As I was riding home in the car this afternoon, I heard the piece on NPR about today being the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. What makes this anniversary special is not so much what happened that day, but what was said.
This was the speech when Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
I felt almost teary as I heard his voice on the radio, much as I had first heard it. We were inspired and galvanized by that statement. I was just a little girl, only nine years old, but I knew something important was going on. There was a war, but there was also the Peace Corps. People put their lives on hold to help other people. It was important to care.
And it wasn’t just government-sponsored programs. Four college students cared enough about injustice to stage the first sustained sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Second-wave feminists shook the boundaries of the personal and the political. Thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of people cried out for peace in Southeast Asia. (Contrary to legend, we did support the troops; we supported their right to come home in one piece.)
It was during this time of service and caring and commitment to social action that the American Neopagan movement gathered momentum. The Church of All Worlds started in St. Louis in 1962. Ray and Rosemary Buckland brought Gardnerian Wicca to the States in the same years. Carlton College students in Northfield, Minnesota dodged the chapel requirement by inventing the Reformed Druids of North America in 1963.
Is it too much to say that the spirit of service that Kennedy invoked in 1961 profoundly affected the forms that contemporary American Paganism took? I don’t think so. We came from a generation that was challenged to care and to serve. And so, so very many of us have.
On this day, I challenge you to ask yourself, what are you doing for the Pagan community? What acts of service have you offered? So many people have given so much, have you?
RIP, JFK. Here’s to tomorrow, my fellow American Pagans.