American Atheists 2011 Convention (article by Naima Cabelle)

By Naima Cabelle

I tend to dislike conventions, large conferences, etc., as opposed to smaller groups where there's a greater possibility for more individual interaction. Had I not understood that an unprecedented number of people of color and women were invited as convention speakers at the April 2011 American Atheists convention, there would have been no incentive for me to go. Even so, I had to justify my attendance after considering the expense and time commitment. I decided to go because I certainly wanted to be present as well as support other women and people of color. However, I also wanted to do more than just passively listen to the convention speakers or endlessly bump shoulders with hundreds of strangers. Since I'm a member of AA, I decided to distribute a statement [DC Atheist Advocate] expressing my concerns as well as expectations about the organization. I also added another paper [Ideas for Expanding the Secular Community]. Because I am also a member of the Washington Area Secular Humanists, I thought it would be good to let others know about our work by distributing back issues of WASH's newsletter, the WASHLine as well. I also decided to meet as many people as I could, have a little conversation with them and tell them a little bit about WASH before finally asking if they'd like a copy of the newsletter. Generally, I'd rather stay in the background, and I was clearly stepping out of my comfort zone, but I needed to shun the easy route. I took over 50 copies of all of the materials with me, and after 2-1/2 days, I returned to DC with very light travel bag and laryngitis!

I tried to meet every African American present and I think there were approximately 15 in attendance. As I recall, they came from Lincoln, NE: Atlanta and Macon, GA; Sterling, VA; St. Louis, MO; Chapel Hill, NC, and Washington, DC. I also met several people from India as well as a few Hispanics. From what I could gather, there were approximately 30 people of color at the convention.

Approximately 5-7 people protested the presence of American Atheists outside of the hotel, including one person who was “hell-bent” on being confrontational. On Friday, the mayor of Des Moines was one of the speakers who offered opening remarks at the convention. He enthusiastically welcomed American Atheists to the city of Des Moines, let us know how much they appreciated our business, and asked that we try to see as much of the city as possible. He said he hoped that we would return as a group as well as individuals. For a very Christian city, 5-7 protesters represented a poor showing especially since the convention has received a considerable amount of advanced coverage in newspapers along with TV and radio coverage. Our presence wasn't a secret however the god-fearing in Des Moines apparently realized that they had nothing to fear from the godless!MORE@

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Comment by FeminAtheist Mumbo Jumbo on May 22, 2011 at 3:14am

I enjoyed meeting you!  Thank you for your handout.  I enjoyed reading what was going on in other secular communities in our nation. 


I agree that this years convention perhaps will mark a shift in the secular movement for women and people of color.  I thought it was fantastic that so many women were at the convention!  I had been under the impression that there would not be very many women there.


I would hope that secular organizations take notice of the changing demographics and start moving towards family inclusive gatherings.  I also hope that the atheist movement will take up more allies, like they have done with the G.L.B.T. movement, and include Feminists - particularly the Pro-Choice movement.  (Don't get me started on anti-choice atheists - As JT Eberhard said, "Above all we should be rational." I fail to see the rational of deciding all women should be subject to a pregnancy that is unwanted and unwelcomed because of the delicate sensibilities of people that don't have to suffer that pregnancy.)


I personally want an organization that supports women and talks about women's issues, calling out religion's influence on the laws and societal norms.  It is with that thought that I have started a group on FaceBook titled FeminAtheists United.  It's mostly local to Minnesota, but welcomes women and men from anywhere.   I'm not exactly sure where this is going to go, but it is my hope to help create more of a community for women and families and speak out on issues that matter to them. 


Perhaps our paths will cross again at the Reason Rally in DC.  I am hoping that we can make the journey next summer!



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