By Dorothy H.
The voices have come from near and far.
There were the voices in Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles, where attendees at a newly founded We Agnostics meeting greeted the news of the coming convention with hearty applause and a cheerful willingness to mount a marathon meeting and host workshops at the event.
There was Mike from Ireland, who was on a visit to New York with his wife when he came upon one of our fliers at the Central Office in Manhattan. Sober more than 40 years, he was astonished to learn that there were freethinker meetings in Britain and more than 150 such meetings worldwide. We asked him to be on the International Panel, and he replied in a warm brogue that he would be honored.
John, from Dallas, Texas, by way of Paris, France, knew Charlie P., the founder of the earliest We Agnostics meetings in Southern California, during his sunset years in Texas. A talented linguist, John translated our flyer into Spanish. He’s bringing his sponsees with him and will be speaking on both the International and LGBT panels.
Everywhere we have gone, we have heard voices of encouragement and voices of support. There has been an outpouring of pleasure and pride that freethinkers in AA are coming together with the solidarity and visibility that only a convention makes possible.
We will come together as a multitude, our isolation ended.
To be sure, there have been challenges along the way.
Some have objected that we are not following the traditional AA convention script, with top-down management and a roster of circuit speakers. We see this as description, not objection. We are making our own way. Our program has been shaped by suggestions from the grassroots. More than 2,000 people have been contacted by post and an additional 1,700 electronically.
We will offer a true freethinker experience, disdaining shiny, scripted speakers in favor of authentic voices, even if they are raw and shaking.
We will have the largest number of women attendees at an AA event that is not specifically a woman’s conference.
We are America. We will have people attending from 34 different states.
We are the world. We will have attendees coming from eight different countries: Canada, U.S., Philippines, Costa Rica, England, Spain, France and Ireland.
We are freethinkers. We honor a tradition of free expression. We will not edit anyone.
And still, we are AA. Our attendees are members of the Fellowship because they say they are. That is all that is required. In addition, we are happy to share with you that the General Services Office has been both friendly and helpful.
The convention will begin on Thursday, November 6 at 11 AM. Shortly thereafter our keynote speaker, Ward Ewing, will address those in attendance. The convention will end at 9 PM on Saturday, November 8, and shortly before it does, Marya H., author of many books including Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, shall speak to all of us at the convention.
Some controversy attended the selection of the keynote speakers who will bookend the event. Despite the fact that he is a grassroots choice, some have objected to Ward Ewing because he wears a clerical collar.
However, what seems to matter to most of the freethinker AAs we have spoken to is Ward’s long service as an AA trustee who has consistently and forcefully articulated an inclusive vision for the Fellowship, one that would make it a welcoming place for people of all beliefs or none.
Ward has been in the trenches. He knows the story, having seen it and lived it. His singular knowledge and passionate conviction will surely bring great value to the proceedings in November.
Others have expressed anonymity-related concerns over the invitation we extended to Marya H., a human being in recovery and a brilliant writer who publishes under her own name. The special gift Marya brings is her mastery of the art of self-examination and the willingness to present her life as an open book. This is an art with special relevance to everyone in recovery. We know Marya will give the convention a fitting and memorable coda.
Both keynote speakers will be present throughout the entire convention.
A shout out to Pam W. and the Scheduling Committee who have been hard at work finalizing timing and details for workshops, panels and meetings. Nothing has been overlooked – tables, chairs, refreshments, white boards, cigarette cans, to name just a few.
Jonathan G., a retired animator, is heading up the Decoration Committee that will give WAFT IAAC its visual flair.
Linda R., from Minnesota, has taken on the role of Literature Chairwoman and is organizing an Author’s Corner where writers who write about recovery will discuss past and current works.
Many of the cornered authors (to date) are well known to AA Agnostica: Joe C. (Beyond Belief), John L. (A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous), Megan D. (Transitive Woman), Katherine Ketcham (Experiencing Spirituality and The Spirituality of Imperfection), Darren L. (The Power of Vow), Roger C. (The Little Book and Don’t Tell) and Vince Hawkins (An Atheist’s Unofficial Guide to AA).
Panels? There will be panels aplenty – a Listing Issues Panel, an Oldtimers Panel, a Canadian Panel, an International Panel, a Youth Panel, a Web Servants Panel and an LGBT Panel. These will be rounded out with American Regional Panels focused on the U.S. East, West, South and Midwest, respectively, as well as International Panels.
Workshops? The convention will be plentiful when it comes to workshops. Here are (just some of) the topics: Mr. X, Reaching WAFTS in the Digital Age, Women in WAFT, Starting an Agnostic/Atheist Meeting, Jim B and Hank P and This IS Real AA.
We have received more than 25 confirmations to host AA Marathon Meetings in conjunction with the Convention. Attendees will be able to sit in one room and experience back-to-back meetings from places as disparate as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Maui, Paris, Vancouver and Toronto, among others.
For me and for Pam and for Jonathan, our journey has been above all a journey of joy and service. Sure, there have been many hours of meetings, many hours of work, no little stress, and, occasionally, the pain that comes with conflict and controversy. But this journey has strengthened our sobriety – that much we know. We have made wonderful new friends. We have discovered capacities and talents we never knew we had. And we have experienced true Fellowship – a spirit human, not divine, but powerful nonetheless, a spirit that confirms that we really can find joy in life.
Old attitudes and exclusionary practices will not disappear overnight. November’s convention marks a new beginning, however, a new solidarity, a new unity, a new insistence on freedom, a new determination to live and let live. It will clearly mark the start of a new era.
Join us! There is more to do. We need volunteers. We need your skills. Make a presentation, do Internet outreach, help us keep the machinery going.
But most of all, just join us. Join us in Santa Monica November 6 for a great celebration of recovery and for the time of your life.
Dorothy H., a recovering alcoholic and addict, is chairwoman of the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Convention (WAFT IAAC), an event without precedent in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. It will take place November 6 to 8 in Santa Monica, California. This is her account of the still unfolding journey she and fellow WAFT IAAC Steering Committee members Pam W. and Jonathan G. have traveled over many months as the Convention has made its way from dream to reality.