GODLESS AMERICANS RALLY ON DC MALL, CALL FOR NEW VOICE IN POLITICAL ARENA
"This will be a sad day in my view. And the interest expressed by the 'Godless Americans' in increasing their political activism is something that requires close attention of social conservatives..."
Washington, DC has had its share of political demonstrations. But Saturday, November 2, 2002 was a "first" for the nation's capital, as thousands of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other self-described "Godless Americans" took to the Mall and rallied for civil rights, state-church separation and a greater voice in the national political process.
"We're flabbergasted," said Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists and head of the Godless Americans March On Washington Task Force which organized the rally. "We're just delighted at the size of this crowd and the numbers that turned out."
Observers from C-SPAN estimated the size of the crowd at over 2,400, as did members of the Military Atheists & Freethinkers group which provided security for the event. It was a pleasant surprise, though, for those who had spent months organizing the March as well as those marching on the Mall. Many referred to their exuberance and state of empowerment by just being surrounded by so many fellow nonbelievers. "This is the first time we're the majority at some kind of major event," said one participant who displayed an American flag.
It was a sea of faces, banner and signs as people gathered at 14th St. and the Mall for the march toward the Capitol Building. A handful of counter-demonstrators were nearby with placards and a bullhorn warning attendees that they would end up burning for eternity in hell, but that message was cheerfully ignored by most of the godless ranks. The small army of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and others "of no religious persuasion" carried posters reading "Religion Kills," "Separate Church & State," "One Nation Under The Constitution" and other messages. A large banner referred to the federal faith-based initiative, and declared "Their Religion, Our Money, No Way!"
There was also an impressive unity in the range and diversity of the organizations participating. The Godless Americans March was endorsed by over 150 national, regional and local groups covering the gamut of nonbelievers, and for one day at least, they seemed to put aside most of the issues which had traditionally divided them and stifled cooperation. Among the supporting organizations were Council for Secular Humanism, Campus Freethought Alliance, Secular Student Alliance, Atheist Alliance, African American Humanists and the Internet Infidels. Local groups from throughout the nation -- San Francisco, Boston, Kansas, New York, Michigan and elsewhere -- also signed on to endorse the effort.
The mile-long parade down the mall ended at a rally site in front of a large raised stage featuring a state-of-the-art sound/video system. A track of Pink's hit song "Get The Party Started" greeted GAMOW marchers. The weather cooperated, providing the DC area a clear but chilly and windy day. All of this added up to an ideal setting for the four hour program that included numerous speakers, entertainment, music and calls for greater political awareness.
"This is a class in Activism 101," said Johnson. "We Godless Americans are everywhere. Nonbelievers comprise 14 percent of the population ... We are your husbands and friends, we work for companies and own businesses, and we, too, served in the recovery after 9/11."
Johnson introduced a roll call of those "friends and neighbors" who were attorneys, doctors, teachers, social workers, musicians, computer and technical professionals, students -- the gamut of the American social landscape. She called for greater ad hoc cooperation among nonbeliever groups, and then announced the formation of a "Godless Americans Political Action Committee."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I see a sleeping giant that is waking up and is ready to assert its political and cultural influence," she told the enthusiastic crowd. Citing the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, she added that the segment of the population considering itself to be without faith was numerically larger than most denominations.
"So many of us are in the closet," Johnson declared.
Thus began a roller coaster day of impassioned talks, entertainment and humor.
* Atheist physician and attorney Michael Newdow drew roaring applause in recognition of his fight to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow attempted to draw a comparison between religious faith and his own atheistic philosophy, saying that both deserved equal treatment under the law. Newdow later led the crowd in a recitation of the "Godless Pledge," much to the delight of those clustered around the stage.
* Ed Buckner, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism hammered away at the theme: "We are tired of the lies."
"We demand that there be 'No More Lies.' We refuse to stand idly by any longer..."
Buckner denounced popular claims made by politicians and media that America was a Christian nation, that "Being patriotic means being religious," and that there were "no Atheists in foxholes.
"Americans without religious beliefs have repeatedly demonstrated at least as much courage and integrity, at least as much honesty and steadfastness, as anyone else," Buckner said. "And thousands of Atheists have worn the uniform of this nation... And many Atheists have died defending our freedom and this nation."
Buckner listed other "lies," including the claim that "Dissent is un-American," "To be irreligious is to be immoral," and that "Religious ideas and 'sacred' texts are above criticism."
