This post is meant to be an evolving list of options for engaging in social justice efforts, generalized enough that they can apply to efforts with different focuses. It includes thoughts on direct and indirect actions as well as spiritual and magical considerations, but we also strongly encourage people to read other perspectives and only take from this what they find useful.
This post is intended for people who want to participate in change around social injustice but aren’t sure how or feel overwhelmed. It’s assumed that readers:
- are pagan, polytheist, or magic-using in some way, although certainly anyone of any belief and practice can read this and take away whatever they find useful;
- carry a form of privilege in regards to the social injustice in question (e.g. a cis man wanting to help fight patriarchy; a white person who wants to support anti-racist efforts);
- have a basic working understanding of sociopolitical privilege and intersectionality. (Primers on every aspect of social justice are available online for free, written by people with lived practical experience of the subject in question.)
So, it gets overwhelming.
There’s a lot happening, needless to say. Much of it has always been happening but is only now being heard by mainstream audiences, and some of it is new and terrifying for everyone, not least of which is COVID-19.
Below, we’ve broken down some different ways of engaging with a given social justice effort along with some thoughts and considerations. We hope that this helps lessen some of the overwhelm by laying out some ideas so that people can use what they want, ignore the rest, and come up with a plan that works best for their individual situation and the social justice effort in question.
The first step is, of course, is to…
Listen & Learn
One of the most important skills of being an ally (or, even better, as comrades and accomplices) is being willing to listen to other people’s lived experiences, especially those lived experiences you may not personally share. We want to make sure that we’re lifting up the voices of the people impacted by violence, not talking over them, which contributes to the cycle of disempowerment.
- Don’t assume you understand the experience of other people in regards to living with a certain identity you don’t also share. A white person will never know what it’s like to be Black and/or Indigenous in the US; a cis person will never know what it’s like to be trans. Listen instead of speaking. Ask for clarification instead of assuming understanding. #startbybelieving applies to survivors of racism and other injustices, not just domestic and gendered violence.
- Listen to what’s being said by people who are directly impacted by the injustice in question. Groups with privilege and therefore greater power are, statistically speaking, invested in maintaining power, which means that public words and actions should always be seen with a very critical eye and take second place to the testimony offered by the people at risk.
- If you’re in a conversation with someone describing a personal lived experience which you don’t share and you find yourself wanting to disagree, try asking clarifying questions instead: “I don’t understand. Can you tell me more about that?”
- Recognize that people at risk don’t always have the emotional and mental bandwidth to explain their lived experience of oppression to people who don’t share it. Always ask if this is a good time and place to discuss the topic, and respect a ‘no’ if the other person says that. Alternatively, you can ask if there’s a particular advocacy group they would recommend as a reliable educational resource for you to use. If the other person doesn’t want to discuss it, or if you don’t actually know anyone you can ask, try starting with known advocacy organizations and the information they offer on hotlines and websites.
- Be critical of stories that uphold ‘the status quo.’ Make an effort to find sources directly from the people at risk. Recognize that a lot of “common knowledge” about subjects like domestic violence, sexism, and racism is based on outdated or incorrect information, and that it’s okay to admit when you’re wrong! We can’t learn anything new if we don’t see the places where the pieces don’t fit.
- Understand that a person’s every action comes from an internal motivation. Although we must recognize the impact of an action on other people, the way in which we do so will be different depending on the internal motivation. People don’t protest because they’re bored or “just troublemakers.” Writing off a person’s justified anger towards an injustice as immature or uneducated upholds that network of power inequity and allows the injustice to continue. Instead of judging, train yourself to instead ask, “What circumstances made them believe that this action is necessary?”
Instead of offering your own opinion, consider sharing what’s being said, written, and published by the people directly impacted. Give those creators access to your audience – and your audience access to the creators!
It’s unfortunately true that someone with a particular privilege is more often heard than people who don’t have it, even if that first person is simply repeating what the second person said. It’s especially common with men being heard over women and femmes, with white folks being heard over Black folks. Use that to the benefit of people who need to be heard most.
- Make an effort to find books, shows, art, and other media produced by creators belonging to an at-risk group and support them with purchases, reviews, and sharing the media with other people. People of a particular identity tend to tell their own stories very differently than others do.
- Take time to learn not only about the measurable harm of cultural appropriation but also about the human history of your spiritual and magical practices. Where did these practices come from and how did you gain access to them? What is your relationship to any still-living cultures from which those practices came?
