Day 2 of our Washington D.C. vacation was completely devoted to the Reason Rally. Heck, we even went to bed early and sober on Friday night so we’d be well rested for a LONG day of walking around the mall, meeting lots of people and spending a good deal of time standing in the rain.
We woke up to a rain-free morning - gray and overcast, but rain-free for the moment. We made sure we had our ponchos, some extra bags to sit on or use to cover the backpack, a collapsable umbrella, and our “lunch” – two bags of trail mix, cliff bars, apples we had grabbed from the hotel continental breakfast and a bottle of water.
We hopped on the Metro and arrived at the mall around 8:30am. It was pretty empty at that point, so we made our way up to the front and found an excellent place to set up camp between the media and video stages.
Walking up to the stage early in the morning.
The Hubby smiles for a photo with the stage – he’s sitting in front of the cable mat in the baseball cap and gray long-sleeve t-shirt.
The mood at this point was filled with potential. There was a muted buzz in the air, but the stage was still being set and the jumbotrons weren’t up; the crowd’s excitement was just under the surface. One thing that triggered the first murmer of life was Tim Minchin ambling on stage (without 300 lbs. of eyeliner!) for a sound check.
While we were standing there I learned that the high school girl next to me loves Tim Minchin so much that “Omigod I’d stand out in the rain just to listen to him sing I can’t believe that’s him right now!” I had a bit of a giggle at her expense, but I was also ridiculously happy to watch a teenager lose their shit over Tim Minchin rather than…oh, who to pick on? Nikki Minaj? Justin Bieber? Who are the young kids going Gaga over these days?
As it got closer to 10am the crowd started to fill in the gaps around us. The unspoken outdoor concert “blanket rule” was in full effect – people cordoned off their areas in 5 foot x 5 foot spaces, forming a multi-colored, multi-fabric’d patchwork with everything from high-tech waterproof camping tarps to momentarily pristine white towels that had obviously been commandeered from hotel rooms that morning.
I can tell you the exact moment when the crowd’s energy surged: The jumbotrons had quietly risen without much notice, and then the organizers let loose with Thinking Atheist’s Reason Rally advert:
That music came blasting out of the speakers, and cue the cheering and the sign-waving. Now we were ready.
There were some other videos, including an advertisement for Rock Beyond Belief (which I hear was a rousing success!) and Todd Stiefel appealing for secular fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Then the opening entertainment started. Andy Shernoff came out and sang a few songs, including the snort-and-giggle-inducing “Get On Your Knees for Jesus ’til He Comes, ’til He Comes.” Next was Ronelle Adams with an incredible performance of his incredible poem (which I’m trying to find online – any help appreciated!) And then the fabulous Shelley Segal, who I had the pleasure of interviewing for Minnesota Atheists Atheists Talk radio show in February.
Andy Shernoff and accompanist on the jumbotron.
I did get some more “traditional” photos of Ronelle Adams on the stage, but I like the way the interference from the jumbotron came out in this shot. I love the shirt (Reads: “Stupid Ark” with a unicorn flying overhead, having literally missed the boat.)
Shelley Segal singing her atheist heart out for the crowd.
Then we were treated to a performance of the national anthem by Dr. Greg Graffin, the lead singer of Bad Religion. Next was a military ceremony to recognize men and women in uniform, then the introduction of our racous and upbeat emcee Paul Provenza, and a welcome speech by David Silverman from American Athiests. I don’t remember when in there we recited the original, godless version of the American Pledge of Allegiance, but that was a moving moment for me. As we approached “One nation,
under God, indivisible…” I got a little choked up. The fact that “under God” was added in 1954 out of mob fear…that those two little words have led to so much rancor between reasonable people and those who claim that the US is a Christian nation…recalling the stories told by out high school atheists getting “under God” screamed at them during morning classes… These thoughts flashed through my head as together we proclaimed our allegiance to our fellow countrymen without God butting in. En masse. 20,000 some odd of us. That was a rare moment, and I was honored to share in it.
The crowd starts to swell. Look at all these heathens!
And then I gave Bytor a hug and told him we loved him too, even though he’s Canadian. Because I’m not into patriotism. I mean, I’ll cheer for the home team at the Olympics, but I don’t think where my Mom gave birth to me should define an allegiance to one arbitrary set of humans over another. But I’m straying off topic. Back to the rally. Rally signs! There were some good ones:
Sadly, the rain started coming down not too long after David Silverman’s welcome speech, so I packed away my camera. I didn’t get too many more photos from the rally, and those were all on my cell phone.
Cell phone crowd photo. Will you get a look at all of us!
Now we were in full swing. Hemant Mehta spoke about being an atheist, an activist and a high school math teacher. Jessica Ahlquist, the teenager who successfully sued to have a religious prayer banner removed from her high school, came out to accept the over $62,000 scholarship which had been raised in her name for her courage and composure during the lawsuit. Jesse Galef from the Secular Student Alliance cheered and told us how exciting and exhilerating it was to see such a large gathering of freethinkers on the National Mall. Adam Savage come out to gigantic roars from the crowd and delivered some very memorable lines. Greta Christina came to the podium to recite her Litany of Rage – reasons why we should be angry about religion and injustices perpetrated in the name of religion or because of religious bias. Taslima Nasrin delivered a heart-rending talk about being exiled from her country, her family, her culture because of her apostatic writings. David Silverman came out slinging fire and brimstone into the crowd, demanding that the government and the country recognize atheists, recognize our voting power, recognize our rights. A video from Penn Jillette was played, during which he spoke about personal responsibility and individual freedoms (and a full-throat-chest-belly laugh with every mention of “Mormon”).
