May 19, 2015

Increasing the Political Activity of Atheists

United States Presidential Primaries 2008, Dem...
United States Presidential Primaries 2008, Democratic turnout as a percentage of total turnout. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Don't let anybody ever tell you that voter apathy doesn't win elections. Voter apathy does win elections; it just wins them for the other side.

I have to confess that I found myself less bothered by the outcome of the 2014 U.S. midterm elections than I was by the discrepancy in voter turnout between White evangelical Christians and religiously unaffiliated voters. I believe it is worth our time and effort to learn about why this discrepancy exists and what we can do to reduce it. I'd like to see voter turnout among the religiously unaffiliated grow to the point where it eclipses that of the White evangelical Christians.

Christian privilege is an unfortunate reality in the United States, and threats to the separation of church and state abound. For some Christian voters, it is easy to vote to maintain the status quo because it benefits them. It should not be easy for secular voters to do so. We should be interested in change even if we won't always agree on what that change should look like. If anybody is motivated to be more politically involved, it should be us.

Increasing voter turnout is an important goal because elections have consequences. Who we elect matters. At the same time, I recognize that voter turnout is only one metric of political involvement. It is an important one, but it is not the only one worth considering. With that in mind, I'd like to see a massive increase in the political involvement of religiously unaffiliated persons, reflected not just in voter turnout but in all of the following:
  • The frequency of contact secular persons have with elected officials at the state and federal level (i.e., they need to know that we are here and invested in the political process at least as much as evangelical Christians)
  • Organized lobbying to promote the separation of church and state and reality-based policy in every state legislature
  • Public dissemination of information about the value of church-state separation (e.g., letters to the editor of local newspapers) to shape public opinion
  • Local secular activism
  • The number of openly secular candidates running for local, state, and federal office
How do we achieve a meaningful increase in voter turnout and other indicators of political involvement among the religiously unaffiliated? I am just starting to think about this, but I'll share a few of the ideas that have occurred to me so far. I'm sure more will follow.
  • Continued efforts like the #AtheistVoter campaign, starting earlier and giving secular voters an opportunity to get to know candidates running for office
  • The creation and dissemination of secular voter guides in every state to make it easier for secular voters to learn about candidates' positions
  • The creation of state-level hubs for the purpose of disseminating relevant information to secular voters throughout the year (e.g., action alerts on important church-state issues)
  • A greater emphasis on state legislatures, who is being elected to them, and how they are voting on church-state issues
  • Improved organization and collaboration among those of us who believe that increasing the political involvement of religiously unaffiliated voters is worthwhile
What ideas do you have? How do we achieve a significant increase in the political activity of atheists and other secular persons?
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