Last Saturday, I had the wonderful privilege of attending the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. For those who may not know, the Reason Rally was a gathering of atheists and other non-believers to show solidarity amongst us. It was a coming out party for many who had never before let their lack of faith be known, a celebration of our lack of belief and our common humanity and a statement to our politicians, friends, families, neighbors and co-workers that we are part of this society, we expect reason-based policy instead of theocracy and we will not be dismissed.
I have been trying to devise a way to briefly summarize the rally but after several days, I realize that there is just too much involved to be easily summed up. Instead, I would like to take time to review a few of the highlights and give my thoughts on certain aspects of the day.
Up until it was too late to get a refund on my bus tickets, I seriously debated whether I should go. I had many concerns going into it. Could I really afford to do this financially? I haven’t had an oven since December and the cash going into this trip could have remedied that. Could I manage this physically? I have severe joint issues and 28+ hours round-trip on a bus in combination with lots of walking and standing was not likely to improve matters. Could I handle this mentally? I have a fair amount of anxiety when it comes to crowds and public transportation. Would I be safe? There are plenty of people who think atheists are “evil”. What if one of them decided it was a perfect opportunity to make their world a better place? After much internal torment, I decided that this was important enough to take those risks and deal with each situation as it came. If I were to be the person I think of myself as, I must go. I must stand up for what I believe to be right and true. I needed to be a part of this.
The first moment that really struck me was on the bus that would take us from Chicago to Washington. Everyone was so friendly and kind and the conversations going on around me were simply awesome (these were themes that prevailed throughout the day. There was never a moment that I did not feel I was among friends). I suddenly thought how incredible it was that I was on a bus filled with people who do not believe in God; a whole bus full of people who had come to the same conclusion as me – a conclusion which had caused me to be excluded and made to feel like there was something wrong with me and which was now the criterion for inclusion. I was glad I had come.
We arrived a bit early which was nice since it allowed me to get my bearings a bit. The first thing that stood out was the backdrop of the Washington Monument behind the stage. Looking at it, I felt a deep connection to my country and the freedoms that the Founding Fathers envisioned for our nation. I pondered how we could have gotten to this point where reason is shunned and freedoms are willingly forfeited for the sake of comfort. I was even more glad I had come.
The next thing that began to sink in was the growing size of the crowd. Atheists have long been maligned in our society and many are afraid to let others know of their lack of belief. Many, myself included, have lost friends, family or jobs because of their non-belief. To look around and realize that everyone in that space was a non-believer and that all of them felt it was important enough of a matter to come to our nation’s capitol was one of the single most empowering moments of my life. We are many and we are everywhere.