Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

Archive for the ‘local groups’ Category

To Cross… or not to Cross (Post)? I say no.

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As a local group leader… or more specifically, as the Organizer of the largest and most active group in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area, I’m often asked to cross post events.  What’s cross posting?  Essentially listing another group’s event on our group’s event calendar.  It’s become the latest trend in cooperation… if we’re all going to be friends then we are, as local leaders, almost expected to advertise for other groups in this fashion.

District of Columbia Atheists, Inc. runs 4 Meetup groups in addition to their day-to-day functions and the DCA Board is essentially against cross posting.  Quite frankly, I never used to think about it much.  However I’m on the Board and it’s a Board discussion so lately I have been giving it a great deal of though.  My conclusion.  I don’t like it.

I know this is a very controversial opinion and I’m likely to be branded as uncooperative from here on out, but it’s the truth.  More than just not liking it, I actually think cross-posting *hurts* the community.  Here’s why:

1. It generates a huge amount of Meetup SPAM.  Members receive 3 automated reminders from Meetup for every event.  So if one event is on two groups they belong to, they automatically end up  with 6 messages.  3 groups? 9 messages. 5 groups? 15 messages…. you get the picture.  Members complain about all this activity and overtime they ignore all Meetup e-mail (missing important events) or leave the group entirely (missing all events.)

2. It de-values the smaller group.  If almost every event on one group is listed on another, why belong to both?

3. It creates chaos and confusion… Many people belong to multiple groups and the question they as is, “did I RSVP here? or there?”  How many seats should the Organizer reserve at the venue?  (Which brings me to another point… Organizers who copy events from one group to their group because they think it’s cool – or they are just lazy – (i.e. “poaching”) without asking the original organizer who planned the event, are just plan rude.  These are the people who should be branded uncooperative and not those who simply say no.)

4. The cross posting group risks alienating their members.  Several years ago, I cross-posted an event, upon request, because they had a well-known speaker.  Although the speaker was great, the group itself was a little more “religious” than my hardcore atheist members and I was dealing with complaints for the next two weeks.

So, why do Organizers even ask other Organizers to cross post?  Simple.  It will increase turnout at their event.  But at what cost?

Cross posting puts organizers in an awkward situation.  If they don’t cross post they are considered to be working against another group, when in fact they may just think the event doesn’t match up with their goals.  Or they may not want to piss off their members… or other groups they already (or plan to) say “no” to. So, why ask? Why give other local leaders the “problem” of having to find a polite way to say no.

Once or twice a year… fine… I’ll cross post large events for another group, but then it opens the door to being asked for event, after event, after event.  Really?  Not having a single event on your calendar that can’t be found on another group’s calendar is suppose to help your membership? It may help in the short-term with individual event turnout, but it hurts longterm membership.  So back to the DCA Board: We concluded that we will only cross post events if they are not listed on more than one Meetup calendar and don’t conflict with our own events and, honestly, I think that’s more than cooperative.

I do genuinely want to help other groups and the community at large but at the end of the day, I’m not sure cross posting helps at all.

I’m interested in what other people think.  Please, share your thoughts.


Written by godlessgradstudent

October 25, 2010 at 7:25 am

Press Release: Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

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Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

Will Be Seen by Crowds at Jon Stewart Rally and Science Expo

For Immediate Release

(Washington DC, October 19, 2010) “Don’t Believe in God? Join the club.”

These words are part of prominent bus shelter ads near the National Mall in Washington DC that will be visible to pedestrians and drivers on Independence and Constitution Avenues for the next four weeks. Thus they will be seen by those who work in the area as well as visitors attending such Mall events as the USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo on October 23 and 24, the dueling rallies of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on October 30, and the 35th Marine Corps Marathon on October 31 (miles 18 and 19).

The 67″x46″ bus shelter ads feature the words superimposed over an image of a blue sky and fluffy clouds. They were placed by the new Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason (Washington CoR) with $7,875 in funding from the United Coalition of Reason (United CoR).

