Saturday, May 5, 2012

Paleolibrarian Guest Blogger Commentary: Beating the Religionists at the Political Game: First Steps In Getting Religion Out of Government

*By Kenneth Bronstein

Kenneth Bronstein
One thing I’m sure of: We are never going to keep the religionists from messing around with our government until we can match them, step for step, vote for vote, in playing the election game.

Right now, the religionists have got it going: They’ve had years of practice at the election game; they’ve got their voters and volunteers organized. They know how to raise money for political ads for their candidate, they know how to organize their parishioners to do the legwork for their candidate, they tell their followers who to vote for, they lobby, they make phone calls, they get their voters to the polls.

Religionists harangue the well-meaning citizens who flock to their churches and church suppers and tell them to get the vote out on election day for John Q. Fundamentalist, who, the parishioners are assured, will get behind all the anti-abortion, anti-health care, anti-union laws that every red-blooded Evangelist wants.

It works. Our Congress is stuffed to the gills with representatives of religion or those who cater to religion. There are only two legislators in our current Congress who have come out and openly admitted they are not believers or beholden to any religion. They are Senator Senator Tom Harkin and Rep. Pete Stark.The rest of our Congressional representatives kowtow to the religious element in their voting district even if they aren’t religious themselves. To be a nonbeliever is, in our current Congress, to be a pariah. Right now, religion, through its organized voting power, is a dominant influence in what laws this country passes. Yet those are the laws that each and every one of us must live under even though we aren’t religious.

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, we Atheists. I met recently with some 35 New York City Atheists who were gung ho about doing something, anything, that could even the stakes for us in Congress. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room that evening and it centered on four major objectives we set for ourselves:

1) We need to get nonbelievers elected this year; 2) We need to get more experience in the electoral process to run our own candidates in 2014; 3) We need to sign up people to volunteer to work on the elections this year; and 4) And we all agreed that, bottom-line, we need to break down our election strategy and activism into manageable tasks.

A big discussion point was, what can we do with our Atheist skills, talents and resources right now that will have impact on the upcoming election--which is critical for us because if the religious reactionaries win, we are in for another 20 years or so of an ultra-conservative Supreme Court that will stop dead in its tracks any case we pursue to enforce separation of church and state.

What are these tasks we need to accomplish for this election? First of all, we need committees to channel our talents. Here’s what our enthusiastic activist think-tank decided:

We need an Election Database and Candidate Questionnaire committee.

Before we can get to our goal, we need a map of what’s there now. We need a record of all the candidates for local, state and federal offices. If the candidate is running for reelection, we need a record of how they voted in the past. This information can be obtained through database resources such as the Secular Coalition for America in Washington DC.

We need a Voter Guide for Secularists.

If we’re looking at a new candidate, we need to get him or her on record about how they stand on our issues. We can submit a questionnaire to the candidate for that, and when we get the candidate’s views on record about our issues, we will publish it as a Voter Guide for Secularists.

We need a committee dedicated to running our own Atheist candidates for office in 2014.

Why don’t more Atheists run for office? As well-informed, scientifically minded people, we’re probably the smartest candidates in the land, so what’s stopping us? When you have people like Rod Blagojevich or Arnold Schwarzenegger running for office and winning, you might think-- rightfully--hey, I could do that! We want to help our Atheists get into the candidate pond, we want to help them learn to take the first steps that may lead to their candidacy, including the following:

Volunteer to work in a Candidate’s Campaign.

This is learning by doing. We can place you as a volunteer in a candidate’s office licking envelopes or answering phones and you’ll see, you’ll hear, you’ll be immersed in the potboiler of politics at its core. You’ll learn the process, get to meet incumbents and find out for us where they stand on our issues. Even if you can volunteer only a couple of hours a week, it is still a class in Elections 101--and it’s free.

 If you decide to run for office yourself, you’ll want nomination signatures and endorsements.

We’ll arrange a nomination subcommittee to help you get these. That’s where the skills and talents of our group come into play. We will want to assist our Atheist candidates with campaign staffing, voter registration, fund raising and campaigning. We will want to promote our candidate by taking out ads in
newspapers, putting up billboards and buying radio spots.

You may ask, what if our candidate loses? Not important. Just to get an Atheist candidate on the ticket is, in my mind, a huge success. To have our candidate’s name out there as “the Atheist candidate,” to show the world that we are here, that we are good citizens, that we are established and have a following--that is plenty of success for newcomers to the political scene.

Lobbying our city, state and federal legislators.

For those who want to get into the fray on a different level, we suggest lobbying. Our lobbying subcommittee can set up appointments for visits to the legislators’ offices where we will present our secular issues to incumbents or their staffs. Some of our members have done this on the federal level in Washington DC during the Reason Rally weekend and found it inspiring and fun.

One does not need any special training to lobby; it is the sincerity of the ordinary citizen that legislators find most compelling. These lobbying trips are educational, enjoyable and often legislators find most compelling. These lobbying trips are educational, enjoyable and often accomplish more than is immediately apparent.
Religious people lobby all the time--hundreds arrive in Washington by bus every week to lobby. We must learn to prevail upon our legislators because we too pay a significant part of their salaries through our taxes.

So there you have it, our first steps in our three-fold activist campaign to get religion out of government: 1) Getting the right candidates elected this year; 2) gaining experience for 2014 elections and 3) signing up Atheists to work in political campaigns this year by volunteering in various campaign headquarters
At this point, we may have more enthusiasm than experience, but we will learn. What established religion has learned over the decades, we need to learn fast. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Join us, climb aboard the Atheist political wagon. You’ll have the time of your life by being a genuine participant in this roiling, tumultuous tempest that is our American nation in an election year! Be a part of it! 
*Paleolibrarian Guest BloggerMrKenneth  Bronstein is the President of New York City Atheists, a non-profit educational organization located in Manhattan which is an affiliate of American Atheists. This article appeared recenlty in NYCA's newsletter to members. It is reprinted with permission from the author.

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