We have our work cut out for us: with the 2016 presidential election and its crowded, combative field full of Religious Rightists dedicated to ending the Separation of Church and State, it’s time for us fight back—hard. We need to be at the table when decisions are made by our elected officials. We need strategies, we need commitment and the energy of our entire membership to influence the candidates of both parties. (Or even three parties, if Donald Trump makes good his threat to run as an Independent!)
And there’s more: The Mayor has answered our letter of June 17th; we are moving ahead with our campaign to oppose prayer in the classroom for four-year-olds in the Mayor’s pre-K program (see here). We are now in discussions with members of the Mayor’s staff and the Board of Education. If a lawsuit is necessary, there will be essential work for our members on the project.
Finally, as I approach my eleventh year as president of NYC Atheists, it’s also time for some reflection about how far we’ve come. When I became president of NYCA, our newsletters were sent in envelopes because they would “disappear” or be damaged in the mail and our members were afraid their neighbors would learn they were Atheists. We had learned, though fear, to keep a low profile.
But things began to change. We started tabling throughout the city to increase our visibility and membership, and finally landed in the spotlight at Columbus Circle. During the Bush convention in New York, we demonstrated openly with signs and slogans.
We got attention and the confidence to “come out” with our beliefs. Today, our newsletters with their distinctive logo go out uncovered because we are proud of being Atheists. There’s been a real shift in the weather and it turns out we have a lot of company!
The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study of May 2015 describes a dramatic increase in the “Nones” (Atheists, Agnostics, Non-religious and Unaffiliated) across genders, generations and racial and ethnic groups; it has surged from 16.1% of U.S. Adults in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014. The “Nones” now eclipse the Jews, Muslims and Catholics, and they are getting younger in the bargain (see here).
Now that our numbers are climbing, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish IF we use the resources of our membership to make sure we can impact the 2016 presidential campaign and oppose prayers during school hours. By being proactive as issues arise we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference and strengthen NYCA for the future.
About the future: the importance of membership participation for the continuing growth, health and longevity of NYC Atheists cannot be overstated! We need the involvement of our entire membership to be effective; each and every one of you has something to contribute to empowering the organization.
Now let’s go back to the value of being proactive and add one more essential: being proactive as first responders. When events move fast, NYCA must be able to move even faster. This is only possible with a well-organized structure in place, with teams and committees, committee chairs, and a chain of command which makes the best use of members’ skills. Let’s call it a triangle.
The simple triangle is one of the strongest shapes in geometry; by using it to establish an efficient organizational structure, we can use our unique capabilities, join with our friends to develop new skills and abilities, and see our efforts getting tangible results. Nothing motivates like tangible results! It’s the best way to explore and develop talents for leadership – to advance and be promoted into ever-more challenging roles. As the committees grow and prosper, we will find potential leaders for a chain of command. These initiatives will lead to greater efficiency and decentralization―another important consideration for the future.
These are some committees NYC Atheists can use to advantage, some of the work they can contribute, and what you might bring to them as a founding member or chair:
Legal: Help us to pursue the lawsuits that enhance our mission and visibility. Monitor and respond to appropriate news and political events and devise plans to lobby officials.
Events: Follow Atheist initiatives. suggest speakers. identify, coordinate and support regular group leaders. Manage special events (social, blood drives, demonstrations.) Organize outreach (tabling, etc.) and venues.
Communications: Monitor current events. Make public statements/responses. Publicize NYCA events in collaboration with Events Coordinator and Events Committee and draft official correspondence.
Internet: Monitor social media.
Equipment Management: Procure, store and maintain all organization assets/equipment. Assure delivery of equipment to activity sites. Assure smooth setup, operation, and return of equipment.
Membership and Volunteer Coordination: Recruit and orient new members focusing upon generations X, Y, and Z, women, Blacks and Hispanics. Support members during times of need (death in family, etc.) Recruit and coordinate volunteers for special projects. Recruit interns, particularly college students, to implement new initiatives.
NYCA Newsletter Editor: Create and content.
Fundraising: Plan and coordinate strategies.
The first step in our structure will be to appoint committee chairs to help organize and guide the committees. As we get things up and running, we will identify those with the potential to assume greater responsibility.
As the committees prosper, we will find potential executives. Some will earn the opportunity to chair multiple committees. Finally, those who have been moving up will be potential new presidents. Bottom line: you have good suggestions, make them! Put your shoulder to the wheel. Do a lot of work – you might become president one day.
Change is always hard to effect, and there are always some bumps in the road. But it’s what keeps organizations vital and growing, and it’s time for us to find the best way to move forward – to participate and to make the long-term commitments that will ensure the survival of our group. I estimate it will take a couple of years to work out the best committee structure for the future so that I can consider stepping down to let a strengthened NYAC take the reins.
If we are not successful in obtaining the cooperation and commitment of our entire membership, I question the viability and the future of our mission and our group.
We have scheduled a meeting for everyone for Thursday, September 24th, at 6:30 pm (see here). We will convene at the SLC Conference Center, 15 West 39 Street. The discussion will focus on which committees each of you will participate in.