Washington CoR is made up of 12 area groups which, according to its website, seek to “enhance the growth, visibility and acceptance of nontheists throughout the metro area” and promote “wider acceptance of a more rational view of the universe and a more compassionate view of those who live in it.” A complete list of the participating organizations and friends of the coalition can be found athttp://washington.unitedcor.org/node/7 . Members of these groups plan to march under a Coalition of Reason banner at the Jon Stewart rally on October 30.

The Washington DC campaign is also part of a national effort. Already this year there have been similar billboards and bus ads in Austin, Des Moines, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tucson, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Seattle. Last year there were United CoR-sponsored billboard, bus, and subway ads in 20 cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Tulsa, Phoenix and San Diego.

“The point of our nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists, agnostics and humanists living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “Such individuals sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re flooded with traditional religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to the like-minded isn’t the only goal of the effort. “We also want the public to see that there are many humanists, agnostics and atheists living here as part of the community,” added Shelley Mountjoy, coordinator of Washington CoR. “We’re your friends, neighbors, coworkers and relatives. And like many people, we are leading quality lives: contributing to neighborhood and nation and living our values.”

“Being visible is important for us,” Edwords concluded, “because atheists and agnostics in our society often don’t know many people of like mind. Furthermore, if traditionally religious people can be open about their views, why shouldn’t we be open about ours?”

# # #

For hi-res images of the bus shelter ads, free for media use, see the right sidebar on this page. The exact locations of the bus shelters are as follows:

Independence Avenue, south side, 10 feet west of 12th Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Smithsonian Metrorail Station (Independence Avenue exit) next to the Department of Agriculture and the Knapp Memorial Arch and across the street from the Department of Energy. It doubles as a stop for the Open Top Sightseeing Bus.

Independence Avenue, south side, 90 feet west of 3rd Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Voice of America, across Independence from the Museum of the American Indian and across 3rd from the Department of Health and Human Services. It doubles as a stop for the 30s Metrobuses.

7th Street, east side, 30 feet south of Constitution Avenue, NW, facing north. This is next to the National Gallery of Art, across from the Sculpture Garden, catercorner from the National Archives and about a block south of the Archives-Navy Memorial Metrorail Station. It doubles as a stop for the Red Circulator Bus.


# # #

The Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason is a network of local groups that have joined together to increase the sense of community among like-minded people and to enhance the growth, visibility, and acceptance of nontheists throughout the Washington DC metro area.

The United Coalition of Reason is a national organization, headquartered in Washington DC, that works to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason by providing funding, expertise, and opportunities for cooperation.

# # #

For more information contact:

Shelley Mountjoy
Coordinator, Washington CoR

Steve Lowe
Media Rep., Washington CoR

Fred Edwords
National Director
United Coalition of Reason


I did not enjoy TAM 8… here’s why.

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TAM 8 was held in the South Point Hotel and Casino. Prior to getting on the plane, I called to make a reservation for the shuttle. At that time, I was told that all of their shuttles (airport and mall) were accessible. I also spent a good deal of time online reading about how Las Vegas (casinos) have “treated the disabled as  first class citizens even before the ADA” so I was looking forward to getting out and enjoying the city. At the airport the shuttle was marvelous and the driver was friendly…little did I know, the next time things would be so accessible would be when I boarded the shuttle to return to the airport. In the past seven years I have used a wheelchair, I’ve stayed in a number of hotels; South Point was, by far, the least accessible.

When I checked in, I was asked if I wanted a shower or bathtub… bathtub please! You have a tub bench, right? Wrong. The front desk called housekeeping and subsequently told me they did not have benches left. I asked when they anticipated having one as I was willing to go a night without a bath. She didn’t know so in the end I took the room with the shower. Logically, why would a hotel not have a shower bench for every accessible tub? No, I don’t mean every bathroom but simply every accessible bathroom. It just makes sense and not doing so would be a bit like not having enough sheets for all the beds! At the very least they could have kept track of which rooms their benches were in and how long the corresponding guests were staying. (I’ll come back to what happened when I tried to use the shower.)

