Things are getting a bit busy in the North American secular world. You all know I participated in the Reason Rally in Washington DC. The day before the rally the American Humanist Association held an open house reception at their DC offices.
Perhaps all of this is in response to increasingly oppressive extremism coming from the religious world, or possibly it is just time for freethinkers to come out of hiding and try to make a difference.
This event has been in the planning stages for several years, yet the media seemed totally disinterested until just the day before when suddenly there was heard the flurry of quills to parchment.
Most reporting seemed balanced, with notable exceptions from some of the usual suspects. Interesting that these detractors not only were not in attendance, but the pieces were penned even before the event started. I think we can assume that this type of person opposes the concept of reasonable religious opposition to at least as much as actual atheist conduct.
While these naysayers failed to throw the cold water on the rally that they’d hoped, cold water did come. Most of the day was drizzling rain, wet and chilly. Didn’t seem to matter as neither participants nor presenters let it bother them.
When emcee Paul Provenza’s microphone got wet there was a bit of feedback from the PA, but the techs had that fixed almost without pause. Following a video presentation by Penn Jillette, Tim Minchin [poor VIDEO still worth watching] kicked off shoes and socks to play a soggy piano barefooted.
Paul Provenza got the ball rolling with a few stand-up lines and a call for folks in the audience to tweet him as the even progressed. Greg Graffin’s performance of the National Anthem was flawless to the point of being bland. Colors were presented in full military fashion by a contingent of MRFF and MAAF; some still currently enlisted. Every branch of the service was represented.
UPDATE: Video of the Pledge to the Flag offered in it's pre-1950 format... leaving religion out of it.
All the speakers you would expect were there; Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers… and of course Professor Richard Dawkins[VIDEO]. Tim Minchin’s act [VIDEO] brought the house down, Eddie Izzard and Jamie Kilstein cut jokes and kept the dialogue lively.
Glen Beck's hate machine didn't care much for the performance. The story says Minchin was a paid performer, but to my knowledge none of the speakers or entertainers received more than minimal compensation.
Taslima Nasrin's stories of Islamic oppression in her native Iran and Greta Christina's [VIDEO] anger over the xian denial of human right in this country are poignant reminders of the distance still left to travel.
When she came to the microphone, the shy, diminutive demeanor 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist belied the young braveheart within. Hemant Mehta has been one of Jessica’s staunchest supporters, earning him the honor of being the one to make the introduction.
A couple of politicians sent video greetings but none showed in person. California’s Pete Stark is the only declared atheist known to have won a national election, so a message from him wasn’t unexpected. Self-professed Catholic Tom Harkin offered bland platitudes, which I suppose was to be expected.
Harkin has found disfavor with many of the reasonable community because of his consistent support of woo-peddling. PZ is one of Harkin’s more outspoken critics, so it is ironic that he was the first speaker following Harkin’s message. PZ was also wearing that strange hat that I wish he would lose.
We had a few protesters, including a small contingent of Westboro loons. When Fred Phelps’ estranged son Nate came to the podium to speak I looked around and the crazies had vanished. Phelps was passionate in his condemnation of his father and the rest of the Phelps family church. He spoke with such emotion that the ache in his heart was almost palpable.
“My heart goes out to the millions who see and hear the cruel message of my family. A message that is met with tacit approval by too many in this society. A message that seeps into their hearts. A message leaving them to wonder why a creator made them gay just so he could punish them. It’s such a terrible, terrible waste.”
There were other xian protesters with whom some atheist attendees interacted. The defense of their superstitions seemed not to be very unique, but then what would you expect? Early in the rally a group of six all white, mostly old men and women walked past carrying some interesting signs. They strolled right past me, pausing only briefly to say a few angry words.
One of the District uniformed police officers on the grounds told the FOX reporter he estimated crowd size at 30,000, while HufPo says somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000. From the ground it would be difficult to guestimate, but it seemed to me far more than 10,000. CNN and the local FOX affiliate seeming to settle on 20,000 for thier reporting that evening. I’m no expert on crowd size, so take any figure you want and run with it. Suffice it to say there were a bunch of us.
Following the rally about 150 of us ventured to the Dupont Circle area for dinner at Washington’s Lauriol Plaza Restaurant. Bloggers Hemant Mehta, Greta Christina and Ed Brayton were the only ones in attendance that I recognized, and there were lots of us "common" folk there too.
It was cool sitting beside and conversing with people who had travelled from Minnesota, Michigan, Chicago, Denver and Kansas City. One young fellow came from Arlington, Texas where he is a UTA student. Arlington is just down the road from my home town of Fort Worth, yet he was unaware of any atheist groups in that area other than the student association on campus. There are several, and I’ll be sending him some links.
Here are a few photos. Make you own mind about crowd size.