* Dissident writer and feminist Taslima Nasrin was among those adding an international flavor to the GAMOW event. Nasrin, who was sentenced to death for "blasphemy" in her native Bangladesh, now lives in political exile. She warned of the dangers of Islamic intolerance and its oppression of women.
* Former political candidate and California attorney Eddie Tabash called for Atheists and other nonbelievers to set aside differences and instead concentrate on electing "our own" to public office. His message was echoed by Douglas Campbell, Green Party candidate for Governor of Michigan.
* August Brunsman, founder of the Secular Student Alliance, called for nonbelievers on college campuses to become more active in countering religion-based proselytizing.
* Michael Rivers, the Utah Director for American Atheists, described the on-going battle to preserve the separation of religion and government in his area, warning that without more activism, "what's happening in Utah will be coming to your state soon..."
* Kathleen Johnson, Founder of the Military Atheists & Freethinkers group, brought down the house with her talk on nonbelief and patriotism that featured a roll-call of MAAF members and others who had served in uniform. Several dozen active duty personnel and veterans packed the podium area, with the overflow stretching from one end of the stage front to the other. It was an incredible photo opportunity for the media, and to everyone a compelling demonstration that there were -- and are -- Atheists in foxholes.
* Norm Allen of the African American Humanists said that black non-theists faced special challenges, and had suffered greatly by both depending on religion and being the victims of religion as well. He noted that while religion had provided black Americans with "great leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King," religious groups had been vital in opposing the abolition of slavery.
"After all is said and done," Allen told the crowd, "there is no good reason to believe that our success depends upon God."
Other speakers delighted the audience as well, and included Larry Darby (Alabama Atheists); Bobbie Kirkhart (Atheist Alliance); Margaret Downey (Philadelphia Freethought Society); Jim Strayer (Atheists of Florida); John Scalise (Great Lakes Humanists); and Harry Greenberger (New Orleans Secular Humanists).
On the lighter side, the "Reverend" Chris Harper of the popular Landover Baptist Church presented a fire-and-brimstone talk laced with blasphemous humor, and excoriated "namby pamby Christians" for not being even more brutal and intolerant. Gerry Dantone presented a program of Atheistic songs including "Kiss the Holy Butt," and the Philadelphia rock group Overlord performed energetic and frenetic sets which featured their hit "All My Idols."
On the big video screen, GAMOW participants were treated to a slide show assembled by Bart Meltzer showing notable nonbelievers, from Robert Ingersoll and Ambrose Bierce to Paul Kurtz, Carl Sagan and the Murray O'Hair Family. That was soon followed by a scrolling video salute to all of those who had worked so hard to make the Godless Americans event such a success. The day's activities drew to a close with a brief presentation by Ellen Johnson, who was then joined on stage by the leaders of various organizations and the other speakers.
Not everyone, though, was impressed by the prospect of thousands of Godless Americans speaking out in the nation's capital.
Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and a veteran of the religious right culture wars lamented "This will be a sad day in my view."
"And the interest expressed by the 'Godless Americans' in increasing their political activism is something that requires the close attention of social conservatives," Weyrich wrote in an essay posted at the freecongress.org web site. "Because I believe we have a special responsibility to show this nation the path worth taking at a time when an increasing number of Americans have become blind to God's way."
Weyrich also cited the ARIS study, which revealed a growth in the number of Americans describing themselves as having "no religion." In 1990, this segment represented about 8% of adults, or 14.2 million Americans. That number has swelled to 14.1%, or nearly 30 million people.
"This is a worrisome trend," warned Weyrich, "particularly at this point in history when we are confronting the resurgent threat from Islam." Rather than secularism, Weyrich proposed that "we need to steel ourselves as a nation by reinforcing our Judeo-Christian beliefs." Instead, "we may now have a vocal force urging what is the equivalent of disarming ourselves by advocating further abandonment of our religious traditions."
For thousands of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other members of this growing swath of secularist nonbelief, though, Saturday, November 2, 2002 was a historic day of celebration and empowerment, one that will long be remembered. Many are now savoring the rebroadcast of the event on C-SPAN, and look forward to the official GAMOW documentary which is now in production and will be ready for distribution early next year.
It was a day to remember.
"I enjoyed every minute of it," said Dennis Middlebrooks of Freethinking Activists of New York (FACT). "The weather was perfect, the speakers were terrific, the musical entertainment was fun, and my fellow participants were enthusiastic and friendly. I even enjoyed the morons heckling us on the sidelines.
