Yesterday, I tweeted a link to Miri’s open letter to CFI from Women in Secularism and got this response:
I hazarded a couple of guesses, of the sort that fit in a tweet:
When I looked at my mentions today, lo, who should appear?
First off, allow me to note the irony of his tweeting that the day after I put up a post containing this:
We’ll know we have gender equity when our qualifications aren’t diminished at every turn. We won’t be referred to as “bloggers” and “commenters” (to name two of the least dismissive and demeaning names flung our way) but as the organization leaders, members, and donors; writers of books and articles; and media personalities that we are. Those of us who are philosophers will be credited as such. Those of us who are scientists will be given the credit that entails in this movement. Those of us who were already seasoned activists when the secular movement was starting to emerge from its infancy–lo, those…several years ago–will be recognized for our expertise. Those of us who are good at arguing will be considered assets rather than inconvenient pains in the ass.
Let’s get one little thing straight right off the bat. I’m the associate president of one of the oldest and largest atheist groups in the United States. I host and interview for one of the very, very few explicitly atheist shows on commercial radio. I’m a backup host for our television program. I wrote an essay for our very well received collection of atheist stories, which is also a fundraiser for the group. I represent us at public events. I guest lecture on religious skepticism at a local community college. If CASH says they’d like me to do something, I’m there. I donate to several atheist organizations. I work for and donate to political campaigns and communicate with these politicians after they’re elected. I’ve been doing volunteer science education and entertainment work since before Vacula was born. This past Saturday, I turned down a position on the Secular Coalition for Minnesota executive committee because I am seriously overbooked with all I do.
You can try to explain meatspace activism to me if the idea really floats your boat, but you’re only going to end up looking like an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass.
Now that we have that out of the way, what exactly about blogging is categorically not activism?
Is it providing a space for communities to form? David Niose said on Saturday at the Secular Coalition meeting that Meetup.com has been one of the best things to happen to the secular movement. It has allowed people to not only see that they are not alone as nonbelievers but also to build supportive social structures and to organize around shared interests. Similar networks build around most blogs that reach a decent size or maintain a specific focus. Whether this happens online or off, it allows people to develop their identity as a nonbeliever. Given that this identity is key to much of our secular activism, how is helping to develop it not important activism?
Is it putting relevant information in front of an interested audience? Activist organizations use newsletters to get information to their members. Some of them even still use paper. They’ve been thrilled that Facebook, email, and–yes–blogs have allowed them to get that information out faster. There’s huge value in knowing what’s happening in the news, whether it’s locally or around the globe. Sometimes bloggers even help to make secular activism become news, as was the case with Jessica Ahlquist’s court fight. Given that we need to know what’s going on in this world we hope to affect with our activism, how is sharing news within the movement not important activism?
Is it promoting events and opportunities for activism? Activist organizations work their butts off to get out this kind of information. They issue action alerts. They use social media and ask others to pass it on. They send out press releases. In fact, many of them send out press releases to bloggers, because we’re already acting as news conduits. Given that a great deal of activism involves getting people to show up, how is spreading the word not important activism?
Is it writing our takes on the questions raised by lack of belief? Some activist organizations run magazines for which they ask people to write about just these questions. Mainstream magazine articles that appear online are passed around as important writing. Books that tackle these questions are lauded, as are their authors. This kind of writing opens a window on our common points of view and our important differences for a world that doesn’t understand nonbelievers very well. It frames discussions about where we go next as a movement or as an increasingly nonreligious society. Given that this kind of writing tackles the how and why and what of our movement and our lives, how is writing on these questions not important activism?
Is it arguing over the priorities of the movement? Activists do this sort of thing all the time. You can’t properly study the history of an activist organization without paying attention to internal disagreements. Those disagreements, and the arguments made on either side, are what direct the course of an activist organization. Disagreements between organizations and between leadership, big donors, and grassroots are what direct the course of a movement. Given that opportunities to influence a movement are critical to maintaining its support, how is arguing over these issues–provided that actual argumentation is what occurs–not important activism?
I suppose it may be possible to blog openly as an atheist in a way that doesn’t amount to activism, but I’m not really sure how you’d do it. At least in the U.S., there are big advantages to simply being a visible nonbeliever. Or perhaps you may feel that your own blogging doesn’t rise to the standard of effective activism. If you think that’s the case, however, maybe you’re better off taking a close look at what you blog rather than claiming everyone else’s blogging isn’t activism just because yours isn’t.