"Challenge the SBOE" Rally in Austin, Texas

Today was the "Challenge the SBOE Rally" at the Austin State Capitol. (See Johnny's recent blog post, Action Alert: Stop Religious Extremists, for more information.) I got a chance to meet a few ThinkAtheist members, SilveryLox and Shanika. So far, my skills at recognizing people from the internet are infallible! My directional skills, however, are apparently quite fallible as I led SilveryLox and myself on quite the scenic route between the rally and the afterparty. Oops. ;)

A few hundred people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to protest the SBOE's efforts to interject a conservative Christian message into the Texan public school curriculum. The rally, organized and led by the American Atheists, invovled several different atheist groups. While many members of the Atheist Community of Austin and the Center for Inquiry were present, groups from all major cities in Texas were also bussed in for the event. Freethinking organizations from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and College Station arrived with signs and banners promoting truth, reason, and objectivity in education.

Over the course of two hours, several speeches were given. Owing to my habitual tardiness, I was forty-five minutes late and missed the first speech by Aime Parsons, the director of Camp Quest and a candidate for the SBOE. I arrived just as Dr. Ed Buckner, the president of American Atheists, was beginning his speech.

After Dr. Buckner's speech, the mic was passed to the executive director of the Libertarian Party of Texas, Robert Butler.

Mr. Butler promoted not only a separation of church and state, but a separation of school and state as well. While I did agree with his sentiment that individuals must take responsibility for the education of their children, I cannot agree with the suggestion that public education should be abolished. However, I am hesitant to further criticize his speech as I lacked the gumption to question him directly afterward. I only wonder at the suggestion that public education is not a suitable area of government involvement when Thomas Jefferson--the cited source of the Libertarian Party's principles--was himself one of the earliest proponents of public education.

Following Mr. Butler was David Smalley, the editor of the American Atheists magazine.

A few other speeches followed. However, I failed to catch the names and respective organizations of all of the speakers. Hey, I never said that I was a journalist. ;) I cannot remember the name of this next speaker, but please leave his name in the comments if you recognize him!

The emcee of the event was Kathleen Johnson, the vice president and military director of the American Atheists.

Musical interludes were provided by Joe Broome, a musician and Texas high school teacher.

Also speaking was Joe Zamecki, the American Atheists Texas State Director.

Although Christopher Hitchens was invited to speak at the rally, he unfortunately had a conflicting engagement and was unable to attend. However, he did write an essay to be read aloud by Dr. Buckner. (I'm trying to track down the full text of Hitchens' essay.)

A diverse crowd had gathered in front of the podium to listen these speeches. Because Thomas Jefferson graces the $2 bill, many people had pinned bills to their shirts. I failed to get a picture of this as I could not find a polite way to ask anyone if I could take a picture of their chest. However, I did manage to get plenty of pictures of the numerous signs promoting truth and honesty in our education system.

There were a few Christians in the audience expressing their disdain for the SBOE's agenda. While some held signs clearly identifying themselves as Christians, others were less direct. The following sign confused me and several other people:

The couple holding the sign were very polite and had no objection when I asked to take their picture. I do not want to inaccurately label this as a Christian sign because I did not directly ask the couple about their intended message. (One thing that I definitely learned from this experience is to ask more questions!) However, later I was told that the "Come and Take It" line is likely in reference to an event in the Mexican Revolution in which Texans fashioned the following flag:

The flag depicts a cannon which Mexican forces were trying to seize from the Texans. (There is a lengthy backstory; see the Wiki link above for details.) Therefore, the flag has become a symbol of freedom and defiance towards opposing forces who may attempt to seize control of something. We guessed that the protesters' sign had substituted a Bible in place of the fabled cannon, signifying defiance against any effort to remove the Bible from the school. However, perhaps the book on the sign was supposed to signify a schoolbook and yield a message opposing the SBOE's agenda to suppress quality education. Either way, I'm kicking myself that I did not ask the couple for further details.

After the rally, everyone met at the Dog and Duck Pub for lunch. I had a fabulous time sharing drinks and laughs with other freethinkers and I really cannot wait to move to Austin so that I can attend events like this more often. Of course, we had to pose for a ThinkAtheist photo op! From the left are Anthony (Shanika's husband), Shanika, SilveryLox, and myself.

Views: 160

Comment by Richard E. Ochoa on May 17, 2010 at 10:03am
Awesome! I have a pic of the itinerary sheet from the rally (with the list of speakers) and I recorded the Hitchens speech on my iPhone. If you're interested, let me know.
I posted some pics here, too: http://picasaweb.google.com/richard8a/TexansForTruthfulTextbooks#
Comment by Shanika on May 17, 2010 at 10:31am
Thanks Shine! It was so great meeting you guys! :-)
Comment by Shanika on May 17, 2010 at 10:38am
Hey Richard...didn't know you were on T/A too, but I see you've got a pic of me lol. :-D Thanks.
Comment by Shine on May 17, 2010 at 10:41am
Boo, my interent is failing and I can't get Picasa to open up right now. I'll have to look on my netbook at lunch. Richard, do you have any way to upload the recording of the speech? Thanks, and I can't wait to see your pics! :)
Comment by Richard E. Ochoa on May 17, 2010 at 1:21pm
Hi Shanika. Yeah, I was the guy with the long goatee and the hat that took the pictures of your signs after the event.

Shine: I can upload it somewhere. I'll post a link when it's up.
Comment by Shine on May 17, 2010 at 1:48pm
Thanks, Richard! And excellent pictures, by the way.
Comment by Richard E. Ochoa on May 17, 2010 at 7:05pm
Okay, after some audio and video tweaks I have uploaded the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmwR8AD4dNo
Comment by Shine on May 17, 2010 at 8:16pm
Yay, thanks so much! I'm going to add it to the video section as well, if you don't mind.

Comment by kelltrill on May 20, 2010 at 9:27am
Thanks so much to everyone who uploaded pics, attended or supported the rally, and uploaded this vid. It's been a very interesting saga to follow from the other side of the world.
If anyone has the text of Hitchen's essay or a podcast of it that would also be really appreciated :)
Comment by Shine on May 21, 2010 at 8:16am
Oops, I knew that I was forgetting to do something; I'll ask around and find a transcription of the essay. :D


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