Saturday, May 19, 2012

2011/12 Year in Review

"Pay attention. Atheists are here. In just a few short years, the movement has gone from zero to sixty, in both visibility and mobilization. And the atheist movement is largely comprised of people who are passionate, compassionate, courageous, Internet savvy, skilled at seeing through bullshit, willing to defy the status quo, excited about activism... and dedicated to changing the world. After all, as far as they're concerned, it's the only world they've got. You want these people on your side."

Those in the greater activist community often reflect on how to develop strong community organizations.  Many variables are cited: internal democracy and camaraderie, diversity, distribution of leadership and labor, fundraising, charity, political involvement, coalition building, campus exposure, national relevance, and party rocking to name just a few.  The UNCG Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics encompass these variables and reflect the buzz of New Atheism.

Just a few years ago, there was actually no secular group for students at UNCG. Street preachers, evangelical student groups, and a religious culture that permeates day-to-day life in Greensboro, persisted largely unchallenged in its hegemony. Then in 2009, Phillip Drum took the initiative to challenge the status quo, establishing a student organization that provides community for the non-religious, as well as a platform to advocate reason and secularism in the heart of the Bible-Belt. And in 2010, through the leadership  of Robert Eldredge, the foundation of community and activism was built upon and continues to flourish.  We've coordinated lively and stimulating debates, adopted a highway, lobbied for the separation of church and state, weighed the pivotal philosophical questions of our day, exposed collegiate superstitions and thrown on our aviators to have a good time.

Rather than sputtering out on the fumes of what some predicted to be the merely fashionable passions of a cultural shift away from religion, our organization continued to grow and mature during this past year school year.  Scan the list below to see how active we've become! We simply could not have done this without the broad-based dedication, intelligence and passion of our wonderfully godless members: hours of tabling, blood donations, charitable church-going, trash removal, or Reddit re-posts (y'all find the gems of /r/atheism.) Our impact in the community is profound and critical to the flourishing of freethinking and science education. Love of rational inquiry has brought us together, common cause has united us, and the reality of a more secular and ethical civilization will continue to mobilize us.  Thank you so much for your commitment and goodwill!

