This Is What a Patriot Looks Like

I was thinking the other day about the people who are continuing to Occupy various places, even through the depths of Winter. I recalled Thomas Paine‘s statement that:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

There are Winter Patriots all over America. People who show up, even when it would be easier to stay home, who show up even when the sun isn’t shining on their deeds. And as Paine explained, those Winter Patriots “deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.”

As The Wild Hunt reported, a public school in North Carolina recently handed out free Gideon-donated Bibles to young students, a pretty clear violation of the First Amendment. The principal of the school defended her actions, saying that:

If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this.

And that’s where our Winter Patriot comes in. Byron Ballard (and if you’re not reading Byron’s blog and following her on Twitter, you should be) didn’t just get mad and complain about this on a blog. She called the principal’s bluff.

It was very cold and very early today when I met Ginger Strivelli in Weaverville and followed her to her son’s school, North Windy Ridge Intermediate, part of the Buncombe county school system.

She had a couple of boxes of books that had been donated from several Pagan authors and supporters all over the East Coast. I added a handful of books and brought two copies of the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum’s Diversity Guide, which was created as a resource for public schools.(If you or your school needs one, it can be downloaded for free at the Center for Diversity Education’s website–

We were there to deliver the materials that she was assured would be “made available” in the same way the Gideon material was, right before the winter break. No surprise to find that, in consultation with the system’s superintendent Dr. Baldwin, the principal Jackie Byerly and asst principal Danny Fusco couldn’t do that at all because the central office was reviewing its policy regarding religious materials in schools. They suggested that they would “hold onto” the books, in case the school system needed to review them for appropriate content, once the policy was vetted.


We determined that leaving the materials was not the best plan because we are certain the new policy will preclude distribution–even passively–of these materials, and that these books can be used for the active Pagan prison ministries in the area. Ginger and I had a meeting with the principal and her assistant that lasted for some time and we left with the books. As we knew we would.

We have dealt with this issue again and again in this school system. Enough is enough.

The Earth religions community is frankly tired of dealing with this every few years. As long as any child in a public school system is bullied, coerced or ostracized for the spiritual path of their family and themselves, the situation is not fixed and the school environment is not safe.

There will be more media, more “good Christian” people threatening violence, more bullying and “othering” before this is settled. But settled it will be. Of this you can be certain.

Byron’s efforts are going to make it very difficult for the school to continue to hand out Christian propaganda. (To be clear, the school shouldn’t be handing out ANY religious materials, as even that act demonstrates a government preference for religion over atheism. But if the school is going to hand out religious literature, it’s important that they be forced to do so even-handedly. And the simple act of making them follow their own rules (as Saul Alinsky knew) often makes them change their rules. This happened a few years ago in Virginia, as I’ve blogged before. (That school district ultimately decided that maybe they’d be better off sending no religious literature home with kids. Duh.))

No one’s going to write a history book about Byron’s work today. She’s not going to get a medal or have poems written about her (but only because I can’t write poetry to save my soul). She’s a Winter Patriot who just keeps showing up and making it more difficult for those who want to trash our Constitutional rights and turn America from a free country into a theocracy. (It’s surprising, or maybe it’s not, how often this is women’s work.)

And it’s not enough, or even the beginning of enough, but tonight, at my altar, I’m going to take some time to send gratitude to our modern Winter Soldiers — those who Occupy physical space and those who show up and make Dominionists eat their words.

I shan’t be gone long. You come too.

Thank you, Byron.

Picture found here.

9 responses to “This Is What a Patriot Looks Like

  1. “But settled it will be. Of this you can be certain.”

    It would be pretty to think so, but I have my doubts. The God-botherers who want to inflict their sacred texts on everyone else tend to be a determined lot; and if the school board changes its policy, they’ll try to find a way to work around it. In the end, the day will be won, not by changing policies, but by changing hearts. You may remember my reference, in a comment to a (much) earlier post, about the anti-miscegenation laws, and the fact that young people these days wonder how people of earlier generations could have been so stupid. I suspect that this will be the fate of these various attempts to thrust religion into the schools. The poll numbers are encouraging. The old bigots are dying off, and their children and grandchildren seem to prefer to propagate their faith, not by means of strongarm tactics, but by living exemplary lives. Not a bad approach, that.

    In the meantime, as John Philpot Curran so wisely said over 200 years ago, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” I can’t write poetry either (I have enough difficulty with prose), but loud applause to Ms Ballard, and to you, for your true patriotism.

  2. A few more thoughts that have occurred to me (sorry for the dual comment):

    Ms Strivelli’s son is a pupil at North Windy Ridge Intermediate. I hope that, during their interview with the principal and assistant principal, she and Ms Ballard made it clear that any action that appeared even remotely to be retaliation against this young man would not be tolerated.

    I had intended to use the gender-neutral “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” rather than the Curran quotation, but the best information that I could find was that Jefferson didn’t actually say this.

    “(It’s surprising, or maybe it’s not, how often this is women’s work.)” It does not surprise me in the least. The institution of a Christian (or Islamic or Jewish) theocracy in the US would see women losing considerably more of their freedom than would their male counterparts. Given that women have so much more to lose, it comes as no surprise to me that they would push back harder.

  3. Wonderful posting — and a simply wonderful woman too!

    Doesn’t surprise me at all — women weave in all of the loose and unravelled threads of everyday life. We know how easily a loose thread can continue to cause problems in so many areas.

    And we are not afraid to work in the backrooms, back offices, store rooms, kitchens, bathrooms and other under appreciated areas of life too — where small problems can be allowed to grow and fester ….

  4. Peter of Lone Tree

    Your first quote about the “sunshine patriot” reminded me of this:

    “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
    Theodore Roosevelt
    26th president of US (1858 – 1919)

  5. vanessa mcnelly

    Having known both Ginger and Byron for years, I can truly say that there are no better warriors anywhere for this fight. Go gettem ladies!

  6. I think an interesting blog post for you on this theme might be on the case of McCollum v. Board of Education out of Champaign, IL – either the very late 1940’s or early 1950’s. One of Mrs. McCollum’s kids ended up being Mayor many years later.

  7. Ginger had something to do with this as well. She is a major Winter Patriot.

  8. Thanks all for the interesting discussion! And thanks, certainly, to Ginger Strivelli!

  9. I wonder how well received I would be if I offered a few free Sam Harris books to the students at this school?
    I think any pretense that this is a fair and even-handed willingness to distribute information from all perspectives would quickly fall away.

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