Saturday, November 19, 2011


by Naima Washington
The 4th Annual Texas Freethought Convention was held from October 7-9,2011. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time on October 6th, otherwise I would have joined Occupy Houston which took place in downtown Houston's Market Square Park. Their leaflet containing a message prepared by the NY General Assembly which is Occupying Wall Street, and it reads like a petition which should be presented to the World Court. It lists corporate and government crimes against humanity; from the taking homes through illegal foreclosure processes to creating "weapons of mass destruction;" from perpetuating "inequity and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation;" to continually acting "to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions." The Texas Freethought Convention could have easily started in the Market Square Park because Occupy Houston represents the struggle for social justice that is taking place in this country and around the world.

Although they were separate events, Occupy Houston and the Texas Freethought Convention were in sync as both the rights of assembly and free speech were being exercised. During the TFC, there were over 20 presenters; five separate panel discussions; nine films made up the film festival; there was a comedy show, and a rap concert. Many organizations set up information tables; there were books and memorabilia for sale. There was also an art exhibition; a blood drive, an on-site voter registration drive; book-signings, and on-site day care was provided for children. Altogether, the information tables, vendor displays, the engaging presentations, and book sales presented a 360-degree vision of freedom of speech in action.

The 'occupiers' are no longer silent just as atheists are told that they need not be silent in the face of religious imposition. Yet, the emphasis on 'silence' can be problematic; the enemies of reason don't just speak in ways that are unreasonable—the real problems are not in their speech but in their actions. Those who are determined to turn back the clock of human progress are not relying on prayer—silent or otherwise—to do so. They are relying on those who believe as they do to take actions: whether they are dealing with science education or sex education; gun control or birth control. They have used their time, resources, energy, money, and votes to pack quite a wallop on the civil and human rights of their fellow citizens. Of course, they haven't won every battle; but they intend to!

Beyond the most well-known atheists, there happen to be many other vocal atheists. They are very good at giving their opinions on religious orthodoxy, evolution, sacred texts, biblical contradictions, etc., and if talking equaled activism, the talkers among us would certainly earn top ratings as ‘movers and shakers.’ But, too few of them are active members especially of local organizations; too few of them are involved with community projects; and even less of them are willing to invest any money in any secular organization. They are indeed long on talk, yet, MIA and have zero commitment towards the building of a secular community. They have heeded the call to speak out about their atheism; they missed the announcement calling for their need to be active. Unfortunately, the lack of secular organizations on the local level means that many non-theists have no structured consistent involvement, but even where they exist, many of the talkers avoid involvement with local secular organizations like the plague!

National secular organizations can play a greater supportive role the local level. For example, I'd love to know who attended the TFC from the states of Virginia and Maryland as well as Washington, DC. The TFC's data base has information from those who registered for the conference, and it would have been helpful to ask people to check a box if they would like to have their e-mail address shared with other convention attendees in their city or state. This could present tremendous opportunities for people to work together in their home states who may not otherwise know of one another. Many are, in fact, able to get together for 'meet-ups,' however, those involved in the planning of conferences and conventions increase the potential for like-minded people to get together when they serve as facilitators in this process. Perhaps future conference and convention planners will make it possible for participants who'd like to meet people from their city and/or state to do so.

There were over 600 people attending the TFC. I spoke with several people when I was there.

  • The American Atheists had an information booth which served as the 'office' for Dave Silverman, AA's president. Dave was promoting the March 24, 2012 Reason Rally on the Mall in Washington, DC. So far, 15 secular entities--many of which are national organizations--are sponsoring the event which is expected to attract thousands of people who stand for 'reason.'
  • I met many African Americans: Glenn from San Antonio, TX is a retired educator and a retired member of US Air Force.
  • Activist and author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars, Sikivu Hutchinson of Los Angeles, CA served as a panelist and also delivered a dynamic presentation fearlessly tackling the issues of race, class, gender, and religion.
  • For Houston residents Simone, a student at the University of Houston as well as Michele, a recent graduate, this was their first convention. Simone plans to be an atheist activist on campus, and like Eric, another African American who flew in from Spokane, Washington she belongs to the Secular Student Alliance. The work and reputation of the SSA attracted a very large number of students to the event.
  • This was Jacqueline's, a former Marine from North Carolina, first convention, who came to hear all of her favorite authors including rapper Greydon Square.
  • Speaking of authors, Donald R. Wright of Houston was also at the convention and his book, The Only Prayer I'll Ever Pray: Let My People Go was sold during the convention. He’s a Friend of WASH, and as a busy activist, he's the Vice President of the Humanists of Houston and the founder of the Radical Forum of Houston as well as the founder of the African American Non-theists Day of Solidarity. Please mark your calendars:
  • The African American Non-theists Day of Solidarity will take place on the last Sunday in February as we gather in our own cities to celebrate past and present African American
  • Also in attendance was writer for the Revolution newspaper and blogger Sunsara Taylor, a woman who also elegantly and fearlessly addressed the issues of race, class, gender and religion as both a panelist and a presenter.
  • Another very savvy woman was Ho Kui who flew in for the convention from Hong Kong! She thinks that many people in Hong Kong aren't believers but are very reluctant to say so. This was also her first convention and she explained that she didn't know that atheists held those kinds of events. Actually, these events are being held in Europe, Australia, in both East and West African nations; in Mexico, Canada, and throughout the US.

Between the conferences and seminars, however there is work that must be done:

  • Let’s commit to remaining connected electronically, by phone, and most importantly in face-to-face meetings as often as possible.
  • Let’s stay connected in order to exchange ideas, seek advice, offer and request support. Let's also strengthen our commitment to live by and provide the highest standards of ethical secular values.
  • In our own cities and towns as well as in our own homes, let’s do all we can do to enlarge the secular community through our own collective activities, by creating new organizations, cooperating with those with similar values and goals, and creating a tapestry of humanity through positive activity.
  • Let all of our words and deeds promote, create, and defend social justice and universal human rights. Let’s make lifelong commitment to occupy reason!

Naima: Washington, DC
November 2011

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