Late Saturday afternoon, we were arguing about armed revolution, and I was grinning my head off. (I have a minor interest in the topic.) Sunday morning, talking plans and projects, I thought to myself, “You know, this movement could get fun again.”
It’s hard for me to talk about the value of a conference like Secular Social Justice. We need space for these topics, yes. We need to hear from these activists both about the problems they’re grappling with and about the solutions they’re finding, yes. We need to put this vigorous humanism center stage in a movement where even the humanists have centered atheism, yes.
More than that, though, we need to come together sometimes in places where we’re not having to justify any of that. We need to spend our energy on each other and our work and our dreams. We need to be where our voices drown out all hostile chatter instead of it happening the other way around. We need the time and the space and the energy to concentrate on each other.
There aren’t many places in the atheist and humanist movement where I see that happen on this scale. It happened at the first Women in Secularism conference, where what happened on stage was only the smallest part. Nearly five years later, we’re in a different movement, one where women are approaching 50% of conference speakers, anti-harassment policies are standard, and even Richard Dawkins faces significant consequences for targeting feminists.
The people attending Women in Secularism weren’t the only people to work on this by any means, but many of us who were central to pushing those changes were there. That space and that energy made a difference.
I’ve seen this happen at other conferences as well. Ron Lindsay’s opening speech at the second Women in Secularism meant much of that energy there turned on him, but the third was reaching to regain some of that galvanism. Activist training conferences, like SSACon, CFI’s leadership training conference, and Secular Women Work, also make magic happen. They are meetings of determined minds with all the distractions gone, leaving the passion and the joy.
Moving Social Justice in 2014 had this feel as well, for all it was a very small conference. That’s no small part of why I wasn’t going to miss Secular Social Justice.
Then Secular Social Justice was nearly double the size of Moving Social Justice. Both breakout sessions I was at were standing room only. About 20% of the attendees registered at the door, drawn by the enthusiasm of the rest of us who were going or by their own enthusiasm for the topic. Organizers had to order more lunch at the last minute.
This was a glorious problem to have. More enthusiasm than space means that the determination in those rooms cannot be confined there. And it won’t be.
I don’t know all of what’s coming for the atheist and humanist movements as a result of this conference. I know a few things that have me excited that I’m not telling you yet. (In due time. Don’t worry.) I do know we won’t be the same movement in five years, and this conference will have played a significant role in that.
I also know there’s going to be another of these conferences, though when and where haven’t been settled yet. You should attend.