Wednesday, 27 April 2011
What an experience! I'm seriously living the life I dreamed about yesterday. I've already told you the things of which I was most proud about the convention, so now I'm gonna dive into everything else.
Thursday morning at 6am, August (the Secular Student Alliance's Executive Director), Jesse (the SSA's Communications Director), Ashley (our Development Director), Amanda (the Executive Director of Camp Quest), and myself hopped in a van and set off for the distant land of Des Moines.
However, we beat down two quick arguments and then he went into the argument from design ('this tree is complex' which PZ quickly slapped down with his biology powers, followed by 'this building has a designer'). We decided we'd rather be inside being sociable and left to join Ashley in making fun of the pamphlets they had given us.
After that, Ed Buckner read the letter that Christopher Hitchens had written to the conference. I'm told some people wept, and I'm not surprised. The letter was heartfelt and eloquent.
Both Dave Silverman and Greta Christina gave their talks that day and both of them rocked amazingly hard. I am grateful I wasn't made to follow either of them. Silverman freaking gets it. He is a genuinely nice guy and one of the best leaders we have. Ashley landed an interview with him at the conference.
There have been whispers for the last several months that something big was being planned behind closed doors. Finally, last weekend Dave Silverman announced that project: In Spring of 2012, atheists are marching on Washington! This will be the largest atheist event in history!
There are presently 14 major organizations involved in the Reason Rally, including the Secular Student Alliance. I was added to the planning committee for the event in late January and, let me tell you, it has been so hard to keep it under wraps until now. Aside from having a voice into the event, I'll be the primary person working to get students out to DC next Spring - and rest assured, we will have enough to make a huge splash. Students have been taking increasing ownership of this movement as is evidenced by the student turnout at Skepticon 3, the AHA conference a few weeks ago (85 students attended, a record), and the American Atheists Convention (a whopping 250 students attended after Dave Silverman followed Skepticon's lead and drastically cut the price of student registration). I want the Reason Rally to be a time when it becomes clear that students are taking the torch.
Moving on. There was a costume party Friday night and Greta, Katie, and I dressed up as steam punk characters.
The costume party was a load of fun. Plenty of good costumes.
Here I am with David Silverman and his wife. Dave is a hoot! He'll also be speaking at the SSA's Summer Conference!
We added Greg Lammers to our fellowship!
I found an atheist cheerleader!
Then I came across my worst nightmare!
PZ was trotting around with a balloon squid on his head.
I also met Lawrence Krauss for the first time. :)
I also beat up on god!
The second day was spent socializing, working the SSA table, but mostly working on my talk. In Boston I stopped taking my meds so as to be on point for my talk. I paid some severe consequences for that, so this time I stayed on them, but I knew I would have to work extra hard in order to be at my best. That day I met a bunch of really schnazzy people.
Then this jackass showed up. He brought his eight year-old daughter with him, who was holding a similar sign and parroting the idiocy coming out of her father's mouth. Tell me again how religion makes people better...
Then came the third day, on which I was the opening speaker.
One of the most humbling things about the whirlwind that has been my life has been getting to be around people whom I have idolized for years. I have read Greta Christina religiously (tee hee) for years, and now I look forward to conferences primarily to reunite with someone who has become one of my best friends (as it was in Boston, hanging with Greta was the best part of the whole convention). When I gave my talk, several such people such as PZ Myers, Greta, David Silverman, Matt Dillahunty, Lawrence Krauss, and a gaggle of other people who I would've killed to see speak over the last several years were in the audience...listening to me. How am I supposed to react to that? So far I'm going with blushing and an obscene number of thank yous.
Anyway, all accounts suggest that I gave a good talk. I got a standing ovation that lasted an almost uncomfortable (but incredibly flattering) amount of time. I then went into 15 minutes of Q&A after which they gave me another standing ovation. I was beside myself with flattery.
Lawrence Krauss followed me and in his talk he praised mine.
After him was Matt Dillahunty. I take many of my debate arguments word-for-word from this guy. He's brilliant. He began his talk by telling the audience that I had essentially given his talk only better, so he was pretty much just going to answer questions. I was beside myself! He's reportedly going to sing my praise some more on the Atheist Experience this Saturday. I may throw a party. Just to hear Matt Dillahunty say my name gets me high.
After that, the speaking requests came rolling in. I'm happy to announce that at one of them, a Midwest conference in Omaha from August 12-14, I will get to share the stage with the rest of the wonder triplets (as we've begun calling ourselves): Jen McCreight and Greta Christina.
Also after my talk, Hector Avalos approached me and asked to have his picture taken with me. If ever there was a backwards turn of events, this was it.
That evening they recorded the Critical Eye podcast on location. Tom Hand (the man in only his boxers and a baseball cap) invited me up to the stage and I accepted.
From left to right that's me, Tom Hand, Matt Dillahunty, David Silverman, Paul Provenza, and Blair Scott. We had an absolute blast!
These events are always weird for me. Everybody loves praise and I'm no exception, but I also don't like feeling different from the other attendees. Some people talked about having to 'get up the nerve' to come speak to me, which is so alien but also makes me a little sad. If someone wants to talk to me, I'm flattered! Others told me I would soon be famous. Others still told me I was already famous/a rock star. I like the idea of how those things could allow me to be a more effective activist, but right now I still feel exactly the same as I did five years ago as a college activist: a smartass running around trying to make the world a better place, immature at the right times (and sometimes the wrong times), and sharing those experiences with those around me. I still feel like an every day activist looking up at people like Matt, PZ, and Greta, and I like that feeling.
I hope it never changes.