The Pagan Unity Campaign: why I joined, why I left, and why I’m tired of hearing how horrible all PUCers are

The Pagan Unity Campaign was a group I was part of for a few years during and immediately after high school. I was a state chair for them, and I avidly participated in the campaigns we ran.

The PUC was a political campaign. The goal? To get elected officials to realize that they had pagan constituents.

When I joined I was a new pagan, a not-as-new political activist, and champing at the bit to get something done. I believed then, as I do now, that politics and religion are inseparable. (It shouldn’t need saying, but I’m not talking about church and state. I’m talking about personal politics and personal religion.) I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak — I wanted to get involved.

The PUC campaigns were largely, to my mind, harmless. Send in postcards to EOs saying “I’m pagan and I vote!”, basically. If you’re not pagan? “I’m a mom of a pagan and I vote!” or “I’m a friend of a pagan and I vote!”

So on, and so forth. The idea behind the “unity” wasn’t about religious unity, but political unity — getting over our differences to join together and show our EOs that we existed.

The problem really came when we got to a definition of paganism. Mind you, at the time I didn’t see it as a problem. I realized we needed to have a definition ready for any EOs who asked, and the one we’d come up with seemed — to me — to be fairly accurate. It defined paganism as positive, live-affirming, and earth-based, and excluded satanists.

Please note, at this time I was still reading Silver RavenWolf as if she were a good resource.

Also, I had no mentors in the pagan world. There were no pagans in my area, or if there were they were hiding very well. The only people I’d had to guide me were the writers of pop pagan books marketed to teens and people I’d met online in chatrooms and Yahoo groups. And they were of the sort of pagan that ignored history, confused pagan with Wiccan, and were basically crazytown bananapants. Which we all are, a little bit (at least). But crazytown bananapants combined with a death-grip on misinformation and bad history is…well, I don’t think I need to tell you what it is.

During my time with the PUC, I ran into a lot of resistance from people I’d thought were friends. I was never extremely pushy with the campaign, especially as most of the people I knew weren’t pagan. I simply explained what it was about, told them I was pagan, and that I’d really appreciate their support.

The responses I got were generally along the lines of “You’re a godless heathen who will burn in hell, please fuck off.”

These responses helped solidify in my mind that I was doing the right thing by being part of the PUC. Obviously there was so much misinformation out there; someone had to do something.

I ended up burning out, being State Chair, and though I was still part of the PUC in name, by 2007 I wasn’t doing much. I was beginning to question the efficacy of their methods. 2007 was also the year I joined The Cauldron, the forum that I spend a lot of my time at.

TC had run into the PUC before, and they hated them. I didn’t understand why at first, but slowly it became clear to me.

The PUC was trying to define paganism for other people, and that wasn’t cool.

Before TC I hadn’t had a wide exposure to different sorts of Paganism. I didn’t even know what a reconstructionist was. I basically thought all pagans were some variation of Wiccan.

I decided to leave PUC. My heart was no longer in it, and I was beginning to suspect that the then-leader was a bit racist. (The time leading up to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries was when you really got to find out who among the people you knew was a secret racist.)

I left in the fall of 2007. I don’t regret my time with the PUC. It taught me some valuable lessons.

However, it tends to get brought up every so often on TC. And every time it does, there’s more bile and vitriol to go around, as if the more time stretches between TC’s last encounter with the PUC the more the anger needs to multiply. Like rabbits left together.

I get it. I do. The PUC wasn’t good at respecting people’s agency in self-definition. I didn’t know that when I was part of the org, but I know that now. So I do understand where people’s anger comes from. (After all, when I left the org I was getting pretty angry with the leader because she was batshit and incredibly thickheaded and probably racist.)

But I am getting tired of hearing about how horrible or stupid all PUCers are/were. Because understand, when you talk about how every single PUCer was out of touch with reality, or stupid, or thickheaded, or anything else, you’re talking about me, too.

I was a misguided teenager. I fully admit that.

I resent the implication that I was stupid because I was lacking for actual mentors in pagandom. I resent the implication that I was out of touch with reality because I wanted to make a difference and the PUC seemed like a good way to do that.

It’s not always easy to see the darker sides of organizations that purport to make a difference. Especially not when you’re a starry-eyed teenage activist who desperately wants to help make that difference.

I used to be a member of PETA, too. Does that mean I’m stupid and psychotic?

The PUC did wrong by trying to define all pagans for them, and so narrowly. Their campaigning methods were questionable.

Do I still think they were trying to accomplish good? Yes, I do. I believe their intentions were pure.

But I can see now that it’ll never work to form an organization like that. There are better ways to effect change from a pagan perspective. (I won’t go into them here, because this post is getting too long already.)

The organization is now largely-defunct, and it’s probably because other PUCers either burned out or realized they were going nowhere fast. I’m not saying all, or even some, of them came to the same realizations I did, but it’s possible. It’s likely.

So please. Could we maybe keep our criticisms and bile and vitriol focused on the organization, and maybe leave the people alone? Can we judge people on their own merits? Could we refrain from saying how every single PUCer ever is  stupid and out of touch with reality?

Is that too much to ask?