I just got back from the Reason Rally, a massive gathering of secularists on the National Mall in Washington DC. The event was intended to show support for separation of church and state and solidarity amongst non-believers. In general, it went quite well, but there were definitely a few things that I was a little put off by.
Some might think it a bad idea to attend something like the Reason Rally when running for political office. After all, atheists are not generally well received, especially in the Republican party. I certainly considered this, but in the end I decided it was worth the risk. I really need to raise money for my campaign badly and the Reason Rally was an opertunity to see a lot of politically active people with similar concerns for the nation. I also saw a number of people I’m acquainted with. I handed out campaign flyers and hopefully this will translate to some contributions.
As for whether it will hurt me with the more conservative members of the party back home, that is certainly a concern. I don’t intend to make a big deal of my attendance of the rally when I’m at more conservative committee meetings, but I certainly won’t deny it if I am asked. I’m not going to lie to win, so the fact that I’m a non-believer is not something I can really hide. As far as I am concerned, it’s really not a valid campaign issue.
The rally went quite well overall. Despite rain, over 20,000 people attended. There were many great speakers, each of them offering a slightly different take on the importance of reason and maintaining a secular government. I didn’t entirely agree with every speaker on every point, but most of them I could stand behind. There were also a lot of people of different ages and backgrounds, which is great to see. Some had traveled a long distance to make the rally. Overall, I don’t think there’s any denying it was a huge success.
It was a very enjoyable event in general. The speakers were great, the attendees were generally in very good spirits and it was a lot of fun to walk around and meet people from all over the country and a variety of backgrounds. There wasn’t any bickering over who had the better seat or who might have cut in line to get refreshments or any of the other scuffles common at big public events.
There were some Christian protestors, as one might expect. They kept to the side. There were not many of them, perhaps a dozen. Their presence seemed to be larger than it really was because they all had very big signs proclaiming the need to worship Jesus, obey the bible and so on. They openly asked rally attenders to come over and talk to them and many did. The protestors were quickly surrounded by atheists from the rally, who took them up on their challenge ton debate.
There were no incidents at all. Some of the debates became spirited. On occasion voices were raised. I never heard any unrestrained name-calling, just a few arguments that got slightly loud, perhaps out of frustration. Nobody was threatened and nothing even approaching violence occurred. In most cases, the exchanges were entirely civil.