“Secular Lobby Day”, Monette Richards on Atheists Talk

One of the goals of the atheist movement is to have our voices represented and heard in the halls of power. Until we’re elected in any great number, one of the best ways to do this remains lobbying our elected representatives. Before we can do that, however, we need to know how to lobby.

For the past four years, Monette Richards of the Center for Inquiry–Northeast Ohio and Secular Woman has organized a Secular Summit in Ohio. The Secular Summit combines training in lobbying with hands-on practice in talking to politicians. That includes talking to politicians who disagree with you. Monette joins us this Sunday to talk about what goes into lobbying and what we get out of lobbying together as atheists.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Bernie Sanders and Revolution Betrayed

The revolution will not be organized, and it turns out I’m a bit angry about that.

This post is about why I’m voting against Bernie Sanders for Democratic nominee. I’m afraid that to be taken seriously doing that these days, particularly as a woman, requires a political autobiography. Credentials required lest someone think I am merely voting genitalia.* So here they are.

The first presidential election I recall having any feelings about, much less strong feelings, was the Carter-Reagan-Anderson race of 1980. I was for Anderson, mostly because I found the Carter administration weak and too easily mired in scandal. I was wrong, because I didn’t understand how major third-party candidates worked against the candidates they were closest to politically in our system, and because I didn’t understand how the press manufactures the image of an administration, but it didn’t much matter. I couldn’t vote. I was barely ten when the election happened.

I grew up political. I also grew up Gen X, particularly that little slice of Gen X who knew that nothing we did was going to matter because Reagan was going to get us all killed with his macho, anti-communist, bullshit posturing before we got to see any significant slice of adulthood. It turns out we were wrong about that too, though not because of Reagan. An awful lot of people worked to keep us all from dying.

It took a long time to grow out of this idea that nothing we did mattered. [Read more…]

Reproductive Justice: Activism on the Sidewalk

I don’t have any new stories from clinic escorting for you. Two weekends ago, I was out of town for Secular Social Justice. This weekend, I was still recovering from con crud.

You don’t need me, though. Instead, have Niki Massey, who’s been doing this far longer than I have and who inspired me to start escorting. This was her talk at Skepticon, given on about ten minutes notice on Sunday morning when another speaker couldn’t appear. She volunteered without thinking when she found out about the problem, and neither I nor the organizers gave her any time to change her mind.* You can see why.

* I did make sure she was well taken care of after the talk. I’m only so cruel.

No, You Can’t Address Misogyny in an Election Year, Comments Edition

Yesterday, I posted something about the race for the Democratic nomination. It wasn’t an endorsement of either candidate. It made no argument in favor of either candidate. It didn’t even express my preference for either candidate.

What I posted yesterday was a critique of the political process as it’s playing out this year. It pointed out that allowing our progressive selves to embrace decades of right-wing character assassination of Hillary Clinton harms more than Clinton. It pointed out that doing this harms me and other women who have been subjected to similar campaigns for being politically active and effective. And it pointed out that it’s nearly impossible to get people to pay attention to this problem.

It also said this:

Commenting note: If you think a personal reflection like this is a place to argue for or against your candidate, whoever that might be, think again. Think hard. Trying to talk about this problem–and having that treated as though I were campaigning instead of engaging in the same cultural critique I do every day as a feminist–has been exhausting and disheartening. My reserves of diplomacy are running low.

Here are the comments I received on that post that you won’t see there. [Read more…]

If Clinton Is a Monster, So Am I

I was chatting with someone last night about politics, like you do, privately, like you do, so we could have a conversation instead of being interrupted by people telling us how Hillary Clinton is evil. Things get a little rough when politics turns people into sea lions. He mentioned appreciating a piece on the Democratic contest at Shakesville, so I went looking for it.

I don’t know whether “Expectations of the Monster” is the piece he was talking about, but I didn’t get past it. I got stuck instead, stuck trying to figure out how to share it. I got stuck trying to figure out how to get people to read it as it was, there on the screen, instead of as a piece of partisan propaganda. It was the same stuck I’d been trying to figure out how to share the “All-Caps” piece (warning: brief auto-play video at the bottom of page) from earlier.

I was still stuck when I went to bed. When I woke up, this is what came out.

