The Reason Rally was great, though not perfect. First the good: Greta Christina, PZ Myers, Hemant Mehta, and Jessica Ahlquist were all great. Tim Minchin, Jamie Kilstein and Eddie Izzard were freaking brilliant. As was Paul Provenza, who was the emcee.
Hemant was one of the first speakers and he gave a rousing talk encouraging atheists to run for public office. He then introduced Jessica Ahlquist and presented her with a check for more than $62,000 for her scholarship, about $9,000 of which came from the sale of our Evil Little Thing shirts. That actually made me choke up, as did Jessica’s speech that followed. What a remarkable young woman. I can only wish that I had that kind of poise and grace at 16 years old.
Greta gave her standard barnburner of a talk, drawing on the material in her new book expressing the many things that atheists are justifiably angry about. And PZ, in a white cowboy hat that seemed as out of place as a milk bucket under a mule, gave a similar speech about his favorite sin — wrath. But everyone near us thought he said “rap,” which caused me to utter a prayer: “Please let PZ do a rap, please let PZ do a rap.” Alas, he didn’t. But that would have been so memorable if he had.
The stand up comics were all amazing. Eddie Izzard was actually the weakest of the three of them, believe it or not. Minchin did several of his best songs, including Storm and Fuck the Pope. And Kilstein did another of his patented righteous rants that was just incredible. I can’t wait to see the video of that one. That was a highlight of the entertainment segments for me.
Now, the bad: Way too many speakers. Way, way too many speakers. Most of them had a few minutes to speak at the most. And several of them did the standard protest rally speech, the kind I absolutely hate. I hate chanting. Hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. I hate call and response even more than I hate chanting. And when Elizabeth Cornwall had everyone shouting things at Congress, I couldn’t have cringed any harder if Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter made a sex tape. That kind of thing just makes my skin crawl.
And I kind of felt bad for Dan Barker, though I think his wound was largely self-inflicted. Dan is a great speaker and a great guy, but he likes to do some really cheesy anti-religion songs. Unfortunately, he did a few of them shortly after Tim Minchin performed and the contrast was as stark as it could possibly be. The effect was like an open micer following George Carlin on stage. Why he attempted to pull it off is beyond me.
But that hardly was enough to distract from the awesomeness of the event, nor was the wind and the rain. It never poured really hard or hit thunderstorm level, just on and off rain showers. And it started getting really cold toward the end. I almost wore shorts, too; glad I didn’t.
And yes, there were protesters there, including the Fred Phelps ghouls. Nate Phelps gave a terrific speech in which he condemned the barbaric views of his family. The sense of sadness that he expressed seemed entirely authentic to me:
“My heart goes out to the millions who see and hear the cruel message of my family. A message that is met with tacit approval by too many in this society. A message that seeps into their hearts. A message leaving them to wonder why a creator made them gay just so he could punish them. It’s a terrible, terrible waste.”
I didn’t even bother to go over near the protesters because, for me, that isn’t what this day was about.
Oh, and Greg Graffin was a very bad choice to sing the national anthem. They should have asked JT to do it. If there’s an atheist who can sing better than him, I’d like to hear them.
I heard many people say that there was an official estimate of 20,000 people there, but I don’t buy that. There weren’t that many. The Huffington Post says it was 8-10,000 and that seems a far more — yes — reasonable number to me. I’ve covered a lot of rallies over the years and there’s no way there were 20,000 people there.