And then came the half-hour or so performance from Tim Minchin. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would hear “Fuck the motherfucking pope” echo down the National Mall. I LOVE freedom of expression. Also, watching the American Sign Language Interpreter gleefully translating the The Pope Song was one of the most laugh-inducing moments of the day.
The Hubby and I had been sitting and standing in the chill and the rain for about five hours at this point, so we decided to abandon our spot and wander off to see the crowd. First stop, the protesters.
But nothing beats this photo of the same sign. Because if there’s one thing that’s better than kissing, it’s kissing to piss off hypocrites.
And that’s enough of that. This post isn’t for them.
We wandered back to the tents and saw the The Richard Dawkins Foundation, The Brights, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, Freedom From Relgion Foundation, Black Nonbelievers, American Atheists and the handful of other groups that were tabling. I am so happy that the rally organizers were able to provide cover for the tables to keep them out of the rain, but that tiny little tent was not conducive to actually speaking to the groups or learning more about the organizations. I’m sure there wasn’t much the rally organizers could have done to make it better given the weather conditions, but I didn’t enjoy the packed tent - the crowds surging through the space, people nudging each other to grab up stickers and swag, bozos who formed knots in traffic while they stopped to chat, seemingly ignorant of the extra chaos they were creating. I hope the groups that did put up tables got what they were looking for in terms of member recruitment, donations, visibility, etc., but I’d be suprised if they did.
During this time we had heard bits and pieces of Fred Edwords, Jamie Kilstein, Jamila Bey, Michael Shermer, and James Randi. We missed Bill Maher and Indra Zuno because it was during that time that we ran into Steve Petersen and Shirley Moll from Minnesota Atheists, and we had a chance to meet Bobbie Kirkhart, who’s been in this game for a while.
Shirley, The Hubby, me and Bobbie. Photo taken by Steve Petersen.
Cold, wet, so many speakers left! I admit that it was starting to be less appealing to be in the rain, but we mustered up a second wind and headed back out to the stage to hear Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Victor Harris performed a powerful poem about being good without God. Of all that is unholy and untrue, did the Hitchens Tribute video go awry or what? We wandered off into the crowd again, listening to bits and pieces of Nate Phelps, Sean Faircloth, Dr. R. Elizabeth Cornwall, Richard Dawkins. It was in here somewhere that we met up with Hank Fox from the Red Neck Blue Collar Atheist blog. Unlike the completely 100% fictitious character in Sunday’s April Fool’s post, the real Hank was incredibly nice and in very good spirits for having been in the rain all day. He took the Hubby and I over to meet Daniel Fincke and Ed Brayton, and from there we all watched Christina Rad, Rational Warrior, Herb Silverman, and then a couple of videos from Representative Pete Stark from California (the ONLY out atheist in Congress) and Senator Tom Harkin. PZ Myers was next, then Ron Lindsay. Eddie Izzard was very fun to watch. I’d definitely see one of his shows if I ever get a chance.
We’d had it. With the almost-certainty that we could find the last speakers (Roy Speckhardt, Lawrence Krauss, Todd Stiefel and Bad Religion) on YouTube, we packed up camp and made our way over to dinner at the warm, dry (well, until we got there) Lauriol Plaza Restaurant in the Adams Morgan/DuPont Circle area of town. The venue was neat – we had the entire second floor of the restaurant reserved and we packed it full. At dinner I had a chance to meet Richard Wade from Friendly Atheist, a couple of the guys from the Reasonable Doubts podcast, Jennifer Beahan from Center for Inquiry-Michigan, and Alyson Miers who blogs at Monster’s Ink (so cool to finally meet you, Alyson!).
We were wrapping up dinner when Jen McCreight from Blag Hag and Chelsea from the University of Minnesota’s Campus Atheists, Secularists and Humanists stumbled in (they were involved with Reason Rally tear down). We sat down to chat with them, but the Lauriol had other plans and kicked us out so they could seat other reservations (whatever…like…fine…hrmph). What followed was a hilarious meandering around Dupont Circle seeking dinner for Jen and Chelsea, followed by a long Metro ride out to Bethesda, Maryland to crash the hotel bar where the American Atheists were holding their convention. There I got to say hi to Shelly Segal, Greta Christina and Ingrid, Phil Ferguson and a handful of other awesome skeptics and freethinkers. It was a blast, and the Hubby would have had to drag me away kicking and screaming, except I was falling asleep in my whiskey coke so I went along without much a struggle. I might have fallen asleep on the metro ride back to Arlington (god that felt like a long trip), except some asshat teenager kept blowing a whistle then looking around saying “What was that?”
And thus ended a very long, soggy, exhilerating day. It felt like history in the making. It was history in the making.
The biggest bummer of the entire day was the lack of news vans. Seriously? I’ve seen more mainstream news coverage of cat fashion shows (okay, I stole that from Anchorman, but you get the idea). Happily, we live in a digital age where almost anyone can make a video. I’ve included as many of those that seemed relevant to this post in the links above. I searched for “Reason Rally” on YouTube and that generated 5,130 results. We gotcher media right here!
Time has a small photo montage of the event (seven photos – woohoo!), there are a number of opinion pieces out there, a bit of written coverage, and and there were a couple of broadcasted discussions with organizers, speakers and atheist activists about the Reason Rally. But I haven’t had much luck finding video of the actual event from any major news sources. One exception is Al Jazeera.
And this one from TheRealNews.com is good:
One of my favorite first-person accounts is this one from The Thinking Atheist:
Did you go to the Reason Rally? Did you have a favorite speech or experience? Did any of you run across any good coverage of the Reason Rally?