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Reason Rally 2012

Siobhan Riordan

A photo essay.

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by Siobhan Riordan

"Mostly I think they came for each other

Leaders within the secular community speak often about the shape of the secular movement today and its pressing need for organization. One main focus is on the widespread lack of affiliation the movement suffers from, and concerns that without organization the group will be left politically voiceless. In order to both inspire involvement and to make the movement's voice heard, many national secular organizations came together to create what has been called "the secular Woodstock." On March 24th on the National Mall in Washington D.C., the Reason Rally expected to bring out "the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history." In line with the Woodstock references, the day was filled with speakers, musicians and performers from within the movement.

"What is the purpose of the rally? That pie slice." In a talk at Rutgers University Dave Silverman, the President of American Atheists, referred to a pie chart of the estimated 40 to 50 million atheists in America (which includes agnostics and secular humanists, in his definition), of which only a tiny sliver of the pie–one tenth of one percent–are organized and involved in the movement. An organized, unified atheist segment of the country, he argued, could greatly affect secular public policy interests in a way that this group simply cannot as individual, divided non-believers.

On the day of the rally members of the movement showed up 20,000 strong—in the rain. Young and old, friends and families, all came to be inspired by humanist and atheist leaders like Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist blog, writer and blogger Greta Christina, author Taslima Nasrin, Professor Richard Dawkins as well as Silverman himself. They also just came to have a really good time. The crowd was entertained by the likes of the hilarious Tim Minchin, video appearances by Penn Jillette and Bill Maher, and headlining rock band Bad Religion.

But mostly I think they came for each other. Many, though not all, secular people realize that there is strength in numbers, and that until we start to function together–in the face of highly organized and active religious groups–we can have very little say. In order to realize a world we all envision, we must move past our independent individual natures and build together. Of all the things the members of the secular movement heard at the Reason Rally that weekend, the most important was the movement's own voice.

The thoughtless claim that secularists "believe in nothing," or that from atheism only moral chaos can follow are tired and unfounded. One purpose of events like these is to set a kind of public precedent making certain what secularists stand for. To be acknowledged for what we are: a rich and substantive community with strong interests and values. What was illustrated so beautifully by Adam Savage's "I believe" list at the rally was that those of us who "don't believe" certainly don't believe in nothing. Our lack of faith is not our identity—what is more important is the process by which we arrived at that conclusion, and that is merely where our identity begins.

Photo credit: Siobhan Riordan