January 16, 2010

Thoughts on an Atheist Unity Convention

s320x240.jpgAfter describing the idea of an atheist unity convention, I ran a poll here for a week to see how many of my readers would attend such an event in Washington DC sometime in 2013. The results, based on 361 responses, indicated that most readers had favorable attitudes toward such an event and would be either "very likely" (31%) or "somewhat likely" (32%) to attend. I found the comment thread, where a handful of readers explained the rationale behind their vote to be at least as interesting as the poll results.

Many of those who indicated that they would attend a unity convention noted that travel expenses and time off work would be important factors. This is certainly understandable. Should such a convention become a reality, I think it will be important to have some way for those who support it but cannot attend to be a part of the event. Live blogging from attendees, video reports on YouTube, and local rallies of support would be helpful.

Most of those who said they would attend cited the same reasons: a sense of community, an opportunity to meet "famous" atheists, a chance to change perceptions and increase visibility, the desire to be part of something historic, etc. For me, the primary appeal of such a convention would be the opportunity to send a strong message to the political establishment that we will not be ignored and to the legions of religious Americans that we will be silent no more. All the other aspects would be perks, but this is what would make me think seriously about actually showing up.

As for those who said they would be "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to attend, there was also great overlap in the reasons offered: a general dislike of conventions, the unappealing nature of something so unfocused and without a particular agenda, the sense that atheism is not enough of a reason to come together, etc. None of these reasons was surprising, and I could identify with all of them.

So, would I travel to Washington DC to attend such a convention? Probably not, but it would depend greatly on the format and focus. I've never been a fan of conventions. I have little interest in sitting in stuffy conference rooms and listening to various "famous" atheists pontificate on various topics. What I would be far more interested in and more likely to attend would be a rally in support of atheist civil rights. I would find an atheist march on Washington much more compelling than a convention. Still, I'm happy to support such a convention and do what I can to spread the word about it if it should in fact take place.