp–the first we ever did.  Morgan was around four, then, and we went climbing on the rocks to look at the tide pools.  “Hold my hand, and you won’t fall,” Morgan told me.

Isis own mother died that summer, and she got the news at camp.  I remember her heartfelt grief, I see her crying with a wail that was like the essence of mourning.  And then she found solace with a hot naturopath, making the tent shake as she reconnected to the life force.  Isis didn’t hold back—neither her grief nor her love of life.

One thing I loved about Isis is that she never hesitated to tell me the truth.  She was one of the few people I let read my novels in draft, and I knew I could count on her to let me know if I went off track.  Johanna, in Walking to Mercury, is not Isis—that is, the facts of her relationship to Maya are not the facts of our lives.  But something of the emotional truth is there.  Once Isis had a draft of the book in her car, and her lover read it and got furious at her.

“You never told me that you and Starhawk were lovers!”

“We weren’t!”

“Don’t lie!  This is you!  You can’t tell me it isn’t you!”

I took that as a compliment.  We weren’t lovers, in the physical sense, but Isis is one of the people I dearly love.  I learned so much from her.  I learned to walk down the street and look people in the eye and smile and say, “How ‘ya doin?”  I learned how someone could face years of illness and pain with optimism and grace, and still take so much pleasure in life, even as her life grew more restricted.  She’s one of the people in my life who made me who I am.

I’m looking at one of her last Facebook Posts:

“I found out today that I’m happy.  No matter what happens, under it all, I’m just happy.  How great is that?!!!!”

Be happy, Isis, even as we are sad, so sad that you are no longer here to laugh with and scold us and give us that look.  Go shed that body of pain, and get ready for the next adventure.

Weaver, weaver, weave her thread

Whole and strong into your web.

Healer, healer heal her pain,

In love may she return again.

Posted in books and writing, death, life passages | Tagged | 17 Comments