As I write this, it has been 1 week since the Reason Rally took place in Washington D.C. About this time last week, it was the same dreary weather. The same light drizzling rain was in the air as I arrived at the Smithsonian Metro Station before the Rally to receive some brief training as a Volunteer Information Usher. We were spread out, in bright yellow Rally shirts, in key places to help answer questions such as: What is going on? Where are the bathrooms? Where can I get a poncho? In spite of the rain, the mood was cheerful. We were all excited about being part of this historic event.
People were arriving early and the rain, drizzle and cold temperatures (it was in the 80s the day before) didn’t put a damper on anyones spirit or enthusiasm. As a volunteer with a big sign plastered to my chest and back saying “Ask Me”, I was in the envious position of talking to a large number of people – those attending for the Rally and tourists who had no clue what was going one. Many foreign tourists I talked to (Japan, Germany, Dominican Republic, Sweden) were amazed that the United States had to have a Reason Rally. They simply assumed that the United States valued reason, logic and science in the arena of public policy. After all it has a secular Constitution and values separation of church and state – doesn’t it? It is simply stunning how far religion has entered the public arena, all the while claiming they have been discriminated against and the “liberal” media is keeping them second class citizens. What an amazing brain-washing job the Christian right has succeeded in doing. If you want to see just how far the religious right has entwined itself within the political system, and the pandering of the 3 Republican candidates and numerous other political candidates is not enough, I would suggest reading “The Family. The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet or “Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It” by Sean Faircloth.
On the lighter side, skeptics can also be a bit irrational. Mix some bad weather, a tent, a few people standing around it, an unstarted Rally, and what do you get? A spontaneous line forms and a rather large one at that. It was amazing to me how many people joined the line with absolutely no idea what was in the tent! In fact, the most common question I was asked all day was “What was in the tent?” This was a great experiment in human psychology and group behavior. LOL. (BTW. The tent was for rally sponsor exhibits.)
As the Rally began, so came the people – a whole lot of people, in the rain and in the cold, to support the first Rally to promote secular values and to “unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide.” The official park district estimates were between 20,000 and 25,000 people!
- If you haven’t already come out as an atheist – do so. The more people that know someone who is an atheist, the less “scary” we become. I know it can be hard and there can be severe consequences for some, but it is a basic first step. If you need encouragement, look to an incident that happened at the American Atheist convention which followed the Reason Rally. “Lynn” was going to speak as a minister who had to remain a closeted atheist in order to support herself while trying to find a way out. Well, “Lynn” outed herself, giving her real name of Teresa MacBain, in a moving speech that is truely inspiring. You can view it here. If someone like Teresa can do it, with so much to lose, so can you.
- Get involved in politics. Not all of us can run for political office but all of us can be involved in the process, whether at the local, state or national level.
What can you do?
- Run. Run for office, if you can and have the skills (I don’t). Run on a secular platform and as an open atheist. Sure you may lose but until more people start doing this and people grow aware that there are lots of us in this country, the ideal of an atheist politician will still be a rarity.
- Be Aware. Be aware of violations of church-state separation in your community and on the state and local level. It seems like school boards and local governments violate the separation clause routinely. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, the Secular Coalition for American are good starting points to get information on church state issues. If there is a violation then challenge it!
- Lobby! The Secular Coalition for America held a Lobby Day for Reason the day before the Reason Rally. After a morning of training some 200 people had over 125 meetings with Congressional and Senate staff members (Lobby Day for Reason a Success). Sure it was a bit scary and intimidating, but in spite of all the pomp and ceremony, politicians are just people.
- Write. Write to politicians. Support them when they take unpopular secular stances and challenge them when they don’t. Let them know we are out there and we VOTE.
- Stand Up. It there a problem with your school or town government in relation to church-state separation issues, then go to a school board meeting or town meeting and speak out. Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, to each board member, to the city council and to anyone else in a position of power. If need be, get the aid of the Freedom for Religion Foundation, the ACLU, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State or American Atheists. Stand up! The religious have had their way for too long. Don’t let them continue to get away with it. They may feel otherwise, but you are doing this for them too. A secular America is the only way to protect their religious freedom!
- Join. Join any of the above groups and support them in any way you can. Also, get involved with a local group. They can rally around local issues, so you are not alone when you “Stand Up” for what is right. If you are in the Northern Ilinois / Southern Wisconsin area, the Stateline Atheist Society welcomes you.
- In other words – be an activist in any way you can.
It’s going to be interesting to see what momentum there will be from the Reason Rally. Hopefully it won’t be an end but a beginning of returning this nation back to its secular foundation.