This post is pretty much a diary type entry for me, to remind myself later on of this weekend. I doubt it’s going to be all that riveting to my regular readers, or really anyone but me. There, you’ve been warned now!
So, I attended my fourth large-scale atheist conference this weekend. It rained, which makes it four for four, therefore it’s a law of nature that it will always rain at any atheist events I go to. Right?
My friend Amy suggested that that was a “lucky” thing like rain on a wedding day (a superstition I wasn’t familiar with actually) and when I demurred like a good skeptic told me I’d probably change my mind after finding a $20 bill in the parking lot. Oddly enough, another attendee did in fact find a $20 bill in the parking lot… hmm!
This conference was regional rather than national in scope, of course. The emphasis was on tying local secular groups in to the national organizations. The American Humanist Association, the Coalition of Reason and the Secular Coalition of America were the large groups providing speakers and what training there was, and a few awards were presented to highly deserving people.
To be honest I wasn’t excited about this one in the same way as I was the Reason Rally, the American Atheists National Convention or even Rock Beyond Belief, but I felt it was important to support the more local conference. The event ran from Friday to Sunday, but since there was “a la carte” pricing I didn’t bother taking the day off on Friday (I’m a second shift worker), nor did I bother with the Saturday morning session. I signed up for the noon to 11 pm portion of Saturday only.
When I did show up for that, though, I found it more interesting than I’d imagined. There was some good nuts-and-bolts stuff to be learned about group organization from Mike Werner, something I have zero experience of and would like to learn about. After participating in some brainstorming session on what kind of things we wanted local groups to get into doing (family-friendly outings, school outreach for science fairs and skeptical thinking classes, youth groups expanding on the successful Camp Quest model, that kind of thing), I elected to volunteer for the Board for the next such Secular Carolinas Conference, because it seems like a good way to get my feet wet in the organizational end.
Because this is such a new conference there aren’t any by-laws or anything of that nature yet; the process of joining the board consisted of being willing to commit and no one objecting. We did little more than the bare minimum required to form a nonprofit corporation, creating a roster of board members and nominating for the offices of President, Vice President, and Treasurer. I say “little more” because we also created and nominated for Deputy Treasurer (the financials are a bit complex apparently) and a Student Ambassador (it was agreed that student groups are particularly important for growth and it helped balance out the spread of officers between the Carolinas).
Are you sleepy yet? It wasn’t as boring as it sounds, but you’d have to have been there.
After that we repaired to the patios outside the bar for drinks and conversation until it was time for the Freethought Banquet. The conversation I was in was wide-ranging but circled back pretty often to the mechanics of funding and setting up humanist community centers, rather like the Y[M|W]CAs but without the C.
The banquet was nice enough. The Freethinker Action Hero Award were presented to Jennifer Lovejoy, who faced down a slew of hair-raising threats to push through the original billboard campaigns of the American Humanist Association, including the “Dueling Billboards” where the AHA put up “One Nation Indivisible” and local church coalitions countered with “One Nation Under God” – which would be fine, but threatening to rape her in front of her children and then torture her children in front of her until she cried out to God? That’s the kind of response she chose to face down and not be intimidated by.
The Freethinker of the Year award was given to the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry’s own Amy Monsky for her indefatigable hard work building the community and in particular getting Camp Quest Carolina up and running strong. Amy’s pretty amazing in her energy level, and very popular with everyone it seems, She does the community thing really really well, constantly organizing ice cream socials, river floats, visits to local attractions, laser tag games and the like. She deserved the recognition richly.
Justin Griffith is our man in the military and he was given a Special Achievement Award for managing to pull off Rock Beyond Belief, the first on-base event specifically for the secular community, as opposed to the torrent of Christian-centered ones. The American military is currently pretty infested with evangelical Christians, and because of the hierarchical nature and special rules of the military Justin has to walk a very fine line indeed in his activism. Impressive fellow!
Edwina Rogers of the Secular Coalition of America gave a talk about her lobbying efforts. She was a controversial choice for Executive Director of the SCA, largely because of her prior work record being largely with and for some pretty regressive Republican politicians. She hit all the appropriate talking points about what it is the SCA lobbies for and against, and why, but however competent a lobbyist she is (and she does know her business) she is not a terribly enthralling speaker. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Maggie Ardiente was a bit livelier as a speaker. I hadn’t known her name before, but she’s the director of development and communications for the American Humanist Association, and she is passionate about her work and funny in the telling of it. Her descriptions of the first few times she asked for donations as a professional fundraiser were delivered with great wit and warmth. Since I’m currently also struggling with raising some donations (albeit on a far smaller scale) I related to the stories rather strongly, in fact! (See endnote.)
The food was very nice, though the drinks were overpriced. I was kind of expecting whole roast babies, but they went with a ragout type of dish instead.
The plan was to continue that inaugural board process the next morning so I updated my registration to include Sunday. Since I didn’t have a hotel room and didn’t feel like doing the floor thing (several people offered, but my bones are getting too old for that shite) I elected to skip the After Party and left after the banquet. Sadly the outgoing President (and only guy who really had a handle on the mechanics of setting up such a board) did not, and fell ill and/or had an accident at the After Party; no one I spoke to had the full story, so I’m not sure what happened, but he had to leave early. The rest of the business of inauguration will take place via email for the time being.
This kind of blew away my reason for coming in on Sunday morning, but that was okay. There was a choice of listening to some further talks or continuing the open discussion. I ended up staying on the free discussion side and basically enjoyed a four hour gabfest with some compatible freethinking minds, made a few new Facebook friends, and enjoyed a nicer Sunday morning than I’ve had in yonks. I so seldom get to have freewheeling, wide open face to face conversations with people, given my shift and the fact that social life in my environs revolves so heavily around churches. It may not have had many tangible results but frankly that opportunity alone, the chance to just relax and talk with people like me who enjoy science and aren’t mind-shackled by religion, was worth the cost of admission.
Endnote: the first thing I did Monday was to head into work and hit up the Bosch Fair Share Board for another $250 in matching funds for my fundraising effort with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I also ended up agreeing to join the Board, so from no boards at all now I’ve joined two in the course of a couple of days!