SSA Week: It’s Awesome!

As most of you hopefully know, it’s SSA Week!

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Why is SSA Week so important? Ed Brayton has the best lowdown, in my opinion:

First, because of their incredible success and growth. The public schools have long been home to thousands and thousands of Christian student groups, from Bible clubs to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, providing friendship and community to their members. Secular students need that kind of community even more given the generally hostile attitude toward atheists, agnostics and humanists. It can feel pretty lonely being non-Christian in this society, especially as a teenager.

SSA is building the next generation of leaders for this movement. I speak to SSA clubs regularly and I am always encouraged to see so many bright and engaged young people. I see people like Jessica, Harrison Hopkins, Miri Mogilevsky, Kate Donovan, Ellen Lundgren, Monica Harmsen, Hassan Kalifeh, Gordon Maples and many others as being groomed for future leadership positions and I am greatly encouraged. I hope you are too.

I’m not even offended that Ed didn’t mention me by name. Harrumph, etc.

Seriously, though, the SSA is a phenomenal organization, and the great people who work there and at CFI on Campus, especially Lyz Liddell, Sarah Moglia, and Debbie Goddard, have been huge influences on me over the past four years and have enabled me to learn how to be a good activist and organizer. Without them, my time as President of DAFT would have been much less fun.

Speaking of which, my time as El Presidente is rapidly coming to an end. Given what the job market is like, I have no idea what my future in the secular movement looks like; I’d love to get a job in it and work there, but whether that happens or not is up in the air. Whatever happens, I’m going to keep supporting the SSA, and CFI, because I owe them massively for making my life more fun and more meaningful, and there are far too many students and activists across the country to name who can say the same.

In which we play with puppies...

Last year, Chana and I played with puppies for SSA Week. It was the best.

I’m not sure if I can blogathon for SSA Week like I did last year, because blogging time is a thing I have so very little of any more, but definitely make sure to check out all the other things that other writers are doing for the week. And, if you can, please throw a few bucks their way. They’ll put it to good use!

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Real World Activism At Its Finest

A few weeks ago, I attended the inaugural iteration of the SkepTech conference, put on by a bunch of really awesome people up in Minneapolis. While I mostly went because I wanted to see old friends from far-flung places, and meet new ones (including that lovable scamp Jason Thibeault), I was also on a panel with JT Eberhard, Brianne Bilyeu, Miri Mogilevsky, and Olivia James on activism. You can see it below:

There’s a lot more to be said about activism as an enterprise than we managed to get to. Me, I’m definitely the most radically-minded of the people on that panel; as readers of mine will know, I don’t exactly hold much “typical” activism, like American Atheists billboards, in very high regard. But, rather than wax social justicey on what I think activism should be, I want to share this campaign from the Crunk Feminist Collective [emphasis mine]:

There are some places where people are warned never to go, known for violence, drug traffic, and poverty.  For those who have not grown up in these environments we are taught to fear and/or condemn people who live there.  This is not true of everyone.  There are some s/heroes who “see the faces at the bottom of the well,” and offer a rope AND a bucket of food and water.  Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) is the rescue organization where prevention is key and care is unconditional.  This week the CFC will spotlight AHRC because they need our support to keep their doors open.

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Atlanta Harm Reduction offers the only consistent syringe exchange program in the southeast region.  According to Mona Phillips, a founding member, their early advocacy work began with people living with HIV/AIDS.  During direct action campaigns to raise awareness about Atlantans needing access to affordable pharmaceutical drugs in 1996 they started seeing syringes on the ground.  Recognizing this marker to mean resurgence in heroin use they literally followed the syringes and the word on the street to English Avenue and set up shop there.

AHR has been in English Avenue since 1998 providing: FREE HIV testing, counseling, and connection with additional resources; FREE meals and hot showers a few days a week; FREE access computers and internet; FREE clothes closet access; FREE counseling for people with addictions; FREE Hepatitis A and B vaccines; FREE drug paraphernalia to stop the spread of AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C; FREE condoms and counseling for sex workers everyday. The syringe exchange program, assumed to target people who use recreational drugs only, is also important for people with diabetes to inject insulin as well as transgender people for hormone injections.

Where others choose to avoid the basic needs of so many people in this area because they don’t approve of their choices…Atlanta Harm Reduction rushed in.

In my mind, AHRC is an example of the absolute best kind of activism. People are volunteering their time to help those for whom there is no other help, working to empower the people with the least amount of power in our society. It’s not some blue-chip non-profit empire with flashy commercials and feel-good messages, but an actual sustained campaign to do good by providing direct assistance to those who need it most.

This is the kind of thing there needs to be more of. If you can, please shoot them a few dollars by going to their website, or if you live in or around Atlanta, volunteer with their program. It’s the things like this that make the biggest difference.

