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Humanist Essay for July 2012
"Happy Humanists in New Orleans"
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[Reprinted from the HSNM July 2012 Newsletter.]

Where to start describing the recent AHA National Conference in New Orleans? The city itself is an adventure, and provided quite a counterpoint to our humanist business: Voodoo shops, bourbon shots, girlie bars, tubas, taxidermied alligators, centuries-old architecture, jazz bands, beads, beignets, horse-drawn carriages, crawfish, gawking tourists, more beads, periodic downpours, more voodoo, and a panhandler to say, "god bless you," on every corner.

In the bubble of the conference hotel, a few hundred humanists convened to report on our doings near and far, celebrate ourselves, and, of course, debate. For the eight of us from HSNM, it was a time to contribute to AHA initiatives, broaden our horizons, and bond with each other. Our chapter was noticed for our numbers, our visibility and participation in meetings and special sessions, and, I'm told, our camaraderie. As we fanned out through the conference events, we were perceived as a happy and helpful group. I am truly proud of our chapter and honored to have led our delegation.

Following on the heels of launching our own local Feminist Caucus, HSNM took the lead on AHA Feminist Caucus events. I stepped up to some organizational and ceremonial duties for AHA FC Chair, Stephanie Downs Hughes, who could not attend the conference, and what do you know? I came home as her Co-Chair. It was rewarding to be so warmly embraced as a spokesperson for the women of the AHA, and I was thrilled to meet our Humanist of the Year, Gloria Steinem, and to actually present the Humanist Heroine Award to Debra Sweet.

Gloria (we're now on a first name basis, you know) was as funny and blunt as ever in talking about patriarchies and matriarchies. Her exposition on how the traditional church floorplan corresponds to the anatomy of the female reproductive system was classic, irreverent yet intellectual, Steinem. Peace activist Debra Sweet and her associate tabled throughout the conference for their anti-war organization, World Can't Wait, and they joined us at our Feminist Caucus lunch meeting. Both awardees affirmed the importance of the FC and our work in their acceptance speeches, though in private neither were very encouraging about the likelihood of passing ERA legislation before the election.

Moving on to other issues of concern to humanists, I was pleased to hear Isaac Asimov Science Award winner Ira Flatow make so many references to the fine arts in his talk. His message was that science could be taught the way we teach art - as something one can learn about and experience without being expected to make a career of it. Science informs and enriches our lives whether we go into it professionally or not, just as art does, so we could take some of the pressure off young students to "be good" at it and simply allow them to learn science in a more fun and organic way. Humanist Lifetime Achievement Award winner James Randi showed us just how fun and funny, not to mention liberating, science can be.

Yes, it was exciting to brush shoulders with these and other "famous" humanists, but the conference was full of accomplished participants. We made friends in the elevator, over meals, browsing the displays, attending sessions and waiting in line for coffee. We provided a boost to our host chapter, the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association. Our humanist vibe oozed out to the hotel staff, the copy shop clerks and Starbucks baristas. No doubt, our outspoken nontheist talk raised eyebrows in the land of god-bless-yous, but our emphasis on education and equality was clear. We might not be god-fearing, but we are "good people" as one of the servers said to me at dinner. Good people with beads.

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Copyright © 2012 Zelda Gatuskin

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