When we’re talking about the Democratic presidential nomination, and I tell you that Hillary Clinton’s actual record shows continual movement to the left (which is not flip-flopping), some of you will tell me that you just don’t trust her. You’ll tell me Clinton is calculating, cold, evasive. You’ll point to “scandals” as though the existence of so many allegations proves there must be some core of fact.

You might as well call me “dogmatic” and “authoritarian” to my face. [Read more…]

You Say You Want a Revolution

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

“When the revolution comes….”

Photo of grafiti saying "revolution" in black text with "love" spelled backward in red embedded. A red heart is on either side of the word.

Crop of “Revolution – LOVE” by Arkadiusz Sikorski, CC BY-2.0

It’s a dream, a mantra, a prayer for some. I’ve heard it from the anarchists. I’ve heard it from the socialists. I’ve heard it from the communists. I haven’t heard it from the libertarians or the secessionists or the sovereign citizens, but that’s probably only because I know that sometimes I have to choose between the polite smile and actually listening.

I haven’t said it myself. I don’t expect I will. All impulses to burn everything down to the contrary, I’m a reformer at heart. Everything I’ve learned about revolution has reinforced that tendency. Even having revolutionaries near and dear to my heart and among the people I want to grow up to be hasn’t shaken me on this.

It does, however, make me want to explain why I believe revolution is a terrible idea in most democratic states.

Before I do that, though, what do I mean by “revolution”? I mean the transfer of governmental power within a state through extra-legal means, not merely rapid political change. If the mass of U.S. non-voters rose up next year and wrote in coordinated candidate slates at every level of government, the potential for change would be enormous. It would not, however, be revolution.

In a revolution, power is seized rather than granted. Additional changes to the political system are then required to maintain that power rather than have the upstarts thrown out and prosecuted. With enough backing, a revolution can be bloodless, but this isn’t the norm.

That’s what I mean when I talk about revolution. That’s generally what people mean when they talk about “the revolution” coming, though they may be hazy on the details of how it’s supposed to happen or how power is supposed to held and maintained under the new system.

There’s a good reason those details are hazy for most people who are pro-revolution. It’s because the process of a revolution is ugly. It’s ugly in the lead-up, ugly in the transfer of power, and usually ugly in the outcome. [Read more…]

There Is No Pure in Politics

A few days ago, I posted a two-part guest post from Kelly McCullough about the necessity of voting. The first part was practical, laying out some political truths about why this country has found itself where it is today. The second part was far more direct, talking about the people voting most affects. As a nominally fertile woman, I happen to be one of those people.

Apparently, Kelly’s post wasn’t blunt enough, as I have two people who usually display relatively normal reading comprehension skills going off the rails in the comments. One of them is bragging about how he does nothing to protect my rights while telling me I’m on a “high horse” and accusing me of calling him names. The other has a list of issues I must solve for him before he’ll do anything about my rights and is saying, oh, it doesn’t matter anyway, because systemic collapse must be on its way.

So, Kelly’s post was not blunt enough. I can fix that.

You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”. [Read more…]

Why I Will Vote for the Candidate Who Doesn’t Address All My Needs

This is a two-part guest post from my dear friend Kelly McCullough, one of the few people I really enjoy arguing politics with. He was also one of the people I had in mind a few days ago when I observed that it was a joyful thing to watch good writers who normally keep mum on politics reach their breaking points.

This was from Kelly yesterday.

Refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils is fundamentally anti-democratic.* It’s also stunningly bad tactics. Politicians cater to the people who vote. It’s a shockingly simple concept that seems to be lost on a number of people on the left.

The way that the conservative movement pushed the Republicans so far to the right is simple. They showed up. They did it for primaries and caucuses, they did it for local elections, they did it for off year elections, and they did it by supplying people from their own ranks to run for local offices because those local politicians of today are the national politicians of tomorrow. And they did it by making sure that that the politicians knew that they would be there for every election.

Every single time the Democrats lose an election they move to the right because that’s where the voters who showed up are. Not showing up doesn’t create more progressive Democratic candidates it creates more conservative ones.

We are in the mess we’re in now with so much state control in Republican hands, and gerrymanders because conservative Republicans reliably show up and Democrats as a group don’t.

