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    Posted March 26, 2012 by
    Washington, District of Columbia
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    Reason Rally in DC - Largest Secular Gathering in History


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     JoyfulGypsy says she had been planning to attend the Reason Rally for a long time, and over the weekend she found herself at the heart of the rally in Washington, D.C. She says she was one of approximately 10,000 people at the rally, and the large turnout surprised her because of yesterday's rain. Overall she thought the rally was entertaining and positive, and she had the chance to meet people from all across the world. "It was a rally where people could be honest about their beliefs," she says. "A lot of people are worried about coming out about their beliefs because they are afraid society will ostracize them, and they just go along with society. But this was a rally to support people with alternative beliefs, support and empower them and show them there are a lot of people with the same beliefs."
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    I've just returned from a trip to Washington DC where I attended the Reason Rally - the largest gathering of atheists and secularists in "the history of the world."


    The Rally, was held in gloomy weather on the Capitol Mall. A steady stream of speakers addressed the large, diverse crowd, which was estimated somewhere between 20,000 - 30,0000.  It seemed everyone and their children was there.  As a matter of fact, even Waldo showed up.  (See if you can spot him by clicking through the tabs of photos, above.)


    The presentations ranged from inspiring to formulaic, from whimsical to deadly serious. Perhaps inevitably, the professional performers - singer/comedian Tim Minchin, comedian Eddie Izzard, Mythbusters star Adam Savage most prominent among them - fared best, capturing the crowd's attention despite the inclement conditions and entertaining while also communicating the themes of the day (raising awareness of the growing number of nonbelievers in society and laying the groundwork for recognition of them as a legitimate interest group).


    Of the speakers, I would say the most moving were those whose lives so dramatically demonstrated the courage of their convictions:


    Iranian author Taslima Nasrin spoke of how she lost country, family and freedom as a result of her public rejection of faith and religion. It sort of puts the rest of us to shame when we carry on about some slight or offense we've suffered to think that, here is a woman who would be put to death if she merely returns to her country of birth. Sobering.


    And then there was Nate Phelps, estranged son of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, telling the heartfelt and moving story of how he realized that he could not abide the "God of his Fathers." His tale of gradually moving from his family's repellent version of Christianity to a more benevolent form of evangelical Christianity to, ultimately, atheism was very stirring.


    There were also excellent speeches from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Laurence Krauss and James "the Amazing" Randi. These delivered their uplifting messages of hope for a more secular future. They also expressed a recurrent theme from many of the speeches – that it is science, logic and reason that have spurred the advances in health, lifestyle and productivity that we all enjoy, not superstition and adherence to ancient stories.


    And, of course many protestors showed up holding up their hateful signs and yelling obsenities at some of the rally attendees, threatening them with eternal hell if they don't sart believing as they do.  Not a very effective approach, I would say. 


    Check out my photos of the Westboro Baptist Church protestors and their signs at the following link:  http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-766089


    Attending the rally made me feel that I was taking part in something significant and groundbreaking. The Reason Rally's success is not ultimately going to be measured by just how many people showed up or by the media coverage or by the political establishment suddenly taking the secular movement seriously in America. Its success will be judged by how well it starts what will be a long journey to a more secular future.


    The strong attendance at the Rally shows that there is a growing community out there that matters and who is not going to keep pretending to believe something they simply don't, in order to be accepted and fit in with society, or risk being ostracized.


    Secularists are many and we vote.


    Photos by Lulis Leal
    Washington DC
    March 24, 2012

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