For those who were unable to be very involved this year, here's a brief recap:
  • 27 weekly meetings! At these meetings, we organized events, promoted our ongoing work to fight back against the (religiously inspired) homophobic assault on human dignity in NC, and held group discussions on various topics relating to atheism and contemporary events.  Our weekly meetings provided opportunities to get to know other students/alumni in the atheist/agnostic movement, as well as ways to personally get involved promoting critical thinking in the Bible Belt! Thanks to everyone who made these meetings vibrant and worthwhile: Jessica SmithMegan & Cody, Bethany Barnes, James Muldoon, James Hayes, James Gemperline, James Mabe, Charlie Needham, Tommy O'Connell, Christi Sevits, Scott Parker, Dan Elder, Christopher Cifani, Robert Antonio, Dan Whitaker, Jessica Lacy, Lindsay Welch, Robert Eldredge, Daniel Foster, Joshua Deaton, Josette & Jonah, Bobby Littlejohn, Zach Webb Katherine Fallows, Cam, Whitney McDavid, Logan Sweatt, Ashley Hickman Amanda Murray, and Julia Alexander!
  • 5 Science Sundays! About one Sunday a month, we would get together to discuss the week's science news and watch relevant documentaries. The UNCG Atheists, Agnostics & Skeptics host these meetings in order to encourage scientific literacy in the broader community, and to celebrate how modern science continues to shape our lives. Thank you Robert for hosting!
  • Tabled in the EUC on 31 different days: Tabling allowed members of our group to promote critical thinking about religion on our university campus, as well as provided opportunities to increase the public visibility of non-theists. We’re here (in your schools, workplaces, and families), we’re godless, get used it!  Thank you Jessica Smith and everyone who took an hour to table!
  • Hosted three guest speakers (Thank you Dan Whitaker for recording!)
1)      September 15, 2011: Asheville city councilman Cecil Bothwell offered his reflections from personal experience on the importance of the separation of church and state;
2)      Jan 17, 2012: Fred Edwords presented his talk entitled, 'Beyond the Bare Bones: What Evolution is Teaching Us.' Our friends from the Triangle Freethought Society helped make this evening possible. Fred Edwords is National Director of the United Coalition of Reason, as well as a faculty member of the Humanist Institute, National Director of the International Darwin Day Foundation, and serves on the Broader Social Impacts Committee of the Human Origins Initiative at the Smithsonian Institution.
3)      March 20, 2012: Herb Silverman presented his talk entitled, ‘Candidate without a Prayer.’ In 1990, Dr. Silverman ran for governor of South Carolina to challenge an unconstitutional provision that barred atheists from holding public office. After an eight-year battle, he won a unanimous decision in the South Carolina Supreme Court, which struck down this religious test requirement. He is the author of Candidate without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, with a foreword by Richard Dawkins. Dr. Silverman earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Syracuse University and is now a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the College of Charleston. He’s also the president of the Secular Coalition of America.
  • Screened 4 films, with post-viewing group discussions!
1)      For the Bible Tells Me So (October 27, 2011)
2)      Letting Go of God (November 10, 2011)
3)      Charles Darwin & the Tree of Life (February 2, 2012)
4)      Intelligent Design on Trial  (February 16, 2012)
  • Skeptically evaluated the psychic claims of a local woman;
  • Hosted a Blood Drive on campus for the Red Cross (Thank you James Gemperline!);
  • Raised over $200 for the American Red Cross via our Send an Atheist to Church campaign; 
  • Helped raise nearly $500 for the Disabled American Veterans
  • Held our first Secular Humanist Thanksgiving Potluck!
  • Held our first Winter Solstice Celebration
  • Maintained our Adopt a Street sign on Wendover Avenue by keeping our section of the street clean!
  • Space Jam with Dr. Danford (Thanks Katherine!)  at the Three College Observatory (February 21, 2012): We took a group trip to the Three College Observatory where Dr. Danford gave us a glimpse into the Cosmos using a telescope that can collect approximately 26,000 times as much light as the human eye and is the largest telescope in North Carolina.
  • Monty Python Movie Marathon
  • Great Friday Celebration: In place of Good Friday groveling, we decided to have a friggin' GREAT FRIDAY, where we celebrated LIFE and LOVE and FRIENDSHIP by having a party. And it really was a fantastic time, filled with Peep s'mores, unholy libations, and all around general merriment!
  • Reason Rally! On February 24, nearly twenty of our members traveled to DC to take part in the largest gathering of non-theists in our nation’s history! Hella fun!
  • We Are Campaign! Robert Eldredge, Lindsay Welch and Tommy O’Connell (all current or former officers of our group) started and organized a massive campaign in Greensboro to defeat a religiously inspired homophobic amendment to the NC constitution that will be on the ballot this May. Through their efforts, our group has been able to take a stand for human rights in front of city council, take part in a benefit concert, car wash, and a host of other activities. The 'We Are Campaign' has allowed us non-religious folk to take an active role in trying to make our community more just, and to partner with religious organizations who share a similar humanistic vision. It cannot be stated strongly enough how important their work has been. A special shout-out has to go to Robert and Lindsay: They’ve worked tirelessly on this campaign, and our group is going to miss them terribly when they move away after this semester.
And as great as this year has been, it’s just going to keep getting better! On April 13, our group elected the officers for the 2012/13 school year. The new officers will be: President Phillip Drum; Vice Presidents Julia Alexander and Jessica Smith; Secretary Katherine Fallows; and Treasurer Tommy O’Connell. This is quite the line-up of stellar infidels, and you can bet on some exciting things for next year!

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this such an incredible year!

Signing off,
Daniel Foster, Minister of Propaganda
Joshua Deaton, President