The largest issue was the floor throughout the hotel. Keep in mind, the hotel was huge (2,200 rooms) and it was often a bit of a distance from A to B. Essentially, the floor was uneven – perhaps it could be described as wobbly in places – and often the carpet was not tight. It resembled more of a drapery than a tight floor covering. Logically, it’s probably difficult to pull the carpet tight and flat with an uneven floor!. It was difficult and exhausting to push myself and even when another person was assisting it was near impossible to keep my chair in a straight line. It was so bad that I would not be surprised if able-bodied people occasionally tripped or had issues with rolling luggage.

In the bathroom, the drain was not at the lowest part of the shower! Despite using bedsheets and towels to hold the water back, it was difficult and unsafe for me to transfer from my chair in the pond that quickly became the bathroom floor. I’m always in a bad mood after risking my safety for what should be an easy routine task. With that much water the floor stayed wet until housekeeping mopped it up; therefore creating a mess every time I returned to the bathroom to brush my teeth, etc.

Another major issue I had was the shuttle to the mall. Keep in mind, they told me the mall shuttle was accessible before I arrived. I purchased tickets to a show one night from the hotel travel agent; I even made a point of selecting a show closer to the shuttle drop off than the one I initially selected. When I went to board the shuttle there was no wheelchair lift.  The driver said I could ask the front desk and they would send a shuttle with a lift. Well, after three hours at the front desk there was still no shuttle. The most annoying part of the entire conversation was when the supervisor told me they “aren’t required to have an accessible shuttle” as if that made up for the fact that they told me it was accessible before I arrived and I would not have purchased show tickets and been excited about the show if I knew I could not take the shuttle.  Would a hotel tell you they have a pool and then, when you arrive and wonder where the pool is, state that they “aren’t required” to have a pool?  I don’t think so.

Some of my accessibility issues were specific to the conference – for instance, I hate buffets. (TAM had two buffet lunches included in registration and I attended one.) The difficulty of balancing a plate with one hand while pushing with another is bad enough when able-bodied people let you ahead of the line. However, none of the other participants were considerate in this regard – in fact a few people pushed me out of the way as the buffet line resembled a stampede of cattle. Fun. I gave up a quarter of the way through and took a space at the nearest table.

Since I run the Drinking Skeptically in Richmond, I was interested in checking out the Drinking Skeptically event at TAM but that too turned into more of a disappointment. It was essentially held in a bar that I’ll describe as a fenced-in platform. While there was a ramp, the furniture was packed in so tight I couldn’t move once I came up the ramp. I probably made it about three feet before becoming so frustrated and heading back to the room.

There were tons of other issues in the hotel. In general, I felt like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. were an afterthought. Almost like someone went through with a checklist of requirements after construction and ignored how someone with a disability actually lives. For instance, there were large signs indicating the presence of a movie theater but when I arrived there was only an escalator. I later discovered another (significantly smaller) sign for movies on the other side of the hotel where an elevator was in fact located. I did go to a movie and bowling – both of which were highlights of the weekend. Good thing I went on a scavenger hunt for that elevator! It is common practice in such a situation for a venue to have a sign at the dominate entrance to tell people where the elevator is and I think it is downright irresponsible to send those people who have the most difficulties with mobilities searching for a way upstairs!

They did comp one night in the hotel for the inconvenience of the shuttle situation and a $25 dining credit in consideration of spending three hours at the front desk.  I did enjoy the meal but I would have preferred to see the show.

When I registered for TAM 8, I was intending to spend 2 weeks in Las Vegas. However, due to extenuating circumstances, the trip was cut to 5 days and that turned out to be a good thing. Although all the talks I did hear were great, when I have to fight so hard just to get ready and down to the conference room, I find it difficult to have a good time.  In general, I am the type of person that tries to go out of my way to make things accessible but it really became such a disappointment when I was faced with barriers turn after turn.  If only one or two problems had crept up it wouldn’t have been such a problem but it was almost a constant fight… I realize I didn’t even go into the bed being so high I almost injured myself. (EDIT: I’ve been told this line makes it sound as if I was high… I meant the bed was physically high – probably around 30 inches.  The ideal – for the disabled – is between 19 and 21 inches.)

I won’t be returning to TAM in the future – at least not if it’s held at South Point.