- This is especially important if you’re a non-Black person who is part of an Afro-Diasporic or African Traditional Religion, or if you’re a non-Indigenous person participating in a Native religion.
- It’s worth noting that a number of formal Western magical systems, such as ceremonial magic and some lineages of Kabbalah, are firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. Some popular books on Norse runes have been written by well-known white supremacists. A number of influential texts on Irish magic and paganism are based on cultural exploitation and false historical revisionism. How do we engage with those things when they’re part of our faith in a way that’s in right relationship with our living community and our spirits?
- Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Because of the ways in which overlapping legal, social, and cultural systems interact, no one can ever say, “Welp, I’m not sexist anymore!” and think their work is done. All of us have to constantly work to undo the prejudices being pushed on us through external social factors, like an invasive plant species that’s constantly trying to take over our food garden. All of us make mistakes, so the question is: how will you respond when you realize you’ve made a mistake, and what will you do to try avoiding making the same mistake in the future? When perfection is impossible, another way of framing the question is to ask yourself, How can I do a little better today than I did yesterday?
- Always be ready and willing to learn, but don’t forget to back it up with action. That might involve anything from social media posts to conversations with coworkers to direct action, and ideally folks would engage in a variety of ways according to their means, abilities, and resources.
Direct action typically refers to physical actions aimed at achieving a particular goal without going through ‘conventional’ channels to accomplish it. Voting, for example, is not direct action (but still important!) because it involves participation in a pre-established system. Worker’s strikes, hunger strikes, sit-ins, civil disobedience, vandalism, and some kinds of marches, on the other hand, are examples of direct action. Direct action encompasses a variety of options, ranging from nonviolent to physical. Direct action has typically led to faster, more profound social changes than participation in pre-established systems, which were often designed to uphold the status quo of power in the first place.
The admin of Macha’s Justice support direct action, up to and including the physical. We recognize that nonviolent means of protest only work in situations in which the oppressive authority is invested in preserving the well-being of the protesters (often for reasons of public perception and propaganda). While long-term, intergenerational change involves other spheres of engagement, including change in ideology and social norms, we know that violence may be necessary to protect oneself and one’s community against an oppressor which does not choose to recognize the humanity of a person or group. Whether the violence occurs in self-defense or is initiated is irrelevant when situated in a broader system of power inequity and historical/generational violence.
- Consider attending a protest as a protester. If you suspect that violence may occur, consult individuals or groups with experience in direct action for advice on the items and tactics most appropriate for the situation.
- If you have a visible characteristic that would afford you social privilege from strangers, especially with authorities (e.g. being white while attending a protest for Black lives, or being a cis man attending a protest for femme rights), consider placing yourself physically between any law enforcement and other protesters. That visible characteristic makes you less likely to be harmed than others, sends a message of solidarity to authority, and helps lessen the ability of authorities to twist the public narrative on the basis of racist or sexist stigma (e.g. “all Black protests are just violent riots because everyone knows Black people are violent, and we can prove it with these photos we took”).
- Make sure you ask what is needed and wanted by the people directly impacted by the subject of the protest. They have insight into the power dynamics between their community and authority which you do not. You’re there as support, not leadership.
- Consider attending a protest as physical/resource support. Bring snacks, water bottles, protective gear, and/or first aid supplies to pass out to protesters. Be prepared for backlash from law enforcement for doing so and take personal safety measures.
- Consider attending a protest as a street medic. However, this should only be done by people who have the training and experience necessary to offer emergency first aid. If a protest escalates to the need for street aid, it’s likely to be accompanied by a lot of chaos, which will make it even more difficult for a less experienced medic to avoid causing additional harm to the people they’re trying to help. Training in street medicine are often available through local organizing and mutual aid groups.
- If you’re attending a protest during COVID-19’s presence:
- Wear a mask (which is a good idea for a protest anyway to avoid identification)
- Bring extra face masks if you’re able to
- Do your best to keep some distance between you and others, as often as possible
- Include hand sanitizer and virucide wipes/cleanser in your gear (anti-bacterial materials won’t help with the coronavirus)
If you decide to attend a protest in any kind of capacity, please be sure to research ahead of time how to prepare: what supplies to have, what safety and privacy measures to take, what you might expect to see happen and how you should respond to those events for the safety of yourself and the protesters around you. Local mutual aid and BLM groups are good resources for this, and will also have insight into how your local law enforcement and county government is likely to respond.
