Monday, June 06, 2016

Reflections on the Reason Rally (2016)

Today is my day of recovery after a five-day trip to Washington, DC. The last full day spent there was at the second Reason Rally. Last night, as I was unwinding from the somewhat grueling drive home, I caught up on social media where I saw a great many pros and cons about the rally.
There were some definite highlights...
  • Meeting Shelly Segal, Lawrence Krauss, Aron Ra and others
  • Running into friends I haven't seen in years
  • Seeing Penn Jillette and others
For some reason, the attendance was much lower than anticipated and only about 1/3 of the first Reason Rally.Why?
I have some ideas that I'd like to share here.
While there is something romantic about holding this in front of the Lincoln Memorial around the reflection pool, it's not actually a great location if you want to get a large number of people together. That big water thing gets in the way. The only people who can actually get a decent view of the stage are the people who can afford the rather expensive VIP seats. This was actually the least of the problems, however.
The guest list was quite the smorgasbord of celebrities (at least one of whom had to cancel). And while seeing them is cool, is that really what the rally was about? When I think of a strong message of atheism, Johnny Depp's name isn't the first one that comes to mind.1 The Beatles cover band, The Fab Four, were good performers but was this really the place for their performance? Maybe at one of the after parties, instead.2
The message got diluted. Yes, it's supposed to be about logic and reason but the last one really focused on atheists and atheist activism. This one, while attempting to be inclusive, watered down the message. While women's rights, LGBTQ rights and good science are all worthwhile, they have their own rallies and their own conventions. The only really firebrand atheist presentation was made by David Silverman who admonished those folks who shy away from calling themselves atheists.
While attempting to be inclusive, a good number of people were excluded. The atheist movement has become severely divided between those who want it to be all about atheism and those who want it to be about atheism and more. This has caused a fracture in the movement that needs to be fixed.
(Hold tight whilst I climb upon my soapbox.)
There is room for all of us under this tent. What we have in common is far greater than our differences. And while we need to recognize and celebrate our differences, those are not what atheism is about. Again, hold your own rallies. Have your own conventions. Organize under those banners on your own. I welcome it. I encourage it. I salute it. But the atheism movement is exactly that: a movement by, of and for atheists... of all stripes.
There are plenty of people out there who would gladly see us disappear completely. Why, then, are we fighting amongst ourselves and doing their work for them?
At this time, like no time in the past, we must unify to demonstrate that we are a force to be reckoned with. We will not be cast aside. We will not be used as political leverage by fundamentalists who see us as an evil annoyance.
Together, we can be one of the largest voting blocs in the country... in the world... but only if we come together as one unified force.
And some of you really, really need to get over yourselves. It's not all about you.
I'll climb off my soapbox now.

1Don't get me wrong. I really like Johnny Depp. But what, if anything, has he done for the atheist movement?
2I was a bit surprised and disappointed by the after party I attended. Shelley Segal was the one bright spot. There was inadequate seating and one would think that with a $25 ticket price, there would at least be bottled water at less than $5 per bottle... and maybe some light snacks.