Adventures at the Reason Rally

Twenty thousand godless people gathered in Washington DC last weekend to celebrate and cheer and plan and just have a good time being with each other. I was one of them. Eventually there will be videos and DVDs available, but they won’t be as good as having been there.

Everyone will pick different speeches and performances as their favorites.  Here were a few of mine:

Jessica Ahlquist – I don’t remember being inspired by a 16 year old girl before. For those unfamiliar with her story, Jessica is a Rhode Island high school student who forced her school to obey the law and remove a prominently posted prayer. That put her on the receiving end of some incredibly vile and violent vitriol from Christens. It got so bad she was provided with police protection for a while.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo thought serving his constituents included calling a teenage girl an “evil little thing” on talk radio. She responded by adopting the moniker  and a secular organization started printing “Evil Little Thing” T-shirts, with the profits going to a scholarship fund for her.

Jessica stood in front of 20,000 people and delivered a speech smoothly and without hesitation, a remarkable feat for a 16 year old. When she finished she was presented with a giant novelty check for over sixty-two thousand dollars, the amount in her scholarship fund, with “bravery” written in the memo field. It was a very satisfying poke in the eye to the hateful, violent Christens who had threated her.

Here’s a clip of the first part of her speech.

Adam Savage – There were lots of rah rah speeches throughout the day. Adam’s was one of the first and one of the best.

Tim Minchin – the second best way to change someone’s mind is with music. The first is with comedy. Tim combines both flawlessly. I’ve loved his stuff since I first saw him a couple of years ago, and seeing him perform in person was a real treat. Here’s a very NSFW clip of one of the songs he performed and the ASL interpreter who was doing speed bird flipping to keep up with him.  (If you haven’t heard him before, be sure to check him out on YouTube and elsewhere.  His songs are usually a bit more subtle than this.)

James Randi – Randi’s work was a huge part of me discarding woo and growing a brain way back when, so I’ve always had a lot of affection for him. It was great seeing him again.

Eddie Izzard – I don’t know how much of his act was prepared and how much was improvised, but it felt like he was making most of it up on the spot. It was brilliant – even better than “cake or death.”

The weather sucked. It would drizzle a bit, then rain hard for a few minute, then let up for a half hour, then start drizzling again. It was just cold enough to slowly suck the heat out of your bones. The predicted thunderstorms didn’t happen, though. God could have wiped out twenty thousand atheists, including most of the prominent leaders of the movement, with a single well placed lightening bolt. He screwed up. Either that, or he doesn’t exist.

There was a good mix of ages and ethnicities. When speakers asked students to raise their hands about half the people in the audience responded. That was encouraging.  As people get older and set in their ways it becomes more difficult to change their minds, especially on subjects they consider important. It felt great to see so many young people embrace reality and reject superstition.

One group brought bags full of peanut and jelly sandwiches for everyone. They had made the sandwiches and them put them back into the original plastic bread bags, which made them easy to carry and pass out among the crowd. I don’t know how many loaves of bread they used. Dozens? Hundreds? This is another example of why atheism can be more difficult than belief – if they were Christians they could have fed all 20,000 of us with five loaves and two fish fries.

Quite a few people had signs, but not nearly as many as I’ve seen at other rallies. They also were waved around less in the main audience, which was considerate of people standing behind the sign bearers. The two most popular ones were “Hey Mom, I’m an Atheist” and “This is What An Atheist Looks like.”

T-shirts and signs at the Reason Rally

Giant puppets at rallies look stupid, so we were fortunate there was only one. And yes, it looked stupid.

Speaking of stupid, I was determined to say out of Stupidville and not engage with the village idiots who had gathered to protest our rally. There weren’t as many as I’d expected, but there were enough to be annoying if you were looking to be annoyed. They were standing on the sidelines, passing out tracts and arguing with anyone silly enough to engage them. I avoided the temptation, but accidentally got sucked into a conversation with one.

I saw an umbrella from the Saratoga Race Track, which is in my neck of the woods, and went over to talk to the guy holding it. He was debating with a fundy who who spewing the tired old argument, “you know someone designed that building over there, so then who designed us?” I foolishly joined the argument for about a few minutes, then chatted with the umbrella guy.  (He didn’t live near me.  It was a gift from an uncle who went to the track.) I spit one final point at the fundy, then left and continued my wanderings. The rally was such a happy occasion I didn’t want to taint it by wasting time with the mouth-breathers.

Three themes permeated the event.

One was the simple demand to be treated equally, and to stop allowing the religious to frame us as immoral or evil because we don’t share their superstitions.

Another was that the best way to achieve that goal is for atheists to come out of the closet. When someone with a poor opinion of atheists learns that someone they like and/or respect is one, it goes a long way toward combating the stereotype.

And finally, we must insist, absolutely insist, every single time it comes up, that religion be removed from government. Separation of church and state is vital for the freedoms of both atheists and religious people, not to mention all the people caught in the crossfire when laws are passed based on religious beliefs. (Witness the unconscionable laws being passed against women based on the fundies opposition to abortion.)

Looking at the world through the cold, clear, sometimes harsh and always amazing lens of reality is the only way to solve the multitude of problems we’re facing. It was wonderfully refreshing to spend a day with twenty thousand people who feel the same way. I left feeling like my batteries had been recharged.

4 Comment(s)

  1. Good post, Dave. Wanted to read it last night, but glad I saved it for today when I could savor it best.

    Smart move avoiding the residents of “Stupidville”. Sounds like the weather was enough of an annoyance to make it hard to call it “perfect” anyway.

    Eden Mabee | Mar 29, 2012 | Reply

  2. Sounds like a blast. It sucks that the NAP (National Atheist Party) had to make the bone-headed move of actually INVITING the Westboro Church there.

    Brian | Mar 30, 2012 | Reply

  3. I just saw a YouTube video of someone hassling them, and it was clear, by the size of the Washington Monument in the background, that they were far away from the event. The clown had to seek them out and pay attention to them in order to give them grief. Me, I was feeling too good with the overall vibe of the event to bother with the imbicles who were on the sidelines.

    I talked to the Atheist Party at their table in the tent, and was unimpressed. The woman I spoke with said she didn’t know their platform yet, then told me she was some kind of director. Sheesh.

    I don’t like the idea of an Atheist political party, because as a party they have to take positions on things that have nothing to do with atheism. I just looked up their site, and agree with most of their positions, but not all of them. And by taking that name they make it easy for godders to point in their direction and say “that’s what you believe.” No thanks.

    Dave Hitt | Mar 30, 2012 | Reply

  4. I love You all american Atheist!!!
    26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    Atheist! 100%!!!

    max benser | Nov 25, 2012 | Reply

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