There’s no way I can do just one Reason Rally report. It was something of a life-changing event, it was almost certainly a history-changing event, and I’m probably going to keep bringing ideas I got from it into my writing for some time.
So here’s the Reason Rally Idea For Today.
Those of us who keep hammering on about diversity in the atheist movement?
We need to keep doing it.
There was wonderful diversity at the Reason Rally. It wasn’t ideal; it wasn’t a perfect or even close reflection of the demographics of America or the world. (I don’t think it was, anyway: I was kind of in a distracted, blissed-out haze all day, and I wasn’t out there with a clipboard ticking off demographic boxes.) But I saw lots of women there, and lots of people of color, and lots and lots and lots of young people. As if it were the most natural thing in the world. As if it were obvious that this would be the face of atheism.
This is significantly different from the demographics we were seeing at big atheist events, even a few years ago. It’s so different, I have to assume that our conscious efforts to make ourselves more diverse have been paying off.
There are specific, nuts-and-bolts ideas about promoting diversity that many of us have been yammering about for a while now. And heaps of these ideas were implemented at the Reason Rally. The speakers and performers at the Rally were diverse: not ideally so, not in a perfect reflection of the demographics of America or the world, but there were plenty of women and young people and people of color on that stage. There were charter buses to the Rally from around the country, so students and others on tight budgets could attend. There was an online forum for ride shares and room shares. Discount hotel rooms were arranged. Child care was provided. Organizers in this movement are clearly listening. Not all of them, and not perfectly — but many of them, and better than they used to. Some of the organizers are even the ones squawking about diversity themselves, and have been for a while.
It’s working. And people are noticing. More than one news story I saw about the Reason Rally pointed out the diversity of the crowd. My favorite money quote was this one, from Kimberly Winston of the Religious News Service, and printed in The Huffington Post and elsewhere:
Also visibly different was the composition of the crowd, which was largely under the age of 30, at least half female and included many people of color. Ten years ago [at the The Godless March on Washington ten years ago], the crowd was mostly white, over 40 and predominantly male.
The news reporters noticed. Some of them, anyway. And that means that every woman, every young person, every person of color seeing those reports noticed. Every woman, every young person, every person of color who’s questioning their religion, or who’s already an atheist but is afraid to tell anybody, and who read those news reports, now knows that they can come out, and that atheism might be an okay place for them to land.
I know it gets tiring. Every time I write a piece about sexism or racism or some other -ism in the atheist community, I brace myself for the barrage of insulting stupid that almost inevitably emerges. Every time I post something about diversity that I think should be totally freaking obvious — like, “Hey, look, someone is attacking women’s ideas by insulting their personal appearance, isn’t that fucked-up and sexist” — some nimrod will find a way to argue and whine and gas on for days about how unfair I’m being. And I confess, this sometimes makes me shy away from writing about sexism and racism and other -isms.
But usually, I don’t. Usually, I grit my teeth and plow on ahead. And I want to passionately encourage the other people who are working on these issues to grit their teeth and plow on ahead, too.
Because something is changing. Because for every nimrod I see on my blog whining about how sexism isn’t sexist and I should just shut up about it, I now see ten comments or emails from people saying, “You’ve really changed my thinking on this.” Because for every thoughtlessly racist or sexist or other-ist comment I see on the Internet, I now see ten other people dogpile onto them. Because for every time I get into the same argument about this that I’ve gotten into a hundred times, I now hear my arguments, and other writers’ arguments, being explained by ten other people — often better than we did. Because for every time I have to explain Diversity 101 to some well-meaning person who’s seriously never considered these questions before, I now have ten other times when the people I’m talking with nod and say, “Yes, Diversity 101, totally on board — let’s talk about how to make it happen.”
And because at the Reason Rally, I saw young people, and women, and people of color… in droves. Because at the largest secularist gathering in world history, at the event where we were putting on our best, nicest, happiest, angriest, funniest, snarkiest, most compassionate, most defiant, proudest game face, to the media and the world, we could be reasonably confident that this face was not monolithic. Because at the time when thousands of us were willing to stand in the rain for eight hours to represent atheism, it wasn’t 10,000 middle-aged white guys — it was 20,000 people who looked something more like America, and something more like the world.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece on why it was so important for atheists to get this diversity thing right — and to get it right early, now, before bad habits get entrenched, before resentments have years and decades to build, before vicious circles and self-fulfilling prophecies get set into a deep groove. I don’t think we can be complacent; I think we have a huge amount of work to do in these areas. Every horrible conversation I have about these ideas reminds me of that.
But the work we’ve been doing has been paying off. And it’s paying off early, now, in the early years of the very visible and vocal and activist phase of our movement. I have real hopes that, because we’re doing this work now, in ten and twenty and fifty years we’ll avoid the worst of the problems that other social change movements before us have had to deal with. I have real hopes that, because we’re having these horrible, stupid, infuriating conversations now, we won’t be having nearly as many of them in ten or twenty or fifty years… and we’ll be able to just get on with the business of changing the world.
So let’s keep it up.