Spiritual & Magical Workings
The ways in which you can do spiritual and magical workings in support of social justice efforts will depend on your personal practice, tradition, and resources, but the first step is always the same:
Ask practitioners who are directly impacted what kind of
spiritual/magical support they want or need.
This goes back to listen and learn. More experienced practitioners will know how too many disparate workings addressing the same goal can interfere with one another, or how a well-meaning working can backfire if the people involved have different goals.
You may also want to consider some of the following principles:
- How might you boost the magical workings already being done by the people at risk? Workings based on certain understandings of love or positivity are, to be honest, often framed in a way that isn’t helpful to people at risk. Instead, for example, can you pray that the protestors’ ancestors and spirits take the energy you’re offering and use it at their own discretion?
- Some spiritworkers have very specific personal protections in place which prevent a stranger from sending their own spirits over to help, and which could result in harm for one or both of the spiritworkers and even the spirits in question. Other options include asking the protestors’ own gods to send them extra spirit help or asking spirits to work in concert with, and in deference to, the protestors’ own spirits.
- Ancestors (especially ancestors of struggle or of shared identity with the people at risk) are often a great place to start; one of MJ’s admin often engages specifically with those who died of gendered violence in their own practice. (Family is complicated for lots of folks. Ancestors don’t always have to mean blood ancestors.)
- Because personal protections can be complicated, and because some traditions have mutually exclusive methodologies, think about how you can offer spiritual/magical support in a way that is based on consent and allowing the other person or people to accept or reject your offering in the ways that are most helpful to them. This can also help prevent conflicting magical intentions among people who are on the same side but who haven’t personally discussed how to streamline their efforts to maximum benefit, or who might have conflicting magical practices.
- In addition to supporting people on the front lines, you can also consider weakening the other side. If cursing isn’t your thing, there are other approaches. Ask the ancestors of law enforcement to hold their descendants accountable for their choices to have harmed others. Point out all the politicians and capitalists who have broken promises, laws, oaths, and treaties to gods and spirits who have a special interest in those things. Some spirits may have Opinions about officers with too-little training and who are misusing authority calling themselves warriors and heroes. Some spirits may love the trickery of military shipments to police departments going astray or police vehicles which mysteriously break down.
- Remember that there are also practitioners on the other side of the conflict in which you’re engaging. Publicly sharing the details of a magical working may not always be the best option. Use discretion and always weigh the pros and cons of making certain workings public or keeping them private to yourself or a clearly defined group of people.
- If your faith tradition allows for it, consider if there are things you can do to ‘woo’ any shared gods or spirits to your side of the conflict. What makes your side more righteous, profitable, or interesting than the other side’s practitioner who is offering different things?
- As always, be aware of your own well-being, too! We don’t want anyone to end up draining themselves to the point of harm because there wasn’t a barrier or failsafe put into place to prevent spiritual ‘hemorrhaging.’ If you have trusted gods or spirits in your practice, check in with them to see a) what kinds of workings they would recommend, and b) what advice they have to keep you safe in the process.
Remember that, like most spiritual and magical workings, these things work best when paired with additional action. Think about what else you can do once the spell candle burns out – or, even better, how can you pair magic with your mundane efforts?
- Charm protective gear with protection against cops, counter-protesters, ill luck, etc
- Pray for good communication and secrecy from your spirits of communication before an organizing meeting
- Bless the food you prepare for folks returning from the front lines with care and healing
- Tech-savvier folks might experiment with transparent sigil PNGs in emails or inserted in the background of printed letters
Get creative in uniting the magical and mundane! They are not as separate as many people might think, and uniting the two can strengthen your working and demonstrate the depth of your commitment to the spirits with whom you have relationship.
Share Your Time & Resources
- Check in with any friends, family, and community members who are more vulnerable to social and political violence. What do they need or want? Do you have the ability to meet that need or do you know a resource that can?
- Make sure to ask and, importantly, take them at their word. Many of us who have a different experience of how the world works may have assumptions about what’s needed which are incorrect or even actively unsafe for the other person.
- Remember that for many of them, this violence isn’t new. Many of them have had to live with this injustice for most or all of their life. Show you care by taking actionable steps in other ways that further the effort. Action is going to have a greater impact than words alone.
- In the same vein, be aware of your own needs and coping skills. Find support in coping with your anxiety, fear, or anger (your mental health matters too!) but which doesn’t involve emotional labor from people being directly impacted by the violence.
Volunteer with an organization that’s engaged in the work you’d like to be a part of – many organizations also offer training opportunities, which develop skills that can be brought back and used in your community.
