I’m a fairly opinionated person if you hadn’t gathered that by now. Another opinion I hold is that it isn’t enough to just be outspoken on issues – you also have to put your time and/or money where your mouth is.
Shortly after starting this blog, I began writing extensively on atheist issues – primarily as a way to highlight that non-believers are good people too and an important part of communities everywhere. That we don’t eat babies. We care about the world we live in and the human beings we share the planet with. We are growing in numbers and we vote.
It was for these reasons my wife Ellen and I attended the Reason Rally on the Mall in Washington yesterday. It was important to be there – lending our bodies for the inevitable head count that follows such rallies.
While the Reason Rally had been planned months in advance, an impromptu rally for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old boy murdered in Sanford, Florida last month, was held blocks away from the Mall at Freedom Plaza yesterday afternoon.
As with my commitment to atheist issues, I’ve been outspoken on Facebook on the lack of justice in the Martin murder. The same reasons for attending the Reason Rally meant we had to show our support for Trayvon and for justice (or the lack thereof). To me, it’s not enough to just post pictures or news stories on Facebook that highlight absurdities or injustices, you have to get off your ass sometimes and put yourself out there.
Both rallies have been covered in the news, and tweeted up and down, so I thought I’d focus on my impressions of both and our experiences yesterday.
The Reason Rally was held in a primo location on the Mall – directly off the Smithsonian Metro stop with the Washington Monument as the backdrop.
For the last week, the weather forecasts had called for rain over the weekend and for once, the meteorological psychics were dead on. We had a typical Washington Spring day, decent temperatures, and precipitation that varied from moisture in the air to pouring rain, which was fortunately intermittent.
I was worried that the weather would hurt attendance, but this is Washington – too much going on on a Spring Saturday to keep people away – not just the Rally attendees but tourists wanting to sight see the museums, monuments, and cherry blossoms.
Ellen and I arrived fashionably late, but in time to see Adam Savage (Mythbusters) give a great speech. Adam was followed by Greta Christina, a fellow blogger (although much more popular than moi, evidenced by the fact I was not asked to be a guest speaker…). Greta gave a passionate speech on the 99 reasons why atheists are angry. When she said she is still angry about what happened to Galileo, the crowd erupted in cheers.
We made our way to the sponsors tent, just in time for the rain to start pouring. Picked up lots of fun stuff for us and for our adult children who couldn’t attend due to work and distance. When we emerged from the tent, the rain abated so we went in search of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church crazies that promised to protest the Rally. We never saw them, but I did see a WBC-inspired “God Hates Bags” sign (and why wouldn’t he!).
There were plenty of other religious counter-protests taking place, from street corners to the side of the stage. We even had a single protestor in a large (but empty) holding pen begging people to repent before Cthulu gets angry. Later in the day, it appeared his message was getting traction as two people joined him in the pen with the zeal of the recently converted taking up the message!
Cthulu-supporter wasn’t alone in letting the hoards of godless-atheists know they needed to change their ways. Between the stage and the banks of port-o-johns, the Jesus fans also let the heathens know they would end up in a fiery place if they did not repent.
The night before, we met friends down in DC for a Happy Hour at Rosa Mexicano. When we left, it was too late to see the Cherry Blossoms, so we took advantage of the locale to walk down to the Tidal Basin and see the blossoms before they completely turn. This weekend may be the last decent opportunity to see them.
At this point we needed sustenance – so we headed toward Freedom Plaza for our next rally and a bite to eat.
We ended up at the Elephant and Castle for drinks and nachos. No, Ellen wasn’t drinking both the Guinness and the Bicardi and Diet – the Guinness was mine!
When we finished, we headed over to the much more somber rally for Trayvon Martin.
Unlike the Reason Rally, the Trayvon rally was nearly a 180 degree turnaround.
The Muslim Brotherhood were there, smartly dressed and handing out newspapers. Reverends and preachers were speaking about God’s justice, leading chants of “No Justice, No Peace.”
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little conspicuous in the crowd. Two white atheists among an overwhelmingly religious and African-American crowd protesting the unwarranted killing of a young black man in Florida.
The religious aspects of the rally didn’t come as a surprise. Throughout Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement, black churches and ministers spearheaded the drive for equal rights and equal justice, using Freedom of Religion as cover for freedom of speech that was not provided for African Americans. When social injustice continues, it is easily understandable why people fall back on tried and successful methods of challenging authority to do the right thing.
What troubled me the most was the lack of white people in the crowd. Why did only a handful of whites show up to demand justice on behalf of Trayvon and his family? I can speculate on the answers, but I left the rally saddened, feeling that Trayvon’s death is yet another episode in the story of racial division in this country – added to the OJ and Rodney King stories.
After leaving the Trayvon Rally, we made our way back to the Reason Rally before hopping on the metro and heading home. We had pooped out early, home long before the Rally officially ended. Eight hours of atheism, in my humble opinion, is too much for even the most hard-core atheist.
I should also point out that there were many signs and scenes that while amusing, were in my opinion not necessary. One woman had a sign that said:
“So many Christians, so few Lions”
Now I get it, historical context and all, but this rally shouldn’t be about protesting the religious beliefs of others, but several people in attendance made that point. While I don’t agree, I do understand the motivation — politicians throughout this country, at the national and state levels, are using religion to drive policy and legislation that effects all Americans and not just those attending church. People tell me all the time that atheists are not under attack – no one is telling them they do not have the right to their opinions and lack of faith – but when religion is the primary motivator for laws fashioned in this country, it is impossible for many to not feel attacked, and the counter message is to go after the root cause.
When religious politicians stop feeling emboldened to base governance and law on their religiously-derived morality with the bible as their justification, then co-existence might actually emerge…just my two cents. In the meantime, in case you missed it this year, I leave you with a Cheery Blossom, with the Jefferson Memorial in the backdrop.