One humanist from Singapore, Alvin Phua (left), attended the Reason Rally in Washington D.C last Saturday (June 4). The Reason Rally, described as the largest gathering of freethinkers in the US, was started in 2012 by major atheistic and secular organisations. It aims to “unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society.” At the rally, Alvin also met another Singaporean, Melissa Chen (right), who manages the Global Secular Humanist Movement Facebook page.
The Humanist Society (Singapore) speaks to Alvin about his experience:
1) Why did you go to the rally?
Alvin: The Rally caters to my interest in reason and allows me to meet other like-minded people. The rally is more like a political event for Americans to push for more rational and evidence-based policies, while rejecting policies based on irrational thinking, or nonsensical bronze age morals, very much still practiced today.
2) Describe the atmosphere there!
Alvin: It wasn’t crowded, and the turnout was a lot lesser than what the organisers hoped for. The atmosphere was very relaxed, and everyone was friendly. Nobody was charged up as you would expect from a ‘rally’. It was more like a giant picnic of people.
Even though large groups of religious protesters were expected, they were just a few individuals with a few placards here and there. Unimpressive:
3) Which was your favourite speaker at the rally and why?
Alvin: Whoever is familiar with the subjects of such rally won’t be surprised with anything presented really. It was more for Americans who are perhaps in the process of changing their minds, on the fence or in the closet with regards to atheism. It was also very much about the upcoming US election.
So, if I were to pick, I would first pick David Silverman who was telling everyone that identifying ourselves as ‘atheists’, instead of various labels such as humanists, agnostics, skeptics, is of utmost importance because it is the most understood and recognised label. Such a label is important in the current climate to promote solidarity, and empowerment, against the powerful forces of irrationality and unscientific arguments that have stagnated societies and dragged them into ignorance and bigotry.
Only when the scattered voices of various labels come out as one, can they be heard, noticed and reckoned with. During the rally, Silverman got everyone to shout “ATHEIST!”, and that was really fun!
My second favourite speaker would be Bill Nye. He was easily the most popular at the rally. He urged Americans to understand and appreciate that the upcoming US presidential election is less about the candidates, but more about the seriousness of science vs anti-science. Bill also said the election is the most trying time for humanity and nature because Donald Trump (the Republican candidate) represents the destruction of both. Bill said that climate change is the most urgent election issue and the American Right, especially Trump, will speed up the impending disaster as they are horrifically unqualified to understand this problem.
4) Who did you meet and what did you say to them?
Alvin: I did not meet that many people. Our conversation usually involves with what Singapore is like with regards to religion, the influence of religion, and our attitude towards religion. We also discussed what’s happening in the US itself.
I also met Ray Comfort, the Christian minister and evangelist, at the Reason Rally:
5) Overall, what do you think the rally has achieved? Did it meet your expectations?
Alvin: I will not know the effect of the rally until the US elections results are out, which what the Reason Rally was all about. The rally did not really meet my expectations. The last one attracted 25,000 people, despite the rain. This rally, the weather was great, but less than 10,000 people turned up. Because it was held in a protected memorial park, no food and drinks were allowed. Only water. So, there were no tents serving F&B, which I thought would have created a more pleasant buzz.
Photos below: Various non-religious groups have set up booths at the Reason Rally.