I’m not particularly sympathetic to the claims that Democrats don’t show up because the candidates don’t inspire them either, because the way to get candidates that inspire you is to show up and elect them in caucuses and primaries, and if no one on the ballot at that level agrees with everything you want done, then run for office yourself.

Getting your views represented in the halls of government is work. Sometimes, it’s the kind of work that means you have to do it yourself. I did.

*It’s anti democratic because it says that your purity of heart in waiting for the perfect candidate is more important than all the harm that will be done if the greater evil is elected. Democracy is about making the best governing choice at every level for the common good. It’s not about you, it’s about coming to a governing consensus. Sometimes that means you don’t get everything you want, but you compromise to get some of it. Sometimes it means that you don’t get anything you want personally, but you do it to protect the rights and gains of others because that’s important.

I haven’t followed all the discussions where this was shared, but Kelly asked me to look over this follow-up today. [Read more…]

Trump, Code, and Why I Need You to Read Those Comments

There are a handful of tweets and memes being passed around right now about how Donald Trump, gleeful fascist and leading GOP presidential candidate, is an internet comments section come to life. They’re missing something important.

There are a handful of analyses of Trump’s polling numbers (most notably one by Nate Silver) being passed around right now, purporting to show that Trump can’t become the GOP candidate, much less our next president. They are also missing something important.

This is not a time for missing things.

Paul Fidalgo has a new post that captures something very important.

Jeb, Cruz, Rubio, they all like to contrast themselves with Trump to show themselves as somehow above his demagoguery. But be it on this issue, or on many, many others such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, and even acceptance of scientific facts of existential importance, when it comes to what they themselves say they believe, they are all Trumps. They just suck at it.

There is another meme floating around. I’ve only seen it once or twice. It shows another GOP candidate (Cruz?) leaning in to whisper in Trump’s ear. “You weren’t supposed to say that out loud.”

Saying these things isn’t the problem. Believing these things is the problem. Being comfortable in those beliefs is the problem. Being willing to act on them is the problem.

Not understanding the scope of the problem is also a problem. [Read more…]

If You Want a Better Public Face of Atheism, You Have to Build It

A few months back, Heina wrote a great piece about people who appear in the media to complain about the lack of diversity in the atheist movement without ever mentioning anyone but white male atheists.

It’s old news to atheists that we have an across-the-board diversity problem. We know we are, as a whole, a little too educated, able (and ableist), middle-to-upper class, white, and male to claim that we are part of a truly inclusive movement. In the years since Dear Muslima, many people have been tirelessly working to make the movement better. If you take the excellent reactions on the part of many of the skepto-atheist-secular orgs into account, that work has not been in vain. If you rely on the Twitter feed of one of the down-to-three Four Horsemen to tell you what the “atheist id” might be, then the hard work of the non-white and/or non-male people and their white and/or male allies in the fight has been not only tireless, but utterly thankless.

I refuse to accept narratives that complain about the lack of diversity in atheism yet do nothing to promote those who are working to improve things. Such writing is complicit in furthering the damaging notion that atheism is the sole province of rich white men and erases those faces and voices within it who are struggling for recognition.

Heina’s post came in out February. I mention it now because this is still a problem and it’s a broader problem than even Heina mentioned. She focused on journalists and illustrated the post with a non-atheist. The fact is that this is also a problem among the rank and file in the atheist movement. We’ve gotten caught up into a complaint cycle that keeps the focus right on those white men while ignoring almost everyone else.

There was another one of these “Ugh, big-name atheist dudes” articles in the Guardian recently. I’m not going to link it because there’s really nothing to distinguish it from every other piece like it except perhaps a bit of Eurocentrism. It was about terrible political opinions instead of diversity per se, but those are actually more common than diversity pieces. If you missed this one, don’t worry. You can read another in a week or two.

I saw another atheist share the piece uncritically. I shared it in order to point out the problem that Heina had named in February: Mentioning that there’s too much attention on the wrong people without refocusing some of that attention on the right people only adds to the problem. Then several people shared the article from me uncritically, I banged my head on the wall, and I went to bed.

So, having slept, let me say this explicitly: If we, as atheists, only or mostly share news about the high-profile problem people in the atheist movement, we’re adding to the problem. [Read more…]