Yesterday was Minnesota Atheists’ regional conference, the first conference our group has run on its own. (Though American Atheists provided some sponsorship for this conference, they did not get involved in the planning as they did last year.) Friday night was the Mr. Paul Aints game. Although I can’t yet say how they did financially, because we worked hard to keep prices down, I hereby declare both big successes as events.
Some thoughts from the two days:
- When there’s shit going down on your blog network, it is really, really nice to have a reason to spend some time in the same place together. Doubly so when you can chat informally about everything you know is going on behind the scenes. The same goes for seeing other people who are also thoroughly involved in the movement and care about the outcome of this.
- It is possible to get diverse audiences for your conference. Our attendance was so close to 50% female that I can’t tell you until we run the numbers whether men or women were in the majority in our audience. We had excellent attendance from people under age 40, including a few SSA group leaders, and still had plenty of the older attendees who dominated at last year’s AA regional conference. We need to do better with people of color, as a whole, not just at this event. We had a much smaller percentage of people of color in the audience than we did at the podium. Minnesota is relatively white, but the Twin Cities isn’t so much. We can do better than we’re doing.
- Things we were complimented on: People liked the diversity of topics that we brought in by having eight workshops led by people who don’t normally speak at our conferences. With four tracks of two time slots each, people were able to choose what they wanted to see. Having to move everyone out of the rooms to reset for meals, and having a number of shorter breaks pushed people away from sitting in one spot for the entire conference. There was a lot of mingling and getting to know other atheists.
- Things I received negative feedback on: A few of the workshops were mini-lectures more than they were participatory experiences. That may have been my fault, because I didn’t make it clear to everyone recruiting workshop speakers what the parameters for a workshop should be. That’s fixable if we do another conference. We didn’t always make it clear that questions should be questions, so they weren’t always. The chicken was slightly overcooked.
- Groups want to put on more of these events. For FtBCon II, we should have another panel on conference organizing focusing on non-student groups. We should also have SkepTech’s Chelsea Du Fresne talk about using social media during your conference.
- Harassment policies are still a big deal, even with people who don’t spend that much time online. On one side, I was recruited for a best-practices sort of project. On the other, one of the questions asked during Q&A yesterday was really, “Why are focusing on this and making it a big deal? I don’t want to say it’s not, but I don’t have the background for this.” We need to find ways to put years of history into context for people who don’t know or care about the ins and outs. I’m hoping I did that well answering the question. There will be video eventually, so people can tell me whether I did.
- I managed to run a panel on accommodation versus confrontation that people weren’t completely bored attending, but mostly by saying up front that I was a bit bored with the topic, so we were going to dump the false dichotomy and talk tactics. Nobody tells better Dave Silverman jokes than Amanda Knief, except maybe Dave Silverman. I consider the day won because I got PZ to admit to circumstances under which he will adopt an accommodationist approach. It’ll be on the video.
- This is an uncomfortable time to hear people say that they’re fans. Being unable to avoid the flaws in people who have been held up as heroes, watching as people twist their own thinking around to allow those people to remain heroes–it makes me want to flinch away from that sort of thing. I don’t, because this isn’t the fault of people who read or listen and enjoy my work and want to offer support. They’re the folks supporting me as I do what I can to see these problems get fixed. But it’s still uncomfortable.
- After talking to people who do know what’s going on and who are thinking about ways to avoid the corruption that’s facilitated it, I’m really happy to have a good local group with a good membership base. I’m really happy we have institutions like Skepticon and SkepTech. I really, really like organizations that aren’t dependent on a few large donors to do what they do. We need to figure out how to scale that up, because we do need representation at the national level.
- I love these things, but I need a nap.