The Road to Santa Monica

The Road II

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.

39 Responses

  1. Pam W says:

    Hi Rena,
    Absolutely! All the speakers, workshops and panels will be recorded by Encore Audio. Tapes will be on sale on-site and will also be for sale on their web site after the convention.

    Pam W.
    Secretary, WAFT IAAC

  2. Rena says:

    Are there any plans to release speaker tapes? I find it very hard to find any speaker tapes from an atheist agnostic point of view. Many of the people who make and appear on speaker tapes tend to be dogmatic about the things that I find the most alienating.

  3. Dorothy H. says:


    Can you email me at, your insights and expereince will be of great use to us!

  4. Bill C. says:

    How are the numbers shaping up?

  5. Mary R says:

    I have been involved in the organizing of the International Doctors in AA annual convention for the past few years, which gives me a vast appreciation for the work those of you assembling this first WAFT convention are doing. Truly a lesson in herding cats. Bravo. So sorry that I won’t be able to attend this year, especially after reading the details. What a powerful lineup. Hoping to hear plans for the second.

  6. life-j says:

    Hopefully it is in the works now to coordinate that.

  7. Jo says:

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply and for all your hard work Dorothy. Hope that quibble didn’t feel like splitting hairs.

    I’m very grateful for this site which I only recently found and looking forward to meeting some of you at the Santa Montica WAFT IAAC this November! What concerns me more than how polished or raw a speaker is the content and intention. I can certainly find it a bit off-putting (and yes disingenuous) at times when an agenda is being promoted. I hear this not just with speakers but with folks sharing at meetings. Moving away from attraction and more promotion–strong words about the “right way” to do AA (e.g., get a sponsor right away, use worksheets etc.) Have been exposed to some recent boasting and chest thumping about being from a “strong sponsorship line” which sounds silly to me really– because if you truly follow that line back, you will find all kinds of normal human successes and flaws, including relapses. And some make a point to share their version of higher power, the church they go to etc..seems quite distracting at times).

    And then there is an entire faction I just learned of called BBA — of ditching the traditions and ignoring the stories in the BB. They emphasize going back to Evangelical Christian Oxford group method and this is particularly disturbing and lonely for me to hear. It’s my understanding after reading Kurtz that Bill Wilson purposefully moved away from this faction, seeing it as far too rigid and non-inclusive.

    But I very grateful to have found this group!


  8. Dorothy H. says:

    Sorry, at this time we will not be able to offer that.

  9. Tim M. says:

    Those of us who know Dorothy, Pam and Jonathan from L.A. area We Agnostics meetings are completely in awe of what they’ve accomplished. It has taken an incredible amount of heavy lifting (as well as remarkable thoughtfulness, wisdom and tact) to turn the convention idea into reality. They’ve created a program that Charlie P., co-founder of the earliest freethinker meetings here, would surely applaud – adult, sane, vibrant, spirited and warm.

    With November inching closer, I’m sensing a rising excitement in the Los Angeles meetings I attend. Those who plan on coming from around the world can be confident that they will encounter that famously warm and laid-back Southern California hospitality. We love a party here and this is going to be a great (and sober) one.

    P.S. Bring the swim suits and beach gear. The water in Santa Monica Bay will be a little colder in November, but the beaches will be just as beautiful then as they are now – and less crowded, at that.

  10. Roger says:

    For those who can’t be there, AA Agnostica will post a summary of each of the days of the convention on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a wrap-up review of the entire convention on Sunday, Nov. 9. Reverend Ewing will, of course, be featured in Thursday’s report. Whether or not that might include a recording of the talk is a decision that belongs to other folks. There is, by the way, an audio of a talk by Ward Ewing on the right hand side of the homepage of the WAFT IAAC site: Unity Day.

  11. Terry L. says:

    I will not be able to attend and would like to hear a recording of Ward Ewing… will that be possible?

  12. Roger says:

    With all due respect, Brent, I do believe the purpose of an AA convention is different from that of an AA meeting. Nevertheless, if someone is in need of support in her or his recovery, there will be marathon AA meetings held in conjunction with the convention.

  13. Colin says:

    Yes, I remember now. I was the guy at the end of the table with the tattoos. It was exciting to see people travel so far, as we are closer to Arizona than LA, to bring us the good news of a convention. We will be starting another meeting per request of individuals who can’t make our 6pm Wednesday meeting… Super excited to accommodate and meet new faces. Great job on the convention. It looks to be getting a lot of attention already. PS the flyer is still at the fellowship hall but was removed in one day at the local Alano club.

  14. Jaye says:

    At the Unitarian Universalist Church.

  15. Pam w says:

    Dear David,
    Your concerns have been heard. Convention merchandise has not been sourced, although we have created a shop on CafePress for attendees and supporters to help with fundraising efforts and is one of the sources being considered for merchandise to be sold at the convention. “CafePress prides itself on doing business with suppliers, vendors, manufacturers and partners who demonstrate and maintain high standards of product safety and ethical business practices.” Full details can be found on their website.

