Being a Pagan is more than wearing occult jewelry and burning the right incense for every occasion. It's about how we live our lives, how we give more than lip service to the earth, but actually care for her, protect her, and honor the spark of the Goddess in every human being. Many Pagans, like most people of sense, would probably prefer not to be political, to focus our time and energy on our own spiritual development, on creating wonderful rituals for our families and communities, on tending our own gardens. But the issues facing us right now are too deep and profound to allow us that luxury.

This upcoming election is necessarily a referendum on the Bush administration's policies and performance. The Republicans have had four years in office, with control of the legislature, to implement their ideas-and we can judge the results. They are dismal. Iraq is a mess that daily costs the lives and futures of civilians and soldiers alike, and the justifications for getting into this mess are now clearly revealed as lies and deception. The veterans who return are met with cutbacks in medical care and services. The U.S. economy is a mess, with a huge loss of jobs, a spiraling national debt, 45 million Americans lacking health insurance, public health and education systems crumbling, and the country polarized. Meanwhile, new information alerts us to the fact that global climate change is progressing faster than expected and may rapidly tumble into a self-reinforcing cycle of destruction. The ice caps are melting, hurricanes ravage the Caribbean, the North Sea ecosystem is in a state of collapse. The need for massive, globally coordinated action to limit our use of fossil fuels and make the transition to a new energy economy is urgent.

All of these are good reasons for rejecting Bush. But here are five specifically Pagan reasons:

1. Torture: Those of us who identify as Witches, who remember the Burning Times and the torture of the Inquisition, should reject policies that have legitimize and institutionalize torture--in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, in other unnamed facilities around the globe--and should reject the Bush administration's undercutting of international treaties that also safeguard our troops. We should also reject the whole apparatus of secret detentions and denunciations and attacks on civil liberties that go with it.

2. Safety for ourselves and our communities: Bush has allied himself with forces who are determined to make this a "Christian" country, who have no love or tolerance for our spiritual traditions.

3. Nature: Nature, which we hold sacred, is under assault by the Bush regime, which has rolled back environmental protections, refused to acknowledge the world scientific consensus that climate change is indeed happening and is a major threat to the world, and consistently favored the interests of big oil companies and polluters.

4. Morality: Bush and his right-wing fundamentalist friends have defined a narrow, anti-sexual morality that targets women's freedom of choice, gay rights, and youthful sexual expression, and fosters hate and intolerance. There is no room in this view for our spiritual tradition, which holds sexuality as sacred. If Bush is elected and appoints up to four Supreme Court Justices, Roe v. Wade could be overturned and women could be once again dying from coat-hanger abortions.

5. Bush gives intuition a bad name.

And below are five specifically Pagan reasons to vote for Kerry.

1. National security: Pagans understand that the world is interconnected and relational, that none of us can go it alone, and that force creates resistance. Kerry will bring us back into the international community, rebuild the alliances Bush has shattered, and may be able to bring about the kind of international action on pressing issues that alone can bring about real security.

2. Safety for ourselves and our communities: Kerry represents the more open and nuanced forms of Christianity which have understood that Paganism represents a spiritual tradition that is different but deserving of respect.

3. Nature: Kerry's record on the environment is relatively good, and he seems capable of grasping the real challenges that face us and responding to them in creative ways.

4. Women: Kerry is a staunch supporter of a woman's right to choose, and will appoint federal and Supreme Court Justices who will safeguard that right.

5. Reality: One of the Bush aides recently accused a Democrat of being part of the 'reality-based community'-implying that Republicans were beyond the need to take account of, or respond to, reality. Kerry, at least, seems to exist in the same universe as the rest of us. I find myself in this election continually reminded of a very old campaign skit by the Firesign Theater back in the '60s, "Pappoo, Pappoo for President...You Know He's Not Insane!" "Not Insane!"

There are many ways in which both candidates fall short of my ideals. I don't expect Kerry or any politician to save us. If Kerry wins, I expect to still be on the streets fighting hard for changes that go far beyond anything even being discussed in the current debates. But I would rather fight a Kerry who is beholden to progressive forces than a Bush who thinks he has a mandate to be even more extreme than he is.

One last word, about Nader and the Greens--whose positions are much closer to mine than Kerry's. I voted for Nader last time. But one thing I've learned from gardening--even the most beautiful, healing plant won't thrive if planted at the wrong time, in the wrong place. The challenge for a third-party candidate in our current national elections is to raise issues the other candidates aren't talking about, get them onto the agenda, unify and strengthen progressives around those ideals, and form a counterweight to the right-wing forces pulling debate in their direction. Sometimes running for President may be a viable way to do these things and sometimes it's not. Right now, I'd say Nader has the right ideals, but at the wrong place and wrong time. I'd love to see more Pagans build Green Parties locally, run for school boards, water boards, town councils, etc. (that's how the right wing built their power base). Then we can look ahead to a time where voting for a candidate with Nader's ideals will not be a symbolic act, but will be backing a front-runner.

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