Written by godlessgradstudent

July 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

It’s May already?!

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It’s hard to believe I haven’t updated the blog since March.

So much has happened in the DC Secular movement.  Most notably, Beltway Atheists Meetup Group has merged with Maryland Atheist Outreach.  The new group is called Capital Beltway Atheists and has a new, professional logo created by a designer just for the change!

In addition, the group is committed to expanding outreach in Maryland.  Beltway Atheists Meetup Group already held one event in MD each month – a Happy Hour in Bethesda.  However, the new group will hold at least one event, in addition to the Happy Hour, in MD each month.

For June, the New Member Meet & Greet will be in Rockville.  This has always been a very popular event and this time it should serve as a great way for both group members to mingle.

Written by godlessgradstudent

May 22, 2010 at 11:27 am

march in a minute

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Wow!  I just realized it’s been a whole month since I’ve spoken about events that have taken place around DC.

I still haven’t been able to attend Beltway Atheists Happy Hours because they conflict with my school/work schedule.  However, we’ve had three in March… as usual, Tommy Joe’s in Bethesda, Mai Thai in Dupont Circle, and Joe Theissmann’s in Alexandria.  Christopher ran all three.  Aside from a banned member showing up at one, things were for the most part, fun and successful.

Beltway Atheists’ Charitable Works Committee cleaned our adopted highway (Rt. 7) for the first time this year.  (We’re obligated to clean the highway 4 times a year.)  Unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to illness.  On March 11th, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to GW.  The event was incredible!  It had been moved to March due to snow but we still had about 25 Beltway Atheists members among the 750 or so people who attended.

Gina Welch spoke at Politics and Prose in March as well… with short notice, many of us could not come but we do have a similar event on the calendar for April.

Our cultural event for the month was a trip to the Holocaust Museum… I was a bit disorganized but it was a powerful experience.

There were also a number of events on the Beltway Atheists calendar that I could not attend – all were on the topic of evolution:

– A panel discussion on ‘Religious Perspectives n the Science of Human Origins”

– A play celebrating Darwin’s impact

– A book discussion

– A film on the life of Charles Darwin

Among the more controversial events, WASH had a lecture on polyamory.  There were a number of objections before the event but it went on without incident.

Student groups at American University and George Mason University hosted Tom Flynn on March 22nd and 23rd… he gave a talk on “The Trouble With Easter” and it was very well researched and enjoyed by many.

Finally, for those of you who find the whole 6-6-6 thing interesting, Beltway Atheists reached the 666 member mark on March 26th.

Written by godlessgradstudent

April 3, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Spring 2010: 4 weeks down, 4 to go

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Another exhausting week down – 14 to go!


Saturday: I spent an amazingly productive day at the Mason Leadership Institute. 🙂

Sunday: Valentine’s Day. 🙂

Monday: After driving all the way up to DC, I discovered my class was canceled. 😦

Tuesday: Beltway Atheists was finally able to hold a DC Happy Hour that wasn’t canceled due to snow. 🙂

Wednesday: I became the Vice President of the Graduate and Professional Student Association. 🙂

Thursday: I was home, and in bed, before midnight! 🙂

Friday: Caught up on some e-mail and cleaned the house on my one day off this week! 🙂

The coming weekend will be busy.  In addition to a few personal things, Beltway Atheists is holding a New Member Meet and Greet.  Also, the Northern Virginia Chapter of Washington Area Secular Humanists is back and holding their first event this weekend!  We have a great guest speaker lined up and I’m working on a few profound thoughts to share about the DC secular scene.

Darwin Day (Pasta?) Dinner

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UPDATE:  An edited version of this post was published in the Secular Student Alliance’s eMpirical.  I absolutely *love* the picture they chose to accompany the story. 🙂

Friday, February 12th, 2010 was the 201st Anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.  Commonly called ‘Darwin Day’, it is a great chance for our community to gather to celebrate humanity and science.

At George Mason University, Student Activities will support one meeting per year with food and this was our chance to take that resource and make a great impact.  So, I filled out the necessary paperwork for a pasta dinner, another leader in our group made arrangements for a speaker, and the Secular Student Alliance (GMU) planned to celebrate Darwin Day with what would have been a fabulous pasta dinner complemented with a terrific speaker.