  16. Barbara R says:

    First let me say how much I love your website. Knowing that there are others out there like me has helped me tremendously. I particularly like that your site doesn’t focus so much on what is wrong about AA, but what is right. I especially like the history and the stories of how free thinkers stay sober. I look forward to your messages in my in box.

    Second, I was wondering if you might consider podcasts or recordings of at least the key note speakers and perhaps a little blog of the days events for those of us unable to attend? I would like nothing better than to be there myself, especially upon hearing Marya Hornbacher is speaking. Her writing is so very beautiful and her book means a lot to me.

  17. Mimi says:

    Will there be group flight tickets available and/or accommodation?

  18. anori says:

    Where will the convention be held in Santa Monica?

  19. david m says:

    Now I look into this more deeply, I find that the email address I used was weagconvnetion at

    I used that address as a direct cut and paste from the WAFT website. I noticed the typo at the time and checked it twice (in fact I clicked on the link and my mail client autofilled it from the WAFT link, so it was not my typo.

    I now see that the email address has been altered and is now weagconvention a, which is what one would expect it to be.

    I did not receive any “undeliverable” notification for the emails I sent to the first address as one usually does with email to an address which doesn’t exist, so I assumed they went through.

    But maybe they didn’t. If that’s the case, then I apologize without reserve for asserting that my emails were “ignored”.

    But either way, I’d really like to know the answer to my questions about merchandise sourcing.

  20. Thomas B. says:

    My bags aren’t packed and I haven’t bought my 3-day ticket as yet, but my hotel reservation are made in Anaheim and I’m greatly anticipating driving into the Santa Monica area on November 5th . . .

    It’s indeed wonderful to read, Dorothy, of the tremendous progress you, Pam, and Jonathan, along with all the others involved, have manifested, since I was privileged to meet with you folks in Santa Monica last August.

    Indeed, it is evolving exactly as it should for highest good in accordance with the principles of AA’s Traditions and Concepts, which insure that any addict who meets the only requirement for AA membership — the desire to stop drinking — is welcomed into the rooms of AA. You are exemplarily emulating the spirit of cofounders, Bill and Dr. Bob, who through trial and error during AA’s earliest years, strove to insure that AA be as all-inclusive as possible and available to all addicts who desired to stop drinking. Thank you !~!~!

    This is especially significant in light of the fact that there are many in AA rooms across North America, who are convinced that AA is straying far, far away from the very narrow evangelical and pietistic roots of the Oxford Group in Akron. Their influence has prompted some Intergroup Associations to delist and ban WAFT groups. I suggest that this first ever WAFT IAAC is a direct result of their efforts and is another valid example of the “law of unintended consequences.”

    As Joe C also notes above, it is my deepest hope that this is the first of many WAFT regional and international gatherings in the years to come, as we continue to celebrate and share our gifts of experiencing daily reprieves from addiction.

  21. edward c. says:

    I just – 2 weeks ago – had a serious auto wreck – hope to attend if I have a car agin & some cash as well as in health by then. Eddie C.

  22. david m says:

    That this convention is going to happen is beyond any doubt a Good Thing.

    However, nobody at the email address from the convention website has yet seen fit to answer my questions about whatever measures have been taken to ensure that the conference merchandise on sale has been sourced responsibly with regard to humane labor practices.

    I have written three times so far, and have been roundly ignored each time.
    I don’t think this question is out of bounds in any way at all. Sobriety is as much about how we treat others as it is about how we treat ourselves, at least in my world.

    Not everyone in recovery cares about this issue, to be sure, but many do.
    I’m one of them, and so yes, I want to know what, if any, consideration was given to this issue.

  23. Dorothy H. says:

    Dear Christopher;

    I finially feel that I have discovered my pink cloud doing work on the convention 🙂 We do need your and everyone’s service! You can reach steering committee and me at our new WAFT hotline @ 818-836-6054 or at our email at

    What city in California is your meeting located? I know I and the outreach committee will love a chance to come and speak to your group about WAFT IAAC.

    I look forward to hearing from you very soon. 🙂

  24. Dorothy H. says:

    Linda R. our lovely and BRILLIANT literature chair pointed out to us that we did not leave an email for people who want to volunteer with WAFT IAAC, so here it is,

    Don’t be shy! We need EVERYONE’s help to make this truly an Fellowship event. Anything and everything you can do and any amount of time you can give will make WAFT IAAC the best possible event EVER!

  25. Dorothy H. says:


    OMG! I am too!!!! Pam W. keeps saying that we will be a crying mess the Days Of the convention. Tears of joy. I will bring tissue for the three of us. 🙂

  26. Doris A says:

    Dorothy – Thank you for your comment; just thinking about people coming from afar, making this a truly international event, gets me almost choked up, and I am not really the tearful type. Yay for the conference!!!

  27. Dorothy H. says:

    Dear Brent;

    To answer your question will be there be panels on “panel on Alcoholism? A panel on Early Recovery? A panