5th Annual Witch's March Speech
I Am Not Your Ally
My name is Colin Bartlett. I’m here on behalf of the South Sound Greens, an eco-socialist political party I chair, though my responsibilities and attachments in this beloved community go beyond that. I am a worker-owner in a queer cooperative cafe. I am a trained street medic and de-escalator. I am a proud union member through IWW IU 640. I am a member of the Puget Sound Socialists. I am a trained evolutionary biologist. I am queer who fought hard in two states for the right to marry my husband. I have met many of you before, in one of those other capacities. I view this multiple identity as a source of great strength for me, each part helping focus my vision and gaining me fellow fighters who have my back.
That said, I am going to start this speech with a confession: I am not a witch. The Green Party that I am speaking on behalf of includes profoundly spiritual people -spiritual agnostics, deists, pantheists, satanists, witches and pagans of all sorts, people who have invented their own faith, people practicing their traditional indigenous spirituality, Hindus, Sikhs, Jainists, Muslims, Jews, a lot of Buddhists and Unitarians - shout out to my UU buddies, hosts of every queer youth support group I ever went to - and even, bless their hearts, some Christians. The Green Party also has many non-spiritual atheists, be they soft secular humanists or hard antitheists. I tend toward the latter: I believe we can best build a life for each other when we use a critical, evidence-based scientific approach, whether that is modern, “western science”, or the twenty thousand years of indigenous science we can benefit from here on the Salish Sea.
This leads me to a second confession: I am not your ally.
My liberal friends love to be people’s allies. Being an “ally” as the term tends to be used is largely a rhetorical stance. It’s a Statement, that you will, passively, be there for people when they ask you for help. It’s an “In this house, we believe” sign. An ally is a power relationship: it’s a statement in favor of the tolerance or inclusion of a more marginalized Other whose survival depends on it. Don’t get me wrong: I love my liberal allies. As a queer and as a non-Christian, I have always relied on the kindness of these strangers.
But allies are not what I need most right now. Not now, as the inherent contradictions of Christian colonial capitalism tear our world apart - as the earth we depend on melts, burns, and floods; as our courts try to seize control over my own means of reproduction; as states once again make showing my love for my husband a crime; as heavily armed self-declared Christian fascists state their intention to commit genocide against all deviants and non-Christians; as witches are once again being burned. What I require is the relationship I am here to offer. I need an accomplice. I need a comrade.
An accomplice is someone who is guilty of the same crime that I am. That crime is threatening Christian patriarchy. That crime is resisting colonial capitalism. A comrade is someone who is engaged in fighting for the same liberation against the same foes that I am. That liberation is one where our bodies and our minds are our own. That liberation is one where our communities can find a path together toward a livable world, where we thrive together as equals. Our enemies are the bosses and landlords, priests and politicians, owners and talking heads, who profit off the power relationships that are killing us. Some of them may call themselves atheists or pagans, but their good is not our good, and their power is not our power.
The same forces that endanger my survival as a queer, as a worker, and as a non-Christian, are the forces threatening your own. Our struggles are materially related. We depend on the same planet, and we depend on the same freedoms. A nation that burns witches burns queers and atheists, too.
We can survive only by joining each other as comrades, as accomplices, as partners in thought crime. Those who follow traditional narratives that built this system - the belief that wealth is a sign of god’s blessing, that we own the earth and have a right to own each other, that our rewards lie in heaven and not in what we create with each other, that borders are real and people belong on one side of them or the other, that we can mine the future to enrich the present - these belief systems are doomed. We can choose to die along with them, or we can choose to grow in partnership with each other.
My party, the Greens, founded by an alliance of the secular and spiritual, of settlers and First Nations, of environmentalists and gender, race and class revolutionaries, is an eco-socialist party. That means that we recognize that the seed of my oppression, and my liberation, lies within your own. If I am to remain free from self-described Christian Fascists, I am going to need to work with a lot of people to kill the heart of their power: fear and isolation. That means universal healthcare, housing, education, utilities, food, and communication, to ensure that no patriarch can hold me hostage through them. It means free and publicly managed transportation and opening borders so I can flee my abusers and build a supportive found family. It means democratizing our economy and ecology so that religious institutions, landlords, and bosses can’t keep us fighting each other when we should be fighting them.
In the end, alliances with people who hold power over us cannot be depended on. The moment it becomes too unprofitable to let us live, they turn on us, again and again. We have all seen this on the streets of Olympia, Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis: people who tell us to invest in their campaigns, in their party duopoly, in their police, and then use what we give them against us tenfold when we demand the change they promised. We have also seen the change we can make when we stand against them, the good we can do for each other outside of their game. It is time we stopped playing along. It is time we recognized that their help is not coming. Only we can protect each other, but through each other we will win, and the green world we can build with each other is a beautiful one.
I am going to end this by reading my favorite passage from my favorite religious text. As might be expected, it’s a fictional religion, for our very real world. It is from Earthseed, the faith of the protagonists of Octavia Butlers’ prophetic science fiction novel, Parable of the Sower. I used this passage in my wedding. It’s about the kind of relationship I want to cultivate, with all of you, too.