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What Can be Done

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

The sluggard believes they shall live forever

If the fight they face not

But age shall not grant them the gift of peace

Though spears may spare them

Havamal 16

American Heathens and Pagans have found ourselves thrust into what some might call interesting times. In the past two weeks the US Supreme Court has methodically stripped away rights and guarantees, most infamously the right to an abortion protected under Roe vs. Wade, which have stood as settled law for longer than I have been alive. They have also overturned the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions, destroying the most effective tool Washington DC had for immediately responding to climate change. To put it simply, the Supreme Court has shackled us all to Christian fascism and a biosphere being actively killed by the greediest people on Earth. Everything that stands at the core of modern Paganism and Heathenry is under more direct, sustained attack in the United States than ever.

Now, more than ever, all inclusive Heathens and Pagans must put our ethics into practice by embracing the logic of direct action and politics of confrontation. I will make my case for this by discussing the case for direct action in Heathen terms, why the challenges of our times necessitate these measures, a brief introduction to some examples of direct action & core principles like security culture and addressing problems within our community that must be addressed.

The Heathen case for direct action is a very simple and direct. Heathenry, at its core, affirms every individual’s right to seek redress of grievances through means of vengeance when all other forms of resolution have failed. Systems like weregild, affirmed as a core value in Fire & Ice Heathenry, promise peaceful resolution by presenting injured parties with an opportunity for genuinely restorative justice. This avenue is often a means to avoid violence but no part of this process negates the individual’s right for retribution on their own terms if the justice offered is insufficient or if what is accepted is subsequently dishonored by the injuring party. Rarely has there been such a clear-cut justification for vengeance than a judicial body made up of oath-breakers destroying rights supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans while dooming us all to an increasingly deadly, inhospitable climate.

This does not, however, mean you must immediately take up the most obvious and over the top measures for achieving that end. There are many examples in lore of avengers pursuing their goals by whatever means are available. Odin, upon being imprisoned by a greedy king in the Grimnismol, found his answer by cursing his captor with death by his own cruel weapons. Volund the Smith of the Volundarkvithka patiently plotted for years against his enemy, using his cunning to escape on crafted wings and bring the downfall of his foe’s entire household. Gudrun, the wife of Sigurd of the Volsungsaga, brought down her beloved’s killer and her captor Atli by waiting until the warlord’s entire household was asleep before setting fire to Atli’s hall, killing all within.

The same is true of the times we are in now. Just as the attack on human rights and the natural world has advanced on many fronts and by many means, the counter-assault must do the same where everyone has something they can do. Even though you, personally, may not feel comfortable or have the means to be marching in the streets, tagging up pregnancy crisis centers, or offering refuge to people fleeing Christofascist persecution, there’s always something that anyone can do to help. Every street demonstrator, clinic worker, and lawyer needs people fulfilling countless vital roles like raising money for bail funds on Twitter, packing medic kits, boosting the truth through the fog of fascist lies, or forcing uncomfortable conversations with friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. You may even find yourself in a position where all you can do is flee for safety and there is no shame in this. If the best you can do is seek refuge, wherever that may be, then remaining alive and beyond the reach of your persecutors is its own kind of victory.

The challenge we all face further reinforces the necessity for considering alternatives to business as usual. The Supreme Court’s Christian fascism and carbon death-cult is the crest of a wave made up of police violence in the streets and a forty year campaign of bombings, anti-LGBT violence, intimidation, legislation, & assassination. Their work has been done out in the open, with everything from the highest Republican Party officials to top-rated Fox News media personalities and megachurch pastors thundering their message of total Christian domination of the so-called Seven Mountains of society without a trace of shame. These are all of a piece as attacks on trans existence, gay rights, reproductive choice, voting rights, a livable planet, and separation of church & state each helping to advance a vision of society where fundamentalist Christianity will be endowed with the power to destroy all they see as ungodly while the world around us burns to a crisp.

Power is the only thing these linked movements respect. If the past four decades of shame, factual inconsistencies, invocations of rules and norms, appeasement, or their own manifest hypocrisy were effective tools for blunting these ruthless crusades for theocracy and profit at all cost, no matter the cost to the planet then we would not be in our current predicament. Adherents of both movements have shown time and time again the ends always justify the means. Absolution awaits through massive profit margins & the Blood of the Lamb as reward for their uncompromising righteousness, so why worry about a bit of immorality and brutality along the way? Such cruel visions for the world cannot be reasoned with, as shown by ample attempts to do so.

With the why clearly laid out, it is now time to delve into the what of direct action. Outlets like CrimethInc & It’s Going Down and organizations like Earth First! & the Industrial Workers of the World are some of many who have have excellent guides, training programs, and support systems in place that more than amply fulfill that need. What I will do here, instead of rehashing what they have already done more effectively, is provide some guidance for understanding the logic behind these methods so you can better plug in to larger projects.