Offer free or donation-based skillshare workshops to share your specialty with other people in the community, especially for people who are most at-risk of violence. This may include physical skills (self-defense, foraging, knitting, woodshop) and non-physical skills (conflict mediation, peer counseling, communication).
- If you have the physical space, host a skillshare workshop! If you can, or if a group of interested people can, try to offer compensation to a guest speaker, especially if that speaker is a person of color, queer, sex worker, or belongs to another vulnerable group.
Are you a service provider? You can offer free or low-cost services for people most at-risk and in need!
Some of the most needed services include counseling services and legal services. If you’re a licensed clinician or lawyer, consider offering pro bono services to folks who are Black or Brown, Indigenous, queer, immigrants, sex workers, physically or mentally disabled, or substance users.
- Safe and affordable childcare is another huge need, both on an ongoing basis for work and for specific occasions, such as protesters acting on the front lines.
- Donate money to trusted organizations that work on behalf of at-risk people: advocacy groups and bail funds are particularly important. Even just a little bit helps!
Donate clean, reusable items you no longer need to local individuals, families, mutual aid collectives, and grassroots organizations.
- Try asking what’s needed before donating. This is especially true for projects that involve putting together kits or backpacks: we want to make sure your generosity is meeting needs as much as possible so that nothing is wasted, and what a donor thinks is wanted may not be what’s actually needed.
- Note that, if you can, financial donations, even the smallest amounts, are generally more versatile than item donations.
Some of these were begun in response to COVID-19, but many of the programs and individuals involved will overlap with other local aid groups and so they can act as a knowledgeable resource for your area. (Link collection credit goes to @hater-of-terfs on Tumblr.)
- Don’t share or post explicit images of violence unless a viewer has to choose to see the image with an extra action (such as by clicking a link or selecting “show me” to unblur it). It’s better to offer links without a preview or to ‘nest’ the image or video in a comment thread. This is so that people directly impacted by that violence who are scrolling through their social media aren’t suddenly faced with the visual of it. This includes (but is not limited to) videos of people of color being murdered, pictures of bloodied women, and crime scene photos of murdered trans folks.
- Offer content warnings for common violence, such as “CW: racism, police violence,” or, “CW: transphobia, discussion of rape culture.” This helps people make an informed decision on whether they have the capacity to engage with the content you’re sharing.
Follow the public pages of individuals who are engaged in work you want to know more about or want to support.
Share resources published by trusted individuals and groups, preferably from the people directly impacted by the injustice in question.
Participate in social media campaigns and hashtags from advocacy organizations such as the NNEDV or BLM.
Evaluating Trustworthiness of Sources
Some of the common methods taught in American public school and academia on how to evaluate the validity of a resource are going to be less helpful here because they rely on the kind of authority that is, in this case, the authority which is most invested in upholding a narrative to preserve the status quo of sociopolitical power. Some of them also assume a person’s access to resources (such as easy Internet access) and formal education or cognitive style, which is less to do with the reliability of content and more to do with casual classism and ableism.
One of the most valuable questions you can ask yourself about a potential resource is, “Who benefits from this narrative?”
- Who wrote it?
- When did they write it?
- What seems to be the intent?
- Who benefits from it?
- What kind of language is it using? (Familiarizing yourself with buzzwords from special interest groups is helpful in recognizing subtle signs and leading language.)
- What are the consequences of it if we assume it’s true?
- Who are the people saying similar things and who are the people refuting it?
- If it’s a screenshot of something: Can you find the original post or article? (Creative cropping and image manipulation are common methods of misrepresenting or faking something.)
- If it’s a quotation: Can you find the original interview, video, or other source? (Taking words out of context is also common.)
- If it’s a group or organization: Is the group helmed by the people it claims to represent? Do the people it represents actually endorse it as reliable?
- Example: Autism Speaks is the most globally well-known autism advocacy group, but in reality it perpetuates real harm against autistic people and is run by people who aren’t autistic. Autistic people themselves overwhelmingly recommend ASAN, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, as a resource instead.)
“Calling In” Loved Ones to Change
Standing up to our loved ones can be one of the most difficult things to do. “Calling in” is a term that refers to the act of encouraging the people around you to do better in how they talk about, and behave towards, other people, especially people who belong to a minority group. This may include acts like inappropriate jokes or casual bigotry. By ‘calling them in,’ we’re pointing out that the behavior is inappropriate and we know they can do better. This is compared to ‘calling out,’ which might entail some level of shaming and condemnation and thus makes it emotionally more difficult to stand up to a loved one.
