Why Atheists Have Become a Kick-Ass Movement You Want on Your Side
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Why would any organization or social change movement want to ally itself with a community that's energetic, excited about activism, highly motivated, increasingly visible, good at fundraising, good at getting into the news, increasingly populated by young people, and with a proven track record of mobilizing online in massive numbers on a moment's notice?
If you need to ask that -- maybe you shouldn't be in political activism.
And if you don't need to ask that -- if reading that paragraph is making you clutch your chest and drool like a baby -- maybe you should be paying attention to the atheist movement.
The so-called "new atheist" movement is definitely not so new. Atheists have been around for decades, and they've been organizing for decades. But something new, something big, has been happening in atheism in the last few years -- atheism has become much more visible, more vocal, more activist, better organized, and more readily mobilized -- especially online, but increasingly in the flesh as well. The recent Reason Rally in Washington, DC brought an estimated 20,000 attendees to the National Mall on March 24 -- and that was in the rain. Twenty thousand atheists trucked in from around the country, indeed from around the world, and stood in the rain, all day: to mingle, network, listen to speakers and musicians and comedians, check out organizations, schmooze, celebrate, and show the world the face of happy, diverse, energetic, organized atheism.
Atheists are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Atheists are gaining clout. Atheists are becoming a powerful ally when we're inspired to take action -- and a powerful opponent when we get treated like dirt.
Case Study Number One, "Powerful Ally" Division: The million dollars currently being raised -- and the goodness knows how many people being mobilized -- for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's "Light the Night Walks," by the non-theistic Foundation Beyond Belief and the Todd Stiefel family.
The Stiefel Family and the Foundation Beyond Belief have wanted to make a large atheist contribution to the fight against cancer for some time. Like many people, Todd Stiefel has had many people in his life afflicted with cancer. His family has the resources to make a large financial donation to the fight against it. And as the largest non-theistic charitable organization in the world, the Foundation Beyond Belief was the perfect organization to channel and structure the Stiefel family's matching offer -- and to round up supporters for it.
But it was distressingly difficult to give this money away. If this whole "atheists donating pots of money to the fight against cancer" story seems familiar... you may be remembering the American Cancer Society controversy, in which the ACS initially accepted a $250,000 matching offer from the Stiefel family and the Foundation Beyond Belief to participate as a national team in the ACS's Relay for Life -- and then, suddenly and mysteriously, turned it down. (And were then deluged with angry protests -- and withdrawals of donations -- when the story hit the Internet. More on that in a tic.)
That isn't happening this time around. The Stiefel family and the Foundation Beyond Belief have found an organization that's more than happy to partner with them in the fight against cancer. When Stiefel reached out to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, they cheerfully accepted his offer -- a half million dollars in matching funds, as a "Special Friend" team partner in the LL&S's "Light the Night" Walks, with the goal of uniting the freethought movement around the world to raise a million dollars for the fight against cancer. Andrea Greif, Director of Public Relations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, says, "LLS is appreciative that Foundation Beyond Belief has set such a generous goal to help us beat blood cancer and we look forward to having their teams join LLS's Light the Night Walk." And Stiefel describes the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as "enthusiastic at the prospect of working with us." He went on to say, "We LOVE working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They have been very kind, supportive and helpful. They have made it very clear that cancer doesn't discriminate and neither do they. LLS just wants to put the mission of fighting cancer first."