Direct action in the United States generally falls under one of three broad methods for redress of grievances and social problems: creating alternatives that directly resolve existing problems, protecting systems that help people, and raising the cost of doing business for people in positions of power past a level they can afford. Alternative solutions direct action is less well-known but is probably the most vital. Examples include groups like Food not Bombs, street medic collectives, and community assemblies brought together to address questions of interpersonal harms. They provide people with the means to solve their own problems, empowering them to advance their own interests on their own terms. Protective work includes groups like the anti-fascist movement, abortion clinic escorts, and other projects where people make the slogan, “we keep us safe” a reality.

Raising the cost of doing business is probably what people tend to be most familiar with, largely because such work is the most visible. Direct actions like freeway shutdowns, eco-defense blockades, picketing outside of Supreme Court justices’ homes, and the growing wave of strikes against anti-choice sponsored pregnancy crisis centers by the Jane’s Revenge movement are some of the best examples of this approach but they are not the only methods available. Disruptive direct action works by making it harder for people in power to carry out their goals. In some cases, like the Keystone XL pipeline, these campaigns can totally thwart the powerful by frustrating their goals, inflicting unexpected expenses, and ultimately making it impossible to impose their chosen policies over the objections of those in harm's way.

One useful way of understanding the logic behind these actions is the famous Hong Kong activist slogan, “be like water”. This means finding ways to move around your enemies’ greatest points of strength and concentrating your abilities where they will do the most good. Instead of confronting the planet killers and Christian fascists in avenues they dominate, like heavily gerrymandered elections or through singular mass marches which are often easily kettled and brutalized by police, try striking weak points like showing up at local school board hearings, targeting notorious pastors at their favorite brunch spot, picketing construction companies at their head offices, or defeating police crackdowns with multiple decentralized marches that leave riot lines isolated and unable to utilize their superior equipment and tactical training. Even the most invincible dragons have soft underbellies vulnerable to spears waiting in ambush.

One key concept for all forms of direct action is security culture. Being secure with information and communications is essential for any modern movement. Everyone involved in any kind of direct action should know and understand security culture, no matter what role you play. Information hygiene, encrypted communications systems, not planning or discussing potentially illegal or dangerous actions on sites like Facebook & Twitter and knowing who you are working are the difference between an effective campaign and catastrophe.

In these times, we must also strengthen our commitment to truly inclusive values in our communities in word and deed. The most obvious problem is tightening up the rather loose consensus around what doing inclusivity looks like. It is not enough to make statements and respond to the most obvious acts of bigotry. We, as a community, need to have far more serious deliberation and action on what inclusivity means, how this genuinely challenges hierarchies of race, patriarchy, and oppression, and what we can learn from systems rooted in hospitality, solidarity, and mutual aid. “Not getting political” is no longer a choice that can be accepted, we must choose the side of justice or succumb, one way or the other, to the whips of injustice.

One key component must be addressing at-times toxic tendencies towards face-saving which are common in Heathen practice. It is, sadly, all too common for people to invoke an individual's reputation for inclusivity to excuse at-times bigoted, demeaning, and at-times harmful actions. This is often reinforced by choruses of supporters who come out to extol the accused's virtues while dismissing the problems presented by the injured party. All this does is show that accountability takes a back seat to protecting pride and image.

The solution is as straightforward as any verse in the Havamal. Harm, when done, must be answered with solutions that repair the damage and ensure the root problem is resolved. Spin, defensiveness, and shutting down the injured only makes problems worse, not better, and guarantee when they erupt they will occur at greater magnitude. Repair and improvement, by contrast, show change for the better is both possible and desired within the community in question.

One example of a well-intentioned inclusive project with room for improvement is the Declaration of Deeds which, at time of writing, does not explicitly or implicitly address ableist prejudices. I hope the authors of this effort will update their document as there is no compelling moral or practical argument for this omission. We cannot hope to overcome the challenges of our times by leaving people in need overboard, if we do not all rise together then each of us will surely sink.

There is no question the tasks ahead of us all are great, the obstacles mighty, and our foes are terrible by every measure. Yet we fight for a cause as old as humanity with broad, fully justified public outcry against an enemy who knows their only avenue for success required capturing the least representative, most autocratic elements of the American political system. They know their end of days is coming, a far better, more hospitable time is arriving, and their only hope of continued domination can be found by strangling this new world in the cradle. What is Ragnarök for one is the end of Ymir for another. We must all end the encroaching death-obsessed fascists and make something green and good for all while we still can.

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