Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reason Rally 2016 Recap

I am back in New York after having attended the 2016 Reason Rally. On my ride home we actually got lost and I didn't make it back to my apartment until 2 AM, with just 7 hours to go until I had to go back to work. Luckily my job allows me to come late. Whew! Anyhow, I wanted to share my thoughts on my experiences.

First off, this was the first atheist convention that I had ever gone to. I honestly didn't know what to expect. For the most part, the speakers were not the reason I went. I've seen and spoke with Lawrence Krauss before. I've seen many big name atheists, including Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, as well as many popular atheist YouTubers. I went mainly to visually represent myself as an open atheist who supports secular values and to collaborate with like minded individuals. And get drunk and high of course. Atheist events are great places for meeting new people to collaborate with.

Despite the weather being good, turn out seems to have been lower than expected. It was being reported that 30,000 people were going to attend but in my estimation there were less than 7,000 people. There are lots of theories why this is the case.

  • The atheist community has been fractured by divisions among liberals regarding Islam and feminism, and the organizers of the event generally take a side of the so-called "regressives."
  • The line up was not as exciting, with actors like Johnny Depp and Margaret Cho not attending for various reasons, and Richard Dawkins unable to attend due to his recent stroke. Johnny's appearance alone could have possibly drawn several thousand people.
  • Other big name atheists like Sam Harris didn't attend. People like him have huge followings and could draw thousands of people.
  • Time, cost, and travel expenses could have played a factor. The annual World Science Festival was the same weekend and I really wanted to go but in the end decided to go with the Reason Rally because it's not every year (and I had not attended any major atheist events before).

The location of the event was not ideal. We were by the Lincoln memorial right in front of the reflecting pool and so the crowd was split in half making it difficult to get to either side. In 2012 it was located by the main mall which allowed for better navigation. I suppose my problem with the event would be that it wasn't really that atheist-centric. I would have loved it if Dawkins and Harris were there and more high profile atheists who promote atheism and secular values like Sean Carroll, Phil Zuckerman, Richard Carrier, and Aron Ra. That would be my dream, but the purpose of the rally I suppose was not really to preach atheism, it was to show Washington secular people exist and will be voting. In that sense, it failed to visually represent the growing number of atheist people. 

For a much more thorough assessment of this, read Hemant Mehta's post about it here.

I did meet many famous atheists. Here's some pictures I took with some of the high profile atheists I met as well as just some random people.

With David Silverman

With Penn Jillete 

With Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist podcast

With Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation

With Lawrence Krauss

With Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report
With YouTube vlogger Steve Shives
With Hemant Mehta the Friendly Atheist
With two random hot Atheist girls.

And with Einstein

Flying Spaghetti Monster

God's plan

I also went to Advocacy Day where I lobbied my congressman in favor of science and fact based sex education. That was an interesting experience. The bill we were pushing is called REHYA, the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act. It was sponsored by New Jersey Senator Corey Booker and California Senator Barbara Lee. Bernie Sanders is signed on. I completely support the bill and I think it's a travesty that one like it isn't already in place. Who would be against fact-based sex education? Hmmm. Oh I know. Religious conservatives. That's who. And that's why we've got to get rid of religion. Together we can find the cure.

I'd definitely go to the Reason Rally again if I could. I'm not crazy about all of this division in the atheist community. We should be united against our common enemy: religion. We shouldn't be in fighting over feminism and SJWs. I think the problem is that like any community, as it grows it splinters. It's exactly how religions operate. Disagreements arise and groups are split along the lines of their disagreements. As atheists we only agree on one thing: god's not real. How we go about promoting this view, what tactics we should employ, how we should think about social justice issues — these are all things that we have no definitive principles guiding us on. Some atheists don't even want to promote atheism or secular values at all. Some are accomodationists, while others are firebrands. While this presents problems moving forward, the movement is growing and getting more organized. I met many people active in the atheist community I hope to collaborate with going forward on various events. That alone was worth the trip. I need to start being more active in practical matters. Getting non-profits created, organizing groups and events for activism and community building, these are all things we need, and I want to be a part of it.

Oh yeah, and last but not least, there was the Wu-Tang clan, who closed the event. I grew up listening to them and they're very dear to my heart. Here's a clip I recorded:

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