Can an Atheist Unity Convention Happen?

Activist Margaret Downey has (once again) proposed the idea of a Unity Convention — one massive convention for atheists that would bring together all the various national organizations.

She has brought this idea up a few times now, each time at an annual meeting of the atheist group leaders. That meeting (the 6th of its kind) is taking place this weekend in Washington, D.C. I’ll be there, representing the Secular Student Alliance.

I think bloggers and Internet dwellers everywhere overwhelmingly support the idea of a Unity Convention.

But here’s what has to happen for this to work.

All organizations involved would have to convince their members that *this* is the convention they should be going to.

Since some members only have enough money to fly out and register for one convention a year, these groups would likely have to give up hosting their own conference that year.

Here’s what ends up happening:

A couple organizations (the SSA included) offer to do just that. We’ll give up our yearly conference in favor of a Unity Convention.

Not enough groups are willing to do this, though. They say it’s tradition to host their yearly convention, or it’s a moneymaker for them so they can’t give it up, and then the idea just dies.

This is at least the third time Margaret is making a plea for these organizations to work together for an amazing future convention. I don’t know if this year will be any different.

But I’ll let you know what happens after this Saturday’s meeting.

In the meantime, if you belong to any national organization, you should let the president(s) know you fully support this idea. Do it this week, before it’s too late.

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  • Trace

    Oh, and it should take place in New York and NY only (NJ would be acceptable too, I guess).

  • http://ornerypest.diaryland.com/ OrneryPest

    Great idea! Although, as many have pointed out, the only thing that unites atheists is our varying levels of unwillingness to swallow the strange notion that the whole universe is being secretly masterminded by an invisible sky-zombie named God who suffers from a chronic three-level identity crisis called a Holy Trinity. Other than that, our beliefs span the gamut of human thought.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    unwillingness to swallow the strange notion that the whole universe is being secretly masterminded by an invisible sky-zombie named God who suffers from a chronic three-level identity crisis called a Holy Trinity.

    That is true. But it is also true that many atheists find it hard to swallow that the universe is being secretly masterminded by any sort of supernatural entity regardless of its psychological state or how it presents itself to the world.

    A unity conference could concentrate on the methodologies of how human decision making should take place… Not on what the decisions should actually be. That could be something that everybody could get behind (even if we differ on what the decisions should be). Kind of a “meta” conference.

  • Kahomono

    I would attend.

    Who else?

  • Evan

    Every time I hear this proposal I think of an atheist version of Comic Con. Which would be all kinds of awesome. I don’t, at the moment, belong to any particular group – I’m such an individualist – but I fully support this idea and would make every effort to attend.

  • Richard H

    I’m in. PZ was talking about DC, and it seems like a good-enough idea.

    Plus, it seems like it would be great to be able to go to a bunch of groups’ national meetings.

  • Trace

    DC? I guess… Now for the important stuff… Are the totebags that come with registration cool?

  • http://www.freethoughtfilmfest.org Andrea Steele

    They say it’s tradition to host their yearly convention, or it’s a moneymaker for them so they can’t give it up, and then the idea just dies.

    It is fallacy to use an argument of tradition…especially among rationalists! One has to deduct that the only reasoning left for the repeated death of the proposal for a Unity Convention is the latter.

    Surplus should not usurp missions. I understand orgs need funds to continue their missions, but the date of this convention allows plenty of time for orgs to have some foresight, and creatively find ways to raise new funding for that that year. Hopefully leaders will see the overall benefit of a Unity Convention and exert the little bit of extra effort to show some secular solidarity.

  • Trace

    My last comment, I promise. The spirit of “E pluribus unum” needs to be invoked at the Unity convention.

  • http://mnatheists.org Bjorn Watland

    I think it would be great if the presentations could be webcast, and/or have interactive panel discussions as part of the conference for people who are not able to go to the conference itself.

    I do think a more central location, especially for something as large as this is supposed to be, should be chosen, like Chicago, so it is cheaper for people to get there.

  • mkb

    Chicago or Dallas would be better than DC unless there is a massive lobby day associated with the convention.

  • Jeff B.

    My Vote would be somewhere central…Chicago in the summer would be nice. I know a guy who knows a guy in Chi Town

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    Just to be clear, Washington, D.C. is simply where the meeting is happening this weekend.

    As for a potential conference location? That has yet to be decided.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Count me in as well. It’s a superior idea!

