Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference VI
10:34 Any way to push women’s rights in politics?
Jamila: Until there are more women in office they will have to compromise everything to get anything. Run. Pay to play. Organize on the internet. Women do not right op eds, letters to the editors. Op Ed Project, google them, get in your local paper, pitch your stories, tell them it’s going on, tell them they need to know. It’s great to rant on reddit, you’ve got to get in front of people who can do something, those are journalism. Run for office if you don’t like it.
Many are apathetic even if they agree with us, how do we get them to care?
Jen: Visit the midwest or south. I use scare tactics. Lifelong secular person, I didn’t care at all until I moved to a conservative community in college and it scared the crap about me and they were trying to convert me. Many don’t realize because it’s not immediately impacting them. I moved to Seattle now it’s like atheist paradise. I try to bring up what’s actually happening in other parts of the country. If you’re not active you’re going to get screwed over eventually too.
What are the strategic advantages for our movement?
Greta: We rule the internet. We can mobilize the internet at a moment’s notice. Do you remember that we made the american cancer society’s life miserable for weeks? Anyone paying attention in the non-profit world knows don’t piss of the atheists. The Foundation Beyond Belief wanted to participate as a team member, initially they said yes, and then said no and lied about it and changed the story and lied. It got out, the atheists made their lives a misery for weeks. A lot of theists were also upset. They wanted to give you half a million dollars, my aunt died of cancer, what the fuck were you doing you don’t want their money. We run the internet and we should run with that. FBB found another cancer organization that was like we want your money and people and mobilizing and creating visibility.
Debbie: It’s called Light the Night, so keep an eye out. Doing it in Sep and Oct.
The role of pop culture?
Jamila: Tell our stories. Put an atheist in your movement, make them sympathetic. Come out. When people see you it’s really hard to hate you and oppress you.
Jen: That works. My favorite movie when I was 8 was Contact. The main character is a female strong willed scientist who is also an atheist. The more I watched it the more I thought she thinks like me and that’s OK. I read a study a week ago that looked at the top 100 films last year, 11 female leads, they were almost all stereotypes. It works when you have role models.
Greta: I would love an atheist equivalent of a media watchdog that points to bad depictions and patterns. And there are these patterns of depictions of atheists in the media. Put out a press release.
Today is the 15 year anniversary of Contact!
What is the future of secular interaction with the parties and politics?
Jamila: That’s a book. That I wish I could write right now.
Greta: I think it’s a long game. Traditional pols see us as toxic. And that was true of the gay movement in the 1970s. And they became powerhouse that the democrats couldnt ignore. But the republicans are screwing themselves because young people aren’t hostile. Doesn’t mean we should give up, to play the long game, we need to start now, but we shouldn’t expect huge payoff right away but in 5 years we can become.
Debbie: A lot of what we do is defined by what our enemies do. Right now it seems to be the religious right and they’re closely allied with the republican party. It forces most of us to side with democrats. If the religious right continues, I think default wise, we will be allied with democrats. However I think we will see a shift in that, the religious right will become less popular because young people aren’t interested. We’ll be into liberal progressives on social issues.
Is the secular movement trying to become all encompassing?
Debbie: We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else.
Debbie: We see same sex issues, we have positions, you should look at science and data. You’re coming to the wrong conclusion because of bias. Let’s look at facts and history.
Greta: Anti-Discrimination Support System watch. That thing I talked about exists. Margaret Downey (sp)
JMH: Atheists have been traditionally progressive in a lot of fields. Elizabeth Cady Stanton knew she was risking her position in the women’s movement, but she thought religion caused the problems and so she spoke out. Black atheists working on socialism and civil rights. Hubert Harrison (?)
10:19 JMH: we don’t know our history, writing Doubt made me more hopeful for the future of our movement, there’s always been people questioning. The one suggestion I have is the Cold War seemed to shut down questioning, but we’re not there anymore and now our most murderous enemies are often on the fundamentalist side. Specifically, this history gives us reassurance about who we are, not just the facts but they addressed different things, what can do about forgetting our history? Annie Laurie Gaylor’s talk was amazing and showed us how much we forgot and these women addressed questions that we don’t always address now? Anyone want to take it.
Debbie: We spoke together about what we might discuss on this panel and also wanting to make sure we had interesting new things. Is there enough to talk about? There’s too much. I am going to try to have a contrary opinion even though I’m going first. Most people who get involved don’t need the history because it’s not why they’re getting involved. Why do people get involved in church? We make fun of people who are religious because they haven’t read the bible and don’t know their history. Because the purpose is to provide community. And then we kind of do that to, we might not know our history of freethought, that’s not why they’re coming to groups or arguing on the internet. Those in leadership should absolutely know, and about other social movements too, we should absolutely know the history. Things feel very new, maybe this is because the internet makes my attention span think everything is new. Pre-Youtube I don’t even know what was going on in the world. The whole world would benefit from learning knowing more history. Yes we would benefit, no it’s not why we’re coming to groups, maybe add more to venues and educate.