"Seeing Ellen Johnson and other Atheist and freethought leaders framed against the shining Capitol dome was a sight I will not soon forget. I am glad I came."
The March on Washington TM
Saturday, November 2, 2002
On The Mall, In The Nation's Capital
It's Our Turn Now!
In the fall of 2002, "Godless Americans" of all stripes will follow in a grand tradition and march on Washington, DC!
Just about every political and social "cause" organization has done it -- gays, blacks, women, even the Promise Keepers. Groups of every ideological coloration have spoken out and demanded "a seat at the table" by mobilizing their supporters for a march or demonstration in our nation's capital.
It's American as apple pie...
And now, it's our turn!
On Saturday, November 2, 2002, "Godless Americans" -- individuals and representatives of the nation's diverse community of non-religious people -- will make history and march on Washington. At the 28th National Convention of American Atheists, President Ellen Johnson announced this new initiative in giving "Godless Americans" a new voice and presence. We are reaching out to all and everyone in America who has no religious beliefs -- Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, Rationalists. Whatever the label, we're asking you to come to Washington, DC and be part of this important event.
We are calling this "The Godless Americans March on Washington." Like every other group that has fought its way from the margins of society into the mainstream, we have demands -- a new agenda for a secular America.
The Time For Us To Be Heard Is Now!
There are millions of Godless Americans. The latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reflects that nearly 13% of the population has no religion. This includes millions who identify themselves with labels such as Atheist, Freethinker, Humanist and others. There are over 30,000,000 of us, a figure larger than most American religious denominations. And it's time for us to be heard!
President Bush and other political leaders often ignore us and instead attempt to rally the nation to prayer and religious faith. "Godless Americans" have been marginalized and excluded in everything from electoral politics to the public events commemorating the tragedy of September 11, 2001. No other group would tolerate such bigotry and exclusion! It's time to speak out and be heard!
Members of Atheist, Freethought, Humanist, Rationalist and other like-minded organizations are being invited to join us in the Godless Americans March on Washington.
The main event will take place on Saturday, November 2, 2002. GAMOW will be held on the National Mall, with a march and rally at the west side of the US Capitol Building.
The march itself begins promptly at 11:00 AM. We will assemble on the mall on the east side of 14th street near the Washington Monument. Groups and individuals will form up behind a large Godless Americans banner for the parade in the direction of the capitol, and head down the wide pedestrian path.
GAMOW Marshals will be available to direct the flow of the march, answer questions and deal with any special needs or other situations.
The march will take 20-30 minutes. Once assembled at the rally location, we will have a program including speeches from representatives of various Atheist, Freethought, Secular Humanist and other nonbeliever groups, along with entertainment.
* Be sure to check the UPDATES page.
* SHOW YOUR SUPPORT for the "Godless Americans March on Washington." Individuals may sign the Endorsement Page, and organizations supporting the March are listed on a special page as well.
This is a tentative list of speakers in alphabetical order:
- Norm Allen -- Executive Director, African Americans For Humanism
- Christopher Arntzen -- Gay & Lesbian Atheists & Humanists
- Seth Asser -- Pediatrician, CHILD, Inc.
- Ron Barrier -- Spokesperson, American Atheists
- August Brunsman -- Secular Student Alliance
- Ed Buckner -- Executive Director, Council for Secular Humanism
- Douglas Campbell -- Atheist Political Office Candidate
- Parvin Darabi, HOMA
- Larry Darby -- Attorney, Alabama Atheists & Atheist Law Center, Inc.
- Margaret Downey -- Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia
- Harry Greenberger -- New Orleans Secular Humanist Association
- Chris Harper -- Landover Baptist Church
- Shelly Hattan -- Metroplex Atheists
- Ellen Johnson -- President, American Atheists, GAMOW Task Force
- Kathleen Johnson -- Founder, Military Atheists & Freethinkers
- Edwin Kagin -- Founder, Camp Quest
- Bobbie Kirkhart -- President, Atheist Alliance International
- Michael Newdow -- Attorney, Physician, plaintiff in suit challenging "God Pledge"
- Mike Rivers -- American Atheists Utah State Director
- John Scalise -- President, Great Lakes Humanist Society
- Jim Strayer -- Humanists of Florida
- Eddie Tabash -- Attorney, Council for Secular Humanism board, AU
- Frank Zindler -- Editor, American Atheist Press
Copyright © 2002, American Atheists, Inc.