As some of you may know and unfortunately many of you didn’t know, the second Reason Rally took place on Saturday. Like we did last year, my brother came down to see me from NY on Friday night and on early morning Saturday we took the drive to DC from Philadelphia. I have to confess that while I was super excited to go, I did not put the planning into the trip that I should have. This is largely because for the last eleven months, I have been more passionate about politics than atheist activism.
In 2012, there really wasn’t a Democratic Primary. But in 2016, the Democratic Primary has been quite heated and even though there is a Secular Humanist actually running as a major candidate in this race, there are atheists who are not supporting him for some ridiculous reason. But I digress. My point here is that my attention and passion has been more about advocating for Bernie Sanders rather than it has been advocating for atheism in general. The Reason Rally just kind of snuck up on me.
While I didn’t have the foresight to create “Staks Tracts” as my friends Charlie and Anthony named them, I did have the foresight to get a press pass and that was super helpful (look for a HuffPo piece in the near future). I will however be working on those “Staks Tracts” soon though.
The Press Pass was great even though I know many of the organizers and organization leaders personally already; the media credentials got me into areas I wouldn’t normally be allowed to go and most importantly, got me a sit down interview with John de Lancie.
It is always great to go to the Reason Rally because it is the one place where atheists can be open about our atheist without fear. Here we outnumber the religious. I love seeing both local friends and friends from around the country and the world. Some of those friends I had only known through online interactions so it is great to finally meet them in person.
Well known atheist activists and leaders in the movement are accessible to everyone. People could make their way to the tents and talk to leaders in the movement and get information about various organizations and projects. Sometimes, people who are “atheist famous” would just be wandering around shaking hands and striking up conversations.
I love how the Rally is right in the middle of a tourist area. People who may be atheists but not involved with atheist see our Rally and become interested. I ran into a gentleman from Mexico who was visiting the Lincoln Memorial and asked about our Rally. I told him that we were atheists and humanists trying to make our voice heard to Washington politicians. He was excited to tell me that he too didn’t believe in God and that in Mexico, it is political suicide for politicians to bring up religion.
There is no easy way to say this. Reason Rally II: Electric Boogaloo did not have the turnout of the first Reason Rally. That was very clear, very quickly. For the first Reason Rally, the unofficial number was around 30k people. I would be surprised if this Reason Rally got over 10k. A lot of my local atheist friends didn’t go and some didn’t even know about it until last week. There were a ton of atheist activists, bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, etc. who just didn’t go for whatever reason. In contrast to the last Reason Rally, I didn’t see too many people promoting their own private projects this time around. Last time, I came home with a bag full of flyers and business cards from people who were working on various projects or were just promoting their blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts. This year, there was very little of that.
I asked a lot of people why their felt that the turnout was so low. I got a variety of different answers. Here is a list of some of those reasons:
1. Lack of promotion
2. Unimpressive speaker list
3. Infighting within the movement
4. Greater interest in politics
5. Lack of a political boogieman
6. Atheist burnout
7. Fear of God
Okay, not really that last one. But the other criticisms are real criticisms from some of the people I talked to. That’s another great part of having a media badge; I can just walk right up to people and ask them questions without them being weirded out by it.
I did ask Reason Rally’s Executive Director, Lyz Liddell, about her thoughts on the attendance issue. She said that the first Reason Rally was billed as a “once in a lifetime” event and that attracted people. With Reason Rally II, it might not have felt as special. She also pointed to the lack of a negative motivator like a political boogieman. While Trump is a fantastic boogieman who can scare people tremendously, he isn’t particularly religious like Ted Cruz.
I also asked a lot of people if they would attend a Reason Rally III: Eye of Braxus. On this point, everyone seemed to agree, YES!!! That was the answer people gave at the last Reason Rally and that is why they had a second Reason Rally. Even though the turnout wasn’t as great as expected, people seemed to really enjoy the event. So if you do want there to be Reason Rally III, please make your voice heard!
Since so many people did actually enjoy the event, I asked people to compare their experiences between the two Reason Rallies and give some constructive criticisms. One woman said that she actually liked this year’s Rally better because she felt that last time there were a lot of “angry atheist” speakers and this one seemed softer and friendlier — although she missed Tim Minchin. A few people told me that they liked the location better last time. It was closer to the metro and didn’t have a reflecting pool dividing people.
With that in mind, will there be a Reason Rally III? That depends on who you ask… and I asked. One member of the Reason Rally committee told me that he didn’t think there was going to be another one. Funding was a huge problem. He pointed to one of the security people and informed me that Reason Rally had to pay for that. Another Reason Rally official said that he would be up for another one and though it was possible, but that it may or may not happen. When I spoke again to Lyz Liddell, she seemed to think that it was likely and that the real question was whether to have it every 4 years or every 8 years. When asked what she learned from this year’s event that would improve the next Reason Rally, she spoke about documentation so that they wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel. She wanted to make sure that even if she wasn’t going to be the one in charge, that there would be documentation in place to make it easier to organize the next one. To me, that seems like she is preparing for a next one.
Q: What inspired you to come out as an open atheist?
Q’s Answer: I have always been open about my atheism so it wasn’t really a big deal for me. I just felt that it was time for reasonable people to step up in support of being reasonable.
Q: Does he plan on staying involved in the movement?
Q’s Answer: Yeah. I love it!
Q: How does it feel to be a God among the Godless?
Q’s Answer: Oh it’s good!
I mentioned to him that about three quarters of the people in the audience are Star Trek fans, including me, and that my kids are fans of My Little Pony (de Lancie plays the voice of the character Discord in the show). De Lancie joked about Hasbro pulling the toy after his appearance at the Reason Rally.
Look for more articles to come on about Reason Rally 2016.