Jamila: Quickest answer: Yes, we should know more about our history. I’m a big fan of gifting biographies. We need to let it be know that there were always people who doubted. We need to make sure that those who are in league with the way we think that they’re aware of it. I’m going to go back to February, I love talking about, did you know they were atheists. That kind of thing. Letting people know. We can always share our wishlist on certain big internet retailers that oppress local bookstores. I wish we did more reading as a society, especially since I make my living as a journalist. But I’m a journalist on radio, so maybe there will be a Youtube meme.
Debbie: I just jotted down, if you’ve been in the bookstore, you’ve seen the banner we made for african american for humanism, we had banners with african american famous figures who were freethinkers. It is so important to people to know that there are people who look like them who think this way. To know that atheism is something that’s been present in black history, again, so important to people. In the black community people would say that atheism and freethinking is a eurocentric perspective and it’s an outside group telling them how to be, when we show the history and we’ve been part of it. Like in feminism, did you know all these people were freethinkers too? This is our history, it represents me and my history too.
Greta: What they said. Diversity work, this is nuts and bolts work, if you want to do events with black sororities or feminists, do a history of women and african american freethinkers. How diverse we’ve always been. I think there’s a divide between the old guard and the young who want to do everything differently. I think our history is important, especially learning other social change movements, but I also think that there’s a tendency that because we’ve always done something this way we must always do it that way. Like the skeptic movt has always been about ufos and bigfoot and can’t now be about the drug war and prison reform because that’s how it’s always been done. We’re changing quickly, we need to be nimble. I wouldn’t want a focus on history to become we have to always do things the way people in the movement are already comfortable with. One of the lessons from history is we can’t always keep doing things the way we always to do.
Jen: You made the one point I was clinging onto so I’ll say yes.
10:07 Greta: People who came out earlier tend to be people who are very independently minded and don’t care as much about social things. When it’s hard to come out the people who come out are people who don’t care so much about other people and don’t care as much about being social. But that’s changing because it’s becoming easier and we’ll be a community of people who are more social. We’re going to have more diversity of interests. The local groups that are strongest are the ones with most diverse range of activities. A lot of times what religious groups offer is a lot of different things, support, child care, guidance, food bank, charity, social justice, picnics. A huge variety of things. If you just activism or just skeptics in the pub or just service, there’s people you’re not reaching who might be interested. That makes a big difference.
Jen: It is hard going last! Sorry Debbie. I don’t have kids, I’ve never been religious, and I like to rage on the activities. I don’t want to sing or be social, I do like eating food and so there’s just basic things that your group can do to get a social network. It’s important to have some traditions in the group. Not rituals. Like my group at Purdue came up with this, they went out to dinner every Sunday night. Once they started doing this, the group became tight knit, they are closer, they feel like part of a group. Regular scheduled meals. Food is universal, they have to eat.
10:03 JMH: What do people, women and men and parents, get from religion? Music, singing, the quietness of periods of it, quietness with other people, and silly things like at the megachurch I once visited, they had parking for people who were coming the first time, welcoming. What do you think? How could we do some of that?
Debbie: Historically we’ve brought in people who are in science and philosophy, and not so much young parents. People who had time and had disposable incomes. There were a lot of people who didn’t like religion and we had humanists who liked to sing and the atheists wanted to talk about the bible and skeptics were hands off religion and let’s talk about the brain and ufos. They all seem to like to drink a lot. Sometimes we’re quiet together cuz we’re drinking so much. And what do people get from that, and religion cover a lot of important things. Social bonding and networks. African americans say when you move to a new city and you want to meet and get connected with new people and the black community, you immediately go to a church. Maybe those venues don’t exist for people to meet new people. The social aspects, we’re seeing that our movement is able to provide more of that, there are groups everywhere now because we are exploding. we’ll see more of that. It becomes a problem when we think we know what everyone wants. I think the debates between confrontationalists and accomodationists argue claim they know what everyone wants, some people like singing and holding hands but not everyone. The internet arguments people realize we’re diverse and have different needs. We have people on the autism spectrum, me too probably, which is cool, I’m good at math, but are less interested in community and hold handing.