A Reintroduction

Hi all. I’m back after a bit of a self-imposed break from the internet. I’m going to do my best to get back to regular posting quickly, but given the restart of school and today’s release of the last book in the Wheel of Time series, that may not happen for a bit. We shall see.

In any case, I wanted to take some time not just to talk about the last piece I wrote before going on break, wherein I said some, well, controversial things about two big atheist organizations, but also to give the new readers here something of a reintroduction to who I am and why I think what I do. This blog’s readership isn’t huge yet, but it has exploded over the past four months as I’ve started posting regularly.

So, given that, hello again. My name is Andrew, and I’m a senior studying philosophy and art history at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. My work focuses on ethics, political philosophy, feminism, critical race theory, aesthetics, and how all of them intersect. I’m also, as you might have noticed, an atheist, and furthermore, I’m one of those super evil nonreligious people who think that nonbelievers, and everyone, for a matter of fact, should concern themselves with social justice issues and work to make the world a more just place. i.e. I want to kill your freeze peaches, MRA’s and associated enablers of oppression. To that end, I do activism in not just atheist spaces, but also in the realms of feminism, trans* issues, and race issues.

Regarding that, I write a lot about how the atheist movement works and why I feel it is lacking, particularly in the case of the larger, more recognizable groups like American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who I criticized for what I believe is lackluster activism in regards to their activities during the holiday season. There was a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, from a lot of spaces, some surprising, some far less so. I’m not going to go through and respond to every critic in this post, because I just do not have the willpower. Rather, I want to try to explain, in a bit greater detail, why I hold the beliefs I do about those groups, and why I think AA in particular is not doing good activism.

Firstly, I have argued in the past that atheism alone does not engender goodness, or a ethical selfhood. We know this by simple observation of the movement as it exists today; by any decent standard, the people who constantly harass Amy Davis Roth, Rebecca Watson, Melody Hensley, Sarah Moglia, and other feminist atheists, are not good people. They sometimes even put their targets’ safety at risk as did Justin Vacula when he posted Amy’s address on the internet, or thunderf00t did when he hacked FreethoughtBlogs and stole personal information of Natalie Reed’s. The people who do such things are only too proud declare themselves atheists, free of the religious dogma they so love to lampoon, and yet they act like middle school bullies.

I am not lumping Dave Silverman or Annie Laurie Gaylor in with them; I don’t particularly care for the Silverman’s style, but he’s not anywhere near the category that Vacula or Ed Clint are. I merely use the example to illustrate that atheism does not equal goodness automatically, which is a belief that both Silverman and Gaylor seem to hold. At least, this is what seems, to me, to be indicated by their advertising campaigns. American Atheists put up big, flashy, if not particularly well designed or copy edited, PR stunts to drive membership and attempt to bring people to atheism. The FFRF fights for the separation of church and state first and foremost, but also uses billboards to indicate to the average passerby that atheists do exist, are good people, and aren’t baby-eating monsters.

This is all well and good. I would be rightly pilloried were I to say that I didn’t want there to be more people holding a secular worldview in our society, or that I did not want the influence of religion to decline in our government and those elsewhere. However, where it seems Silverman simply wants to get our numbers up, to the point where he seems to deliberately misread statistics to claim there are far more American nonbelievers than there are, I want people to become members of the atheist movement for the right reasons. I want people to be attracted to atheism because atheists are good people who do good works, not simply because we all don’t believe in any gods. I want atheism to be a proper movement, one that works together with our natural allies to end oppression, rather than what it still is now, a white boys’ club that is hostile to traditionally marginalized groups like women, people of color, people outside the gender binary, and people with disabilities. Right now, most of the big atheist organizations are not doing that; they are making PR stunts, looking for numbers, not for complications. We need to convince people to join the secular movement because it is a good thing, because the movement is an ethical, change-driven one, not just because, as AA endlessly points out, religion is dumb.

To that end, what you are going to find on this blog is going to vary widely. I will probably talk about the newest snafus in the movement and try to analyze what goes on. I will talk about feminism, particularly regarding chivalry, on which I plan to have a series of posts coming in the next weeks. I will talk about queer issues, about ableism, about violence, about racism. I will use my training as a budding historian of art and architecture to show how aesthetics and how we interact with our world intersect and work to hold up systemic oppressions. I will attempt to prove to you, using evidence, reason, skepticism, and rationality, backed by my knowledge of philosophy and radical activism, how all of these things intersect, and why we cannot just simply look at religion as the cause of everything that is bad, but how we as atheists can work to bring down the whole structure of injustice and violence that we exist in.

Ambitious, I know. But I’m going to do my damnedest to live up to it. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation with me, and with my new coblogger who I will be introducing tomorrow. I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s one worth having.