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Humanist Essay for August 2013
"2013 AHA Conference - Part 2"
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[Reprinted from the HSNM August 2013 Newsletter.]

Continuing with my report on the AHA Conference 2013, here are a few other recurrent themes and elements of the weekend. [Watch videos here.]

Diversity
Overall, we noted that the demographics of the annual conference are changing steadily but incrementally. There are a few more young people each year; enough LGBT presence not to be remarkable; more women. There remains a rather embarrassing lack of racial diversity that does not noticeably improve from year to year. A young academic, Ayanna Watson, founder of Black Atheists, presented, "Black Freethinkers and the Harlem Renaissance," which highlighted the role of the arts in the black humanist movement. Ayanna reminded us how pseudo-science has been used to betray and dehumanize non-whites. She suggested that we don't need a marketing strategy to attract minorities, we simply need to care about them and think about things from their perspective.

David Tamayo, president of Hispanic American Freethinkers gave a talk, "Latinos Exercised Their Power in the Last Election: Now What?" which reveals the uncomfortable fact that humanists and political conservatives have something in common - we're not attracting Hispanics. There's no question that our hearts are in the right place, but we still have only token multiracial representation in our organization.

Organization Nuts and Bolts
The conference contained a dedicated "leadership track" put together by the United Coalition of Reason. Excellent sessions addressed such challenges as fundraising, using social media, and growing local chapters. The presenters had hands-on experience running local groups and provided useful guidance. Here is where the philosophical passion of our humanist movement got some grounding. Half reality check and half charm school, this set of sessions repeatedly stressed the need to convey a positive,happy, welcoming atmosphere and not indulge overly in religion bashing, argument and labeling. To be appealing, a group should look like they're having fun - or, better yet, actually be having fun. (Like us!)

At the annual State of Humanism Address and other official functions, our new AHA President Rebecca Hale was welcomed with much enthusiasm and support. We're proud to have her as a member of the AHA Feminist Caucus, which was also well received. With my national FC co-chair Stephanie Hughes from Chicago, and help from Sylvia Ramos and Ashley Jordan, I led the FC business meeting, attended by about thirty people. The FC also hosted the Thursday night film screening of "Tough Guise," with discussion ably moderated by Ashley. Stephanie and I presented the Humanist Heroine Award to poet/journalist Katha Pollitt. The Ratify the ERA campaign, spearheaded by Sylvia and highlighted throughout the conference, was embraced by all of the AHA.

Community
From the vision of Fred Edwords and the United Coalition of Reason in bringing local freethinker groups together for collaboration and mutual support, to the expanding role of the AHA's Humanist Society in training and certifying humanist Celebrants and Chaplains, to the probing questions of Leon Seltzer ("Humanism and Spirituality"), Louis Altman ("Is Humanism a Religion?") and Sean Carroll ("Purpose and the Universe"), it is clear that our movement is growing in scope and function. Teresa MacBain ("Finding Community in Unlikely Places") and Rebecca Hensler ("Grief Beyond Belief") each spoke movingly about the need for emotionally supportive, nontheist community. They echoed the premise of many of the talks on education and building humanist groups: Once we have discarded religion and supernatural belief, where do we find community, caring, values, ethics, emotional strength and the tools for sorting out who we are and how we should act in the world?

And so we finally come to Personal Growth and Fulfillment. Matt Harding gave a delightful presentation on how he has found his bliss by going around the world getting people to dance with him. His videos of people near and far (including some humanists in San Diego), all dancing to the same music, break down cultural barriers and show how alike we humans are and how naturally eager we are to like and help each other. Nikki Stern gave her talk "Hope in Small Doses," in which she espouses "a reasoned version of hope in an uncertain world." Our AHA awards recipients, each in their own way,demonstrated the humanist ideal of thinking for oneself, seeking and speaking truth, and applying one's talents to the benefit of all. Richard Leakey (who provided his address on video), Carl Coon, Dan Savage, Greta Christina, and Katha Pollitt inspired with their insightfulness, eloquence, wit and sincerity. But I want to emphasize that for every noteworthy presenter who held the stage, dozens and dozens of extraordinarily accomplished, wonderful people filled the audience. It was a pleasure to be among them.

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Copyright © 2013 Zelda Gatuskin

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