Jamila: Black church and children. FINALLY. Here is my experience. I saw a speech at a center not too far from me, Debbie, talking about diversity. In February, the month when all black people events happen. Joke. Based in reality. I show up and there’s a center that’s headed by a woman and she goes I’m a hugger and me too and we hug, and I listen and look around. And there are people who look like me, and many people in this crowd, and I was told I should come to this parent thing. And I show up with my kid, no one’s saying don’t vaccinate and no one saying well, mine is an indigo child. But, I was literally embraced, my kid got playmates, we were sort of likeminded. There will be people who are like Jamila is loud and obnoxious and we will never hang out, and that’s fine, but others have gone to the zoo together, and just hung out when we were bored. I really think that when we allow people to organically seek each other out and say this is what I need and group up under the understanding that our birthday you will be proselytized or we will permit slut shaming. We see the world through a particular lens, so when we go to the movies about a God with a hammer and we go yeah that’s awesome. We don’t have to pray, we do not believe that Jesus is lord, we don’t have to assure people we don’t believe Thor is god. When I go to the hairdresser with my skeptical girlfriends our convos are much different from choir choir how’s your mama choir. It allows me to me and not on guard. And the community is stronger. Is Reba here? She rocks! When I visited I got to see her family group, I was blown away. Dads were leading activities. Whole families showed up, kids showed up alone. This community is there and available and they’re talking about science. Be who you are, be out, let people find you, because I genuinely have experienced that I know I will go to a thing where God ain’t gonna come up and I can find someone to get my hair done with and kids to babysit mine. We need to do more where the whole family is invited and kids can meet.
9:50 Debbie: A lot of times with activism you need to first define goals and then decide tactics. Like the election in Nov, you realize some goal is important, some group that is a competitor might be a group you need to work with right now to vote a certain way, that’s why coalitions exist. As we broaden and get new people, we realize that we have shared goals with some groups, but they don’t want is in there feminist group or LGBT group and that is tricky. And sometimes we overlap in goals, and these groups might be filled with woo. We have more people who are interested in working within groups to bring skepticism and atheists can be good feminists. It’s a kind of coalition building, but more overarching. I do outreach to coalitions of black sciences. Most black groups they love them some jesus, and they love science too, but let’s start with a prayer. So we ask why don’t you want us and don’t you want to help us advance science. We come in conflict with that religion, we still have goals of advancing critical thinking we need to communicate in those groups.
Greta: I think it’s assumed that if you’re confrontational and vocally opposed to religion, it’s going to be difficult, and I don’t think this is not necessarily true. They had a group that did everybody draw mohammed and it was controversial and will it be impossible after to do coalitions, they did and the muslim student group was unhappy and had a lot of conversations, and that was the beginning, and now they are doing alliance work together. It opened up a conversations and they explained why they were doing it, and discovered they had some things in common. We should not assume that if we criticize religion it shuts the door to alliances.
9:44 JMH: I want to ask about coalitions, with the religious, is it a good idea or should we keep it “pure”?
Jennifer: I thought it was very interesting when Greta said that when movements become mainstream they ally with religion and as we become mainstream we become more involved in interfaith. I don’t think working with religious groups is bad, even though I hate the term and a lot about interfaith. When I was in college, we were involved with the Episcopalians a lot because the only thing we disagreed with was the God question. Those sort of relationships work, you have a common set of values and you’re willing to set God aside to work on LGBT rights or separation issues. I do not like when atheist groups are asked to set aside their values and shouldn’t be offensive and should be more polite. The offensive thing is that we don’t believe, we can’t compromise those values. I don’t have faith, based on evidence and reason and faith is bad, I don’t want to be inter. It’s fine working with religious groups, they can’t tell us to shut up about things that make us uncomfortable.
Greta: What she said. The nature of alliance work is that you don’t agree on everything, you temporarily you set aside the things you disagree about — if you didn’t disagree, you would be in the same group. The question is are there people who we disagree with on so much that we shouldn’t work with them at all.
Jamila: It’s hard on the panel cuz I gotta follow that. Rule 1 of debate is that you define your terms. That’s also the rule I like to follow in all relationships. What do we want? Want to give a public shout out to the childcare upstairs that helps us mommies show up and bring our kids. Mine is going to have such wonderful memories of his first Surlyramics and the secularist women conference. He’s at a school in DC, 13% score at grade level in science. These are first graders. These are fifth graders. If those people who love science and maybe some who love Jesus and Allah and FSM wish to come together and go to that school and the parents who don’t have the luxury of showing up and helping, if they want to come together and do some experiments and talk about photosynthesis and talk about the world we all agree we live in actually does, I am willing to do that. I am willing to do that while wearing my FSM pendant, my evolve earrings. I will probably not wear the “show me on the doll where jesus touched you” shirt. When there is a goal, a task, an outcome we can see, I am willing to say OK, well, showing up, got your flair, pins on, go! But, there are times when the price is too high, there are times when you being there is going to be a problem. There are times where you’re going to be told if you don’t sign our declaration of faith, you can’t. You have to cover. I believe that every individual who wishes to do something, should, and bring all of themselves. If you feel I too suffer from OCD and I gotta come and do my thing or else the earthcore will cool with these people and then we’ll tap together and whatever we do. I am against a policy one way or another. Define your terms figure out the cost/benefit and go yes or no. Where a button, sing some John Lennon.
