Since almost all of my skeptical, atheistic and science activist friends have spent the weekend at TAM
without me (but I’m not bitter), I feel this is a good time to talk about the effect that activist events have, using myself as an example.
My first contact with the atheist community was on the web- please contain your surprise. I was still considering myself an agnostic then, as I subscribed to the common misconception that the term ‘atheist’ meant someone who was certain about the nonexistence of god. I went to a few forums and youtube channels that discussed those issues, and found Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula as well. Watching the debates and reading posts helped me decide to identity as an atheist, but I was just an observer, not a participant.
I thought about starting an atheist club at my college, but I was still going back and forth when I discovered the Secular Student Alliance. I went to their summer conference and was completely sold on making a college group. I loved the sense of community (see my previous post for details) I had when I was at that conference, surrounded by other atheist activists, and I wanted to create something like that within my area.
When I got back home, I put up Secular Student Alliance flyers, gathered friends who were interested and Doubters, Agnostics, Mythbusters and Nontheists (D.A.M.N.), a De Anza College Affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance was formed. We have had- in addition to discussions and panels- movie nights, blood drives, Fiction for Fiction events, Project Linus blanket making, events to promote Gay Rights, Sell Your Soul For a Cookie events (for which my group designed this snazzy flyer), and a MST3K themed Halloween party where we watched (and mocked) a film called Killer Klowns From Outer Space which starred- as one of the clowns- a now math professor at De Anza College who was kind enough to attend the beginning to give a short introduction to the film. In short, we made a place where we could have fun, improve our college and community and do good things without having it assumed that we were doing it because of a belief in a deity. We formed a community.
But other than club events and meetings, I wasn’t engaged with the community or movement. I stopped my blogging after a few posts. Recently, Harold Camping and his organization predicted that the world would end on the 21st of May. I had planned a presentation at my school for the 18th of May titled “The Great Success of Past Apocalypses” and ended up giving the speech on the 21st as well, at the American Atheist Regional Area Meeting. This was my third conference and it reintroduced me to many wonderful people. I heard great speakers, including other SSA group leaders like Jen McCreight, Lewis Marshall and Ashley Paramore as well as Greta Christina, who gave a speech “Why Are Atheists So Angry?”
I was talking with a friend who is at TAM earlier today, and I was expressing my jealousy to her, I mentioned the way I feel at activist events: disbelief that there are so many cool people about and a feeling of family or simpatico with the other activists. (I may have also used the word “giddy.”) Between that feeling and Greta’s talk, I knew I wanted to be involved in more events.
Then, I went to SF Pride, in the atheist contingent. This is exactly the sort of thing I love: Two human rights movements working together for a cause! And it felt the same way, but with greater optimism because our causes are strengthened when they are joined. The secular movement wants to keep religion out of government, the gay rights movement wants freedoms that religious laws do not permit them. I marched with my fellow activists and I decided that I would do it again next year. I decided I would put more energy into human rights struggles. And because I think awareness is still one of the most important matters in these struggles, I decided to blog again.
I went from the sidelines- not even commenting on blog posts- to founding a local group, giving speeches (despite a fear of public speaking), marching and blogging. This is the effect of activist events. Now, I may not be the best example; you may consider my speeches or writing to do more damage than good. But if this effect is not limited to me, then allow me to give my own personal and subjective answer to Jerry Coyne’s question Are there too many atheist meetings?