Saturday, July 28, 2012

A match made in AHA (heaven).

Recently, the estimable Greta Christina blogged about who she admires most within the atheist movement: the AHA officers!
"The people in the atheist movement that I look up to the most are the organizers of the local groups, and the student groups...  I am in awe of people who are doing on-the-ground organizing. They are doing an often stressful, often tedious, often thankless job, usually with no compensation, and with very little glory (if any)"
As usual, she's right.
Running an atheist group on a college campus takes a lot of hard work.  Running a good group takes a veritable shitload of hard work, all coming from students who usually don't have a whole lot of spare time on their hands.  Dedication to organizing necessarily comes at the cost of other commitments (e.g. sleeping).  The burden can become too much to handle, and leaders sometimes get burnt out.  All organizers ask themselves, at one time or another, why am I doing this?  Is this the most valuable way to be spending my precious time in college?  Is it worth it?
Here's my answer: Unequivocally, Fuck Yes.

From the AHA constitution, our primary goal is to "Establish a supportive social network for the secular student community at UW-Madison."  Providing a safe place for non-believers of all stripes, especially those who can not yet "come out" to their own family, is clearly one of the most important things we can do.  But AHA is more than just a sanctuary, it's a community.  I think back on my six years of activism, and I realize that the majority of the best friends I've made in these years have come from the pool of awesome people that I've met via atheist groups.  

Beyond purely platonic friendships, it's probably no surprise that a lot of "hookups", however defined, happen within atheist groups.  Yes, I am saying that AHA is a good place to find people to date.  I've witnessed countless relationships develop within my groups - admittedly, some more successful than others.  To name one shining example, I met my own wonderful girlfriend of four years in the Illini Secular Student Alliance, a group we both served as presidents of.  My own is but one love story that surely must be happening all the time across the 350+ affiliates of the Secular Student Alliance.  A few years ago I began to declare, mostly jokingly, that should any couple ever get married as a result of meeting each other in AHA - I would automatically get invited to the wedding.  

That brings us to my friends Sam and Eloise.  They first met at one of AHA's weekly meetings sometime in early 2009.  They made fast friends, perhaps thanks to AHA's traditional post-meeting gatherings at the Rathskeller.  I believe they officially started dating in the spring of 2010, soon after going on an AHA road trip together to a Center for Inquiry conference in Chicago. Fast forward about a year later, and Sam and Eloise were engaged.  

Sam & Eloise:  The first of many AHA weddings?

When I got to see Sam and Eloise get married in New Jersey this summer, it made me happy beyond words. Knowing that my involvement in AHA played some small part in bringing these two people together - is without a doubt one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.
Today, they are leaving Madison to begin a new life together on the east coast.
With love, we bid them farewell.  They will be missed.

It's worth it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

After The SSA Conference

I went to Columbus, OH for the Secular Student Alliance Conference this weekend.  I attended awesome, informative, and inspiring talks about all different subjects like mental health, how to use social media effectively to promote AHA, unsafe assumptions, and especially where this movement is going.

I came home to my boyfriend's apartment feeling excited and hopeful for the future.   As soon as I got there, I started talking about the conference.  And when I started talking about it, his roommate started questioning everything about it.  "What do you do at the conferences?  Why do you even need them?  If you all get together and meet, it's just like a religion."  My excitement was definitely slightly dashed.

It was an immediate reminder that I was no longer in the safety of the atheist community surrounded by my peers, but thrust back into reality where people who aren't atheist, humanist, agnostic, etc. don't understand what we're trying to do.  It's not yet totally accepted to be an open atheist.   Families shun children, students get death threats.  Being an out of the closet atheist can be hurtful and damaging to relationships, jobs, social connections.  That's what this movement is about.  We're trying to show we're not satan worshiping baby eaters.  We have morals.  We're good people.  We give to charities, we help with natural disasters, we fight as soldiers.

We've changed the world's view of us, but not enough.  We've formed a community  to finish this change.  We've joined together so that we're no longer seen as atheists, but as Sydnie or Joe or Ben or Sarah.

We've also joined together and made this strong community for a bigger and better reason: to be a safety net for new non-theists.  Transitioning out of religion is tough.  I've told my story in a different blog post.  And there are tons of other people with similar stories.  Leaving a religion is leaving an entire life behind.  It was how I was raised and I had to turn my back on that.  And I'm so happy I found this community to fall back on.  And now I want to be that for more people.

We're not a community because we want to be like a religion.  We're a community so we can help each other and be a support system for each other.  There's something important to us that binds us together and we bond over that.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Freethought Festival Update

Were you at the Freethought Festival?

If not, I've got great news: you can now watch all of the talks online, for free!
Just head on over to the AHA YouTube Channel.  (And be sure to Subscribe and "Like" things!)
What are you waiting for, go and watch all of these amazing talks!

But wait, before you go, mark your calendar: March 8-10th 2013.
If you think this was impressive... wait until you see Freethought Fest 2.

PZ Myers: Scientists! If you're not an atheist, you aren't doing science right!

Hemant Mehta: How Can We Help Young Atheists?

Matt Dillahunty: The Superiority of Secular Morality

Richard Carrier: The Historicity of Jesus

Session 3: Church and State

Andrew Seidel: Debunking the "Christian Nation" Myth

Annie Laurie Gaylor: God Fixation Won't Fix This Nation

Ellery Schempp: Belief is Motivating; Separation of Church and State is Vital

Sean Faircloth: 
Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All - And What We Can Do About It

Session 4: Building a Secular Movement

Phil Ferguson: Breaking the Cycle of Religion

Dale McGowan: Parenting Beyond Belief
Lyz Liddell: The Unstoppable Growth of Secular Student Organizations
James Croft: Ingersoll's Voice, Adler's Vision - Humanism Beyond the Reason Rally
Alix Jules: Diversity in the Atheist Community
DJ Grothe: Skepticism, Atheism and Humanism - A Natural Freethought Relationship
(Credit for all these pictures goes to our wonderful photographer, Ingrid Laas)

For posterity, a huge "Thank You!" goes out to all of the Freethought Festival Sponsors: The Associated Students of Madison, Secular Student Alliance, Polaris Financial Planning, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Madison Area Coalition of Reason.  Thanks to all of the MadCOR volunteers who contributed (Especially Leslie, Bob, Alfonso, Richard, and Ingrid).  And most of all, you can thank all of the AHA officers who gave up countless hours of their lives to make the Freethought Festival happen:

Row 1: Quinn, Brian, Sydnie, honorary officer Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Row 2: Mike and Chris.
Not Pictured: Brandon, Calli, and Laura, who were surely off taking care of something important.