Audience : Not Cee Lo’s version
9:34 Jamila: I am a journalist, I’m going to talk about that perspective. I began writing for a black newspaper, minority media covers small things that happen in their communities and then it gets picked up by larger media and that’s how we got the civil rights movements. I was inspired by that history. I’ve always been inspired by getting stories that other people don’t have — that’s called a scoop. There’s a separation between activism and journalism, but when I find something that’s wrong, when people start to see, then people start to act. Now, am I an activist, that’s a whole other talk I give. Now the future should be informed by the past and other movements and now that we have the internet information fast. This is a return to an ideal of the founders, separation of church and state. You don’t want to use birth control, be quiverfull and get a show on the Discovery Channel. 2012 we have a bunch of elections that matter. A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. Preferable to a journalist who will listen and get it right. The future of this movement is the future of the world, it is younger, it is browner, it is a beautiful sight to behold, it is more similar than it is dissimilar and all it needs is a little care and feeding and kumbayah.
Debbie: I’m one of the people who’ve gotten involved because I did student groups and went to a CFI student leadership conference… 12 years ago. As I became an activist, I met people who had attended leadership conferences like Hemant, DJ Grothe, August, Stephanie LeRoy. Investing in the student movement is crucial. We didn’t have as many women 10 years ago who came out of the student movements who became the loudest and brash voices. Seculebrities are changing, we’re seeing shifts in what the movement is interested. The scope of the movement is changing and it’s a movement that’s hard to categorize. CFI has a broader mission, atheism, skepticism, philosophy. We call it the movement, but they are different sides. The humanist side we see a lot more young women involved, I’d like to see more of that in skepticism. Our interests are broadening. Historically it dealt with UFOs and Chubacabras, but there are a lot of people getting involved who care about vaccinations and mothers and children and things that people involved 20 years ago didn’t care about because it reflected who was involved, white scientist men. We see more women, people of color, and one of the core shifts we see is in class. A lot of these things are class issues, as the scope broadens, we’ll see more people involved. Instead of chupacabras we might focus on prison reform. Problems in education system, keep creationism out, but do we know what education is like in the south and in detroit? Most of the people in the movement don”t think about that. More people involved in social justice and service. It’ll be a hard shift because there are a lot of people who don’t think about that, there’s a focus on atheism that thinks we should focus only on why we don’t believe or what’s wrong with the bible. And we wonder why people with 3 kids and 2 jobs don’t come to these things?
9:21 This is on the future of secularism. The panel looks tired. Except Jamila, she looks totally awake. I’m guessing wrangling kids does that to you.
Jen: As a student I feel obligated to point out that I think students are the future of secularism. The one thing I have to point out is that I also think the students are the present. The SSA has been exploding recently, we have 350 groups, only a few years ago it was 100. When I founded the SSA at Purdue, that’s what got me involved in the movement was being involved on the campus. CCC is dropping in the opposite direction and they have millions of more dollars in their budget that we do, like 100 times, we have a staff member per 70 campuses, they have three per campus. Students are putting on conferences.
Greta: What she said. Want to shift gears, want to talk about the internet. The fact that we have the internet gives me tremendous hope for the future. I talk a lot about our similarity to the LGBT movement, one of the things I think about is damn if the LGBT had the internet in 1969. I want to talk about the big blowups that happen online. The fact that we’re having these fights gives me tremendous hope and optimism. I’m glad we’re having these fights now, looking at the history of other movements, in the early stages they did not deal with their stuff about race and sex, it took them a long time to get around to it. Even though it’s ugly, I’m given hope that whenever it blows up now, the conversation is different from what it was a year ago, 2-5 years ago. It was a lot more divided, split on gender lines, and that’s changing. There’s a lot more men calling them feminists and making feminist arguments. There’s more of a general assumption that sexism exists and matters. Gee is it really sexism if a 15 year old girl puts a picture of herself with a book on reddit and she gets rape jokes and comments about her appearance? More men are saying YES. Bloggers get emails all the time about you changed my mind about atheism, but I also get emails, you changed my mind about feminism. Everytime we have one of these frustrating I can’t believe atheists think this stupid shit, the fact that we’re having these arguments now, it’s going to be so much better in 5, 10, 20 years.
9:07 I will probably not be here all morning, but I will liveblog however long I’m here
From left to right: Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jennifer McCreight, Greta Christina, Jamila Bey, Debbie Goddard. This is the panel of all of my favorite people.