Reason Rally 2016 Afterthoughts

with Freethought Society's Tree of Knowledge at 2016 Reason Rally
with Freethought Society’s Tree of Knowledge at 2016 Reason Rally

I reflect on the 2016 Reason Rally following my experience in Washington D.C., respond to criticisms of the event, and comment on the state of the secular movement.

I attended the 2016 Reason Rally to take a break from my usual schedule; have a fun social experience; connect and reconnect with people involved with atheism, skepticism, humanism, and secularism including two friends I spent most of the weekend with; help support the event by being physically present; and hear thoughtful speakers and entertainers. I had an excellent weekend and am happy I attended the 2016 Reason Rally.

Sadly, the event’s attendance seemed to be much lower than figures of close to 20,000 attendees who had appeared at the first Reason Rally in 2012 despite projections of the 2016 Reason Rally having 30,000 attendees and being the largest ever gathering of secularists in the United States. Perhaps a few thousand included the event this year.

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I’m pictured in the crowd from the 2016 Reason Rally livestream.

Hemant Mehta, blogging for his website Friendly Atheist, offers some thoughts — many of which I agree with — on  why the attendance was so low. In addition to Hemant’s thoughts, I think that a wider array of events that atheists, skeptics, humanists, and secularists can attend (the community has grown since 2012 leading to more conferences, meetups, and other events) may have lead to the low numbers. Perhaps people allocated their money and time toward other events and opted to not attend the 2016 Reason Rally.

Indeed, people with more influence or a bigger following in the atheist community could have boosted the attendance of the 2016 Reason Rally. People like Dr. Peter Boghossian, Michael Shermer, Hemant Mehta, Sam Harris, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Seth Andrews, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Julia Galef, Michael Nugent, and Tim Minchin may have helped boost attendance. Maybe presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson would have been welcome additions? …and maybe a performance by Nightwish would have been awesome too :)

Photo with Penn Jillette. Weight loss x2.
Photo with Penn Jillette. Weight loss x2.

Thunderf00t (see here, here, and here) also comments on the 2016 Reason Rally noting that influence of social justice warriors/social justice within the atheist community is to blame for the low attendance. Like Thunderf00t, I think that the parasitic incursion of social justice and feminism has severely blighted the community. After all, I was ‘witch of the week‘ on many occasions from 2012 to 2014 as feminists and social justice warriors, as we now would call them, spent a good deal of their efforts to tarnish my name and ‘drum me out’ of the community like they did to Thunderf00t. Hell, much of the vitriol directed at me from feminists is still prominent in my Google search results years later!

I haven’t recently written much about or engaged with the online drama or blogosphere because I’ve been focused on other efforts and decided not to spend so much time reading blogs, forums, and following the drama. I have, though, remained active within the secular community by attending group meetings, hosting group meetings, attending speaker events, hosting discussion groups, speaking at a college campus, working behind the scenes on a lawsuit, and most recently attending the 2016 Reason Rally. I also share articles of interest to those in the community and stay up-to-date on non-drama news. I also don’t blog as much as I used to, but am still active in many ways.

I doubt that the 2016 Reason Rally’s code of conduct — something I think should be eliminated or reduced to ‘attendees are expected to act in accordance with local, state, and federal laws — as Thunderf00t noted had much to do with the low attendance numbers. Indeed, feminists and social justice warriors may have had influence on such a policy as this was a point of focus in their circles, but I think the real detriment, what could be a salient reason for the low attendance of the 2016 Reason Rally, is that the actions of feminists and social justice warriors are associated with people becoming less interested in secular events.

Photo with Hemant Mehta
Photo with Hemant Mehta

Thunderf00t asks whether the community is “worth saving,” presumably because feminists and social justice warriors have inflicted a good deal of harm upon the community in his eyes (I agree), but I think that the movement — even though rally attendance was low — is vibrant and important. Personally, I’m most involved with local groups as I noted and find a good sense of community. I find people who are interested in conversation. I find authentic and open-minded people who are fun to chat with. I find very little, if any, drama from online circles rearing its ugly head in local group meetings.

The bastions of drama within the community are severely on the decline are no longer being invited to speak at events. Need I name names? Surely many I could name weren’t speaking at the 2016 Reason Rally even though they were offered stage-time in 2012.

Low attendance aside, I had a great time at the event. I took numerous photographs (see my album here on my public Facebook profile), enjoyed meeting people for the first time, saw familiar faces, was entertained, and now look forward to a future Reason Rally. I think that although the attendance was low, success was had on many levels: people were energized and inspired; felt a sense of community; celebrated at a well-structured event; met like-minded people; and had a fun time.

Passersby also asked what the event was about; people told me they are atheists and that this was their first major event; and people attended the advocacy events prior to the rally. I’m sure, too, many other attendees will offer a positive report and a positive outlook for the future of the secular community no matter how blighted it was or is due to the actions of feminists and social justice warriors.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • Vicky Caramel

    I am guessing there is very little money involved in local events then, otherwise they would also be infested with Social Justice Parasites.

  • Jennifer Hancock

    Justin – I know you and know what you mean – but blaming this on social justice warriors and feminists – not cool. People who aren’t up on the drama may think you are talking about them when you are not. Heck – I know who you are referring to and it still felt like you were calling me out. Even though I know you weren’t.

    Everyone I know who went had a really good time – and that’s the only metric that matters when judging an event. Unless of course, the event lost money. If an event is considered fun – it will be considered worth while to attend. If not – it won’t be.

    • I opted not to name names or go into detail about certain controversies in this post.

      Yes, I noted that success was had on many levels. If the event resulted in a financial loss, though, that is most unfortunate.

      • Real_Ego

        Why not name names? You already count yourself as a controversial figure among the atheist movement, you already described this faction as parasitical and implicitly quite destructive to this important movement, and some of us don’t know who they are. I myself have been behind on these controversies and am trying to figure out who was uninvited, who volunteered not to attend, who are the big SJWs and with whom do they have a gripe? I will continue my search.

      • DMW

        I have absolutely no idea what you are referring to. If anyone would care to clue me in, I’d like to know. Thanks.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Justin, would love to hear your take on some of the presentations.

  • Dennis Middlebrooks

    Maybe full page ads in the N.Y. Times and Washington Post promoting the event would have helped instead of full page ads boasting about a lawsuit.

  • Dennis Middlebrooks

    I attended the Godless America Rally on the Mall in 2003. That drew a crowd of 2,000-3,000 as per the Parks Department. I did not go to this rally, but from the pictures I have seen on the internet, the attendance at this event was much higher than that, with the crowd on both sides of the Reflecting Pool and beyond. I would guess at least 10,000 came overall, with people coming and going over the course of the day.