  • Price

    Washington D.C. makes more since than New York. It is our Nation’s capitol, where the true decision makers make thier office. It only makes since to have it in Washington D.C. \m/

  • http://mnatheists.org Bjorn Watland

    Like a fleck of calamari from his beard, dropped Washington DC as the location, which in turn, got everyone on the comments thread pumped, because they live in DC, or near it. Then after so many people in the DC area became aware of each other, someone thought it would be a great idea to form a Drinking Skeptically group in NoVA, despite there already being over a dozen different groups in the area, with plenty of them offering drinking nights!

    I’d say that is one of the problem of organizing atheists, people don’t look for the groups as hard as they could, for example, on Meetup.com, or Facebook. There isn’t a great clearing house of all atheist groups, because the national groups, like American Atheists and AAI have affiliations, but not all small groups want affiliations, so remain unlisted.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    I am pretty good friends with Margaret. I posted my thoughts on DangerousTalk.net.
    -Staks

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com Eamon Knight

    Slight complication: many groups use their convention to also hold their AGM. Not that this couldn’t be worked in somehow, ie. set aside a block of time and block of conference rooms within the larger event.

    Other question: Where do we Canadians fit in? Sounds so far like a USA event. Guess we should just throw our own party….

  • Colin

    I’d make an effort to attend. I understand the groups’ financial concerns, but there could be all kinds of benefits. Groups could have their own cocktail hours or lectures, and attendees would be exposed to groups they didn’t know much about, leading to a jump in membership.

    Plus, think about the coverage on Fox News! That itself would make such a convention worthwhile. Remember how the number of attendees at the Teabagger protest kept getting inflated? Just think how that would be reversed:

    Camera pans across 100,000 atheists on the national mall. Sneering reporter: “In Washington, the atheist “Unity” convention drew 3 attendees.”

  • Richard P

    I think it would work, as long as you don’t expect us to all show up at the same time.

  • Richard P

    “Other question: Where do we Canadians fit in? Sounds so far like a USA event. Guess we should just throw our own party….”

    That sounds great. We could have it here at my place. There is 55 acres of prime land to park on, beautiful mountain scenery. I am three minutes away from the golf course and if I get notice I will raise a pig especially for the occasion. We can have a sacrificial slaughter for the opening ceremony….(With the pig, lambs are to cute to sacrifice & babies to are to come by unnoticed.)
    Doesn’t that sound great… Canadians Have so much fun….

  • Argentum

    I agree that it should be held in D.C. If you want to challenge the notion that the USA is a “Christian nation,” that’s the best location to make your stand. Fill as much of the mall as you can, and speak from the steps of the Capitol (or as close as you can get to it). Holding it anywhere else could be construed by some as a concession to the opposition. There’s also something to be said for doing it in 2012, right before the next presidential election.

    And as far as Fox News is concerned, since they used footage of large crowds to falsely inflate the size of the religious right’s “take back the Capitol” rally a few weeks ago, they can just use the real footage from that rally to downplay the attendance at the atheist gathering… provided they use a little digital magic on the protest signs. 😉

  • JD

    I don’t have anything against it, but I’m lost as to why there are atheist conventions, I need some clues. What do people look for in a convention that’s about gathering people that “don’t believe”? For those that have gone to them, what do you get out of them that’s worth a trip as opposed to just taking a vacation instead?

    Mind you, I don’t get conventions for religions as well.

  • Goliath

    JD, by going to conventions like this, or even on the local level, you can make connections you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to make. This, on a whole, is a completely positive thing.

  • http://www.youngwomanskeptic.blogspot.com Jaki

    This needs to happen!!

  • Jeff Dale

    They say it’s tradition to host their yearly convention, or it’s a moneymaker for them so they can’t give it up

    Couldn’t the various organizations combine efforts to put on one big unity convention that serves as “the” convention for each of them? A little math would help here, but I don’t have any of the orgs’ numbers. I’m guessing that the membership of any given org would turn out in roughly equal numbers to the unity con as would’ve turned out to their own org’s (separate) national convention. That would bring up the problem of overlap (people who are members of more than one of the orgs), but how many of those people are there, and how many of them would’ve gone to more than one national con anyway? And perhaps some people who are unlikely to attend any one org’s national con could be lured to a unity con, so we could actually see a net gain in total attendance. Costs and profits could be allocated proportionally to the participating orgs, and the total cost of one unity con is probably less than the combined costs of various individual orgs’ national cons, so it might even be more profitable on the whole. And of course, any org that needed a membership meeting could get its own side room for part of the time, or there could just be a single side room that all of the orgs take turns using for that purpose. Sounds like it could be a winner all around.

  • http://thegfcfcookbook.blogspot.com Rebecca

    For those groups who absolutely must have their own annual convention, why not consider “co-located” conferences? Some technology conferences do this, where they choose to have two big conferences in the same weekend in the same area, and you can buy admission to both with one pass.

