Monday, December 5, 2011

Freethought in Texas

By Naima Washington

October 6-9, 2011 marked the 4th
Annual Texas Freethought Convention.
This year’s event attracted more than
600 participants and was co-hosted by
the Atheist Alliance of America. The
theme was “From Grassroots to Global
Impact,” and according to Nike Lee,
the Alliance’s president, “We want this
[convention] to be a springboard for
local activism all over the United
States. This is a time for non-believers
to step forward, make their presence
known in their communities, and to
challenge the impression that all
Americans are religious zealots… we
need YOU to enlist in this effort and
become politically and socially active
in your own community.”

Paul Mitchell, president of the
Texas Freethought Convention echoed
these sentiments, “We want to keep
you engaged and have you come away
enriched and empowered with the
tools and ideas you need to take back
to your communities and make an
impact.” The convention program lists
22 sponsor s and friends who
assured its success; there was a film
festival; Camp Quest was on hand to
engage children and the Richard
Dawkins Foundation sponsored day
care services. There was a blood drive
held during the convention and the
League of Women Voters provided onsite
voter registration.

It was great to hear Christopher
Hitchens speak during Saturday’s
banquet as well as participate in a lively
Q&A session. He was also named by
the Atheist Alliance of America as this
year’s recipient of the Richard Dawkins
Award which was presented to Mr.
Hitchens by Richard Dawkins. There
were at least twenty other presenters at
the convention and needless to say, I
was unable to hear all of them. I did see
a few WASH members including
author, Donald Wright who lives in
Houston and is the Vice President of the
Humani s t s of Hous ton. Sikivu
Hutchinson, founder of Black Skeptics
of Los Angeles gave a dynamic
presentation where she explored the
relationships between race, class,
gender, and religion. Her latest book,
Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender
Politics, and the Values Wars, explores
these relationships even further. Many
other speakers gave presentations
including Eugenie C. Scott, Michael
Shermer, P.Z. Meyers as well as former
Marine and rapper, Greydon Square
whose music deals with atheism, social
and political criticism.

I met and was able to spend time
with some incredible people including
African American atheists many of
whom live in Texas and said this was
their first convention. There were many students present and
it’s probably safe to say that the Secular
Students Alliance can take credit for
that due to so much of their work on
campuses. The convention was
organized so that the SSA participation
was almost a convention within a
convention since the Alliance had many
specific programs and activities for
their members. Houston residents
probably outnumbered all other
attendees; however I did meet an
African American man who had
recently joined SSA. He was from
Spokane, Washington; another woman I
met flew in from Hong Kong for the
convention. One very dynamic speaker
was blogger, Sunsara Taylor, a writer
for Revolution newspaper as well as the
host of radio station WBAI’s program
entitled “Equal Time for Freethought.”
A radical, well-informed, and elegant
speaker, she was also very engaging as
she fielded questions and comments
after her presentation.

The accommodations and staff at
the Hyatt Regency were excellent, and
the organizers of the convention earned
a five-star rating. I am interested,
however, in what organizations do with
all of the information they collect when
registering people at conferences and
conventions. I see the potential to use
this information as a tool for helping
non-theists organize at the local level.
It would be easy enough to find out if
attendees would like to have their email
addresses shared with other
attendees in their cities and/or home
states. This would give people an
opportunity to meet after a conference
or convention since it is often
impossible to know how many atheists,
especially those who are unaffiliated,
live in any given area. I have no idea
who else from our area may have
attended the convention, and if we are
really intent on organizing people at the
local level, being able to get in touch
with them after the convention would
be helpful.

Even so, the convention presented
me with many opportunities to meet
many people, give out back issues of
the WASHline and to have a wonderful

Naima Washington is the secretary of
WASH and a member of the Board of