I have posted so much about the Reason Rally in the last few weeks, but I have one last thing I want to talk about: why I care so much about this event.
Many of my friends talk about this event as a rallying of the troops, a way to build morale and group identity among secular America. Plus, it’s a big party with others like us! This is important, absolutely, and I wouldn’t want to take anything away from those who are going for this reason, but it is not why I am going. I am going to demand a voice.
I came to the atheist movement in a somewhat circuitous fashion. I’ve been a non-believer since I was eight. I found my teeth in my mother’s jewelry box and, having already been quite suspicious of the entire thing, concluded that there was no Tooth Fairy and, therefore, no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Jesus, and no God.
I didn’t become vocal about my atheism until after reading Hitchens’ “God is Not Great”, but even though I cared deeply about secularism, it was not my primary cause. I was more interested in being an activist, and I didn’t see any opportunities for activism for secular causes. Instead, I spent my time fighting for civil rights for LGBT, women, and minorities. When I lived in California and campaigned against Prop 8, the gay marriage ban, I finally met atheists and skeptics who were fighting, actively, for political change.
Secularists need to join one another, not only to create community and acceptance, but to demand it. I am incredibly lucky that, despite being from South Carolina and the Bible Belt, my family tolerates my non-belief — mostly in the hope that I’ll get over it, but still. There are so many people I know, including those who are active locally, who cannot speak publically about their lack of belief for fear of losing their families and their jobs. There are so many people I know who have been mistreated by the religious, so many children hurt and abused because the law gives special rights to religion, and many others who feel they can never make an impact politically unless they kowtow to the Christian Fundamentalist majority in our state and our country.
Change is started, yes, by coming out of the closet, and this is a national coming out day for the non-religious, but change also comes from demanding your voice be heard politically. The public attitude towards women, minorities, and gay people has been changed by individuals demanding a voice AND by the movements demanding legislative change and support.
I could not be more excited to see Tim Minchin and Eddie Izzard, two of my favorite performers, but I am also excited to see Sean Faircloth and Herb Silverman, who have made significant legislative impacts, and to see two brave men who serve in Congress and are willing to risk the political stigma of associating with atheists. I am excited that we are not just speaking to ourselves anymore, we are speaking to the world, to the country, to the government that should be serving us.
We are going to Washington not just for ourselves, but because we absolutely have to. We have a voice and we refuse to be ignored any longer.