Think of “calling in” as an act of love: you know your loved one can do better, and you care enough about them to support them in doing better.
The Southern Poverty Law Center offers suggestions for a variety of common scenarios with family and friends on how to address “lowkey” discrimination, or microaggressions, with “Speak Up! Responding to Everyday Bigotry.”
Note: ‘calling in’ is not the same as forgiveness, and there are situations where standing up to loved ones may be unsafe or where a stronger response is needed. If someone is unwilling to engage with you, or if you don’t see them making changes in their behavior, then you may need to have a stronger response – up to and including limiting or cutting off interaction with the person in question. Enforcing consequences with a clear path for change (“Until you do [this], I can’t spend time with you for [these reasons]”) is known to be one of the most effective incentives for people to change.
In Conclusion: Some Things to Remember
- Start by asking. What do the people being directly impacted need? They’ll be posting about it on group sites, social media, and blogs. Take the time to search to see what is actually wanted, or ask someone you know directly if they’re one of the impacted people (with the reminder to be empathetic to their emotional bandwidth!).
- Be open to feedback. Even the most well-educated activists are learning new things every day: new language, new stories, new policies, and new technologies create a landscape that is constantly changing. We all make mistakes – your job isn’t to be perfect but to learn how to do a little better every day.
- Everyone can do something to help, even if it’s not direct action in a protest or march. We all have strengths we can use. Bring up something you learned about domestic violence in your knitting group! Ask your friends to join you in a group reading and discussion on anti-racism! Write and share a meta analysis of your favorite video game or TV show for its portrayal of queer identity to inspire discussion! Ask your business-owning friend about their employee equity policy!
- You can’t do everything. But doing something is better than doing nothing, so pace yourself and be strategic: social change takes time, and if you want to be in it for the long haul, be sure to keep an eye on your physical, emotional, spiritual, and material resources.
- Direct action is absolutely important – and so is support action. If you’re not attending a protest or march, consider offering childcare for people who are; be prepared with a phone or transportation in case your friends on the front line need backup; have food prepared for when they return inevitably hungry and adrenaline-fueled; use your accounting skills to track your mutual aid group’s resources; use your project leader experience to keep collective meetings on track and avoid stalling out on consensus for three hours; use your party-planning experience to make sure supplies get to the streets and disseminated efficiently; be available for jail support. The more that background logistics are taken care of, the more that frontline protesters can focus on their own safety and goals.
- Magical workings are most useful when paired with mundane action. Even better, be creative in how you can incorporate your magical workings directly into the actions you take and in support of the magical work already being done by the people experiencing violence.
- Refrain from criticizing how people at risk choose to express themselves. Stronger forms of expression, such as violent protest, often come after previous attempts at more peaceful protest have failed. If you’re not part of a particular community, you may not be aware of those earlier attempts – and, as always, ask yourself who benefits from a particular perspective when reading news reports.
- It’s okay to take a break. No one can be “on” all the time. That’s why we emphasize the importance of collective action. And when you’re ready again, you can step back up to the fight while other folks rest up. This can be as simple as taking a social media break for a few days, or being firm with yourself in avoiding social media after a certain time in the evening before bed.
- If you haven’t already, take a look at what’s needed and what’s being requested in regards to a particular social justice effort by the people directly impacted.
- Evaluate which of those needs you can help with according to your own means and resources – and be honest with yourself about your limitations and motivations. This isn’t the kind of work that brings renown and wealth, after all, and being an effective support often means that you’ll encounter pushback too. Being able to name to yourself why you’re doing this work, no matter what it is, can help keep you in it for the long haul and combat burnout.
- You can’t do everything, so it’s better to pick a few of those requests and focus your efforts. Quality over quantity. How can you best apply the skills, knowledge, and resources you already have and leverage them in support?
- Keep checking back in with the people directly impacted to make sure you’re still in alignment with their goals, methods, and needs.
- Stay in communication with the living humans you trust as well as your own gods, spirits, and/or practices. This work can’t be done alone.
If you’d like to provide additional suggestions, feedback, or corrections, or if you have any questions, you can leave a comment on this post or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written with feedback from the community of service providers and practitioners on MJ’s Discord server. Any mistakes, omissions, or misrepresentations in the published draft remain the responsibility of the author. For more information on the Discord server, contact us!
Written by Marjorie Ní Chobhthaigh
9 June 2020