The weather had different plans though.  Snowmageddon ’10 hit and our pasta extravaganza became 15 pizzas.

In the end, everything worked out.  Our speaker was still able to make it.  People ate, drank, and had a good time.  The event was a success – in so far we define “success” as having the people who did come enjoy the event.

Nevertheless, as President of the Secular Student Alliance (GMU) this brought two questions to my mind…

1. Are we becoming too “religious” in our rituals to honor his noodly appendage?

As a result of a week of closures there was no time for campus catering to prepare the dinner we had planned.  Nevertheless, Student Activities did go our of their way to facilitate having some food that evening – specifically, Papa John’s Pizza.

I notified those signed up on Facebook and Meetup that we would have food – just not the pasta planned – so that they wouldn’t be disappointed when then arrived.  Ironically, pizza is actually more popular than pasta and had we marketed this event as a pizza dinner the student turnout likely would be higher.

A few people were extremely disappointed by the lack of pasta.  One of our student leaders pushed to continue with pasta through other means and in the end purchased pasta with their own funds to supplement the pizza.  The basis of the argument?  Having “truth in advertising”.

For what it’s worth, most of the pasta remained uneaten.

Personally, I was too busy running around at the last minute to participate in the debate.  With the changes came increased paperwork as well as the need for me buy soda, paper products and set up.  (The “pasta” dinner would have been fully catered and a staff member would have handled set up.)   Also, ordering pizza was not as simple as it sounds and we still have some outstanding issues with the vendor.

I understand the connection between the Flying Spaghetti Monster and “pasta dinner” and I don’t doubt that it would have been nice to have pasta but it’s more logical, in my mind, to do what is practical.  So, is this an issue?  Do we need to celebrate the FSM with pasta?  Should we have fought for pasta like other students fight for accommodations for their religious beliefs?  If so, it sounds like dogma to me.  The FSM is not a real religion and therefore we should be able to adjust our rituals as necessary.

2. Should an event be canceled, or rescheduled, in consideration of inclement weather cancellations earlier in the week?

We still had the guest speaker – Tim Farley from Whatstheharm.net – although we were significantly delayed in getting him to the event due to heavy traffic on recently plowed streets.  We also had less than half the turnout expected.

Student and community members who were off campus had no intention of coming on campus for a free meal when they had been home all week and were coming up on the weekend.  Students who were on campus didn’t get exposure to the advertising we would have normally done.   We had intended to have a kiosk at the Johnson Center (JC), a major building on campus.  However the JC and many other buildings we had hung flyers in were closed all week.

If we rescheduled, we would have had to find a new speaker as the 2/12 date happened to correspond with Tim’s travel plans.  Nevertheless, I feel that we should have chosen that route.  Of course we could have gotten pasta later but that isn’t the reason for my opinion.

A major part of holding an event is to build recognition of the student group.  Even people who can’t attend, see that there is a party with free food, a great speaker, and – most importantly – there is a Secular Student Alliance on campus!  This didn’t happen.  A few of our existing members did bring along friends but new faces were, by in large, absent from the event.

Also, at the end of the day I was left holding the ball.  There was, metaphorically, no one to toss the ball to because no one was anticipating drastic last minute changes.  Should one student leader struggle with paperwork, a bulk pizza order, a trip to the grocery store, and room set up by themselves on the day of the event?  For a student leader in a wheelchair, this was next to impossible.  I’m amazed that it all came together.  Although even for an able-bodied student leader I still would have recommended rescheduling the event.  This is too much work for one student to carry – especially in one day.

What is the best course of action for a student group whose event is affected by inclement weather?  In our situation, just because campus had finally reopened after a week of closures it didn’t mean that we needed to go through the event as planned.  I wrote this article because many of us feel the need to continue with plans despite the changes and to focus on the positive rather than contemplate the negative… sometimes our expectation to follow through despite bumps in the road becomes an obligation to charge on regardless of obstacles.  This doesn’t have to be the only option.