Freethought Conference Review

Bob, a good friend of mine who volunteered to help with last weeks conference in fullerton, CA, wrote this about the event below.  Pictures can be seen here:

  I attended Bruce’s Freethought Alliance conference yesterday.  I enjoyed it overall.  Bruce was gracious to let me attend if I volunteered to help, but I am limited because of my bad back.  In fact, just sitting all day is difficult for me – thankfully, the chairs are padded.  I had to get up at every hourly break and move around and stretch.  However, I did what I could and was happy to help.  I like the location because it is easily accessible with free parking and within spitting distance of the 91 freeway.  The room layout was just the right size and the food, served buffet style, was tasty; better than most.  I suggest Bruce use this facility again next year.
    An entertainer named Gary Stockdale served as host.  He played guitar and sang his own compositions with freethought messages before intruding speakers – he is very professional.  The theme of the conference was about the future of freethought, but although most of the speakers did not address that topic directly, optimism about the future of our cause emanated from nearly every presenter.  In fact, the conference itself gave me optimism about the future of our cause.  In terms of their communication abilities, I was impressed by the quality of the speakers overall.  Almost all are quite articulate, many expressed humor, and most were personable.  They are all excellent spokespeople for our cause.  I was also impressed by what I didn’t see – the nerdy looking angry atheist male stereotype in an out of style, poorly fitted suit that I saw 20 to 30 years ago.  Yes, appearance does matter!
    I was moved by the poise and confidence of 17 year old Jessica Alquist, who spoke first.  She fought against a posted prayer at her Rhode Island high school and endured the backlash of hate and isolation that often follows such endeavors.  I was saddened when she described how many of her ‘good friends’ turned their backs on her.  Jessica, with help from the ACLU, succeeded and the posted prayer was covered and then removed.  She is one articulate and courageous woman, especially considering her young age!
    It was nice to see my friend Margaret Downey, who has been active in freethought for at least twenty years.  I assisted her on PowerPoint.  Margaret talked about her background; it was intimate and personal.  She related how various experiences growing up and as an adult shaped her atheistic philosophy and activism in freethought causes.  Margaret is best known for battling the Boy Scouts.  Many years ago, her son was booted out because of his atheism.  Margaret lives near Philadelphia and continues to fight for freethought causes there and across the country.
    I heard GretaChristina, a lesbian/atheist activist for the first time.  She compared ‘coming out’ as gay to coming out as an atheist.  One difference she mentioned never occurred to me.  When one comes out as gay,  it is not perceived as a challenge to the sexuality of those in one’s family and social circle – sexual orientation is personal and individual.  However, when one comes out as an atheist, one is in effect challenging the world view of those around them – for example, “I don’t believe in the God you hold so dear”.  I thought her talk was one of the best organized and interesting of the day.  Atheist leaders and groups must learn from the gay community because of their amazing success at changing public opinion in the last 30 years.
    One thing that impressed me about the conference is change.  I have been attending atheist and skeptic events for 30 years.  As noted by some of the presenters, even 10 years ago such events were attended by mostly old white guys like me.  I estimate that at least 40% of yesterday’s attendees were women, and over 25% of the attendees are under 40, including many in their 20’s.  That gives me further hope for the future of our cause.  However, it was noted that we are still primarily white and need to reach out to blacks and Hispanics.
       I must end by offering respect and praise for our conference organizer, Bruce Gleason.  Bruce’s techy knowledge really enhanced the quality of this event.  Almost all of the equipment is his and of professional quality.  The sound quality was excellent – like that of a professional concert – and most of the PowerPoint presentations went smoothly.  I helped Bruce and his other volunteers tear down at the end of the conference.  You have no idea how much work goes into such an event until you observe what goes on behind the scenes – and how much money is saved because Bruce owns the video equipment and doesn’t have to pay for others to provide it!
    All I can say is that the freethought movement is fortunate to have Bruce Gleason on its side.  At the conference, he was awarded a check for $1600 from the Friends of Freethought for his tireless efforts.  We all need to continue to support Bruce – great job!
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