    Just a thought. It could be The Atheist Extravaganza Weekend.

  • muggle

    Creepy. Do we all march in lock step to the “brights” too? Chant the Secular Humanists mantra and agree to their fucking retarded commandments to live by or we aren’t real atheists/freethinkers?

    Why do we have to copy religions? Religion’s creepy.

    I’ve been dreaming of actually getting to FFRF’s traditional convention for years. Maybe, with luck, I’ll get to one before I die though, given my finances, it’s dubious.

    But if they’ve got to hold it along with the Secular Humanists and American Atheists, count me out!

    Sorry, Hemant, but I’ll be doing the opposite and writing them to please not do this unless they can do both.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Creepy. Do we all march in lock step to the “brights” too? Chant the Secular Humanists mantra and agree to their fucking retarded commandments to live by or we aren’t real atheists/freethinkers?

    Why do we have to copy religions? Religion’s creepy.

    Who said we have to march in lock step? Who said these groups have to have anything in common?

    All Margaret is saying (and I agree with her) is that it would be nice for once to have a gathering supported by all the national atheist organizations that brought together atheists from across the country.

    That’s it.

    Some of you think you already know what the details would look like or where it would be held or who would be speaking, etc.

    No one knows any of these things. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

    Margaret has only asked for groups to support this idea,

  • muggle

    Hemant, it would force me to support two groups I cannot. I also cannot support anything as stuckup as the notions of “brights”. I’m sorry but I cannot support this.

  • http://www.ldreynolds.com LD Reynolds

    I support the idea, even though it would be financially impossible for me to attend. (Unless it were held in Hawaii.) I would be there “in spirit”. (If you’ll pardon the expression.) I believe we need to organize nationally, if we are to survive as individuals living in a country where religion runs rampant. We’ll all, as individuals, need the support of a national organization at one time or another, just like the folks of the gay/lesbian movement did. (and still do on occasion.) Just like all the other minorities that came before us.
    There is so much fear and hatred thrown our way- in the work place especially. We will need to fight for our rights and fight for recognition as equals. We will need to do this before we can even run for office in this country, to hold on to a job, to live out in the open with out fear of becoming a target.

    We need to say to our fellow citizens in as nice a way as possible that we’re not the devil incarnate. We are human beings just like them. We will need this organization to make this happen. Who knows, maybe we’ll win a few over to our side in the process. So I say “yes” to a unified national convention.

    Sorry to get all preachy on you guys…

  • http://greycoloredglasses.blogspot.com Charlie Kilian

    Why not have the groups agree to go ahead and hold their own annual convention, but just hold it at the same place and at the same time? They could coordinate on space, share registrations, etc. Members would register, but upon registration they would declare what organization they represent, and the money would go to that organization.

    I’m sure there are flaws with this idea — I can already think of a few — but might moving in this direction ease the worries and objections of the groups who don’t want to give up their annual convention?

  • http://www.cficanada.ca Jamie Williams

    really hope that a great deal of the usual Americentrism can be avoided in such an endeavour. I’d love to see groups involved from across North America (Canada isn’t another state, you know!). Small, underfunded groups in Central and South America would also benefit hugely from inclusion in a conference of this sort if they could get help from us rich folks. http://www.skepticnorth.com/2009/10/some-people-have-it-worse-than-me.html

  • http://www.viktorix.com Viktor Nagornyy

    As mentioned in the article, conventions are a big moneymaker for non-profit organizations.

    Simply put, some atheist organizations would seize to exist without this income. People don’t join organizations and membership fee income is not enough for anything.

    I like the idea of unity convention, but eliminating other conventions is impractical for organizations.

    They got bills to pay and work to do.

    The unity convention should happen, but shouldn’t replace all others. I enjoy having few conventions during the year, no time or money for them all but at least you have a choice.

  • http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/ Matt Wardman

    >Not enough groups are willing to do this, though. They say it’s tradition to host their yearly convention, or it’s a moneymaker for them so they can’t give it up, and then the idea just dies.

    Not my constituency, but the answer to that is for some profits to be fed back to groups cancelling their own shindigs.

  • http://www.atheistconvention.org.au/ Kat

    It’s happening in Australia :) PZ and Richard Dawkins and a host of Aussie Athiests are going to be there.

    http://www.atheistconvention.org.au/

    Richard Dawkins talks about how powerful athiests could be if we could get our act together like other lobbys.

  • sgaRFSHG

    This is just Margaret’s latest attempt to be at the top. She didn’t last at AAI so she thinks this will top that. Count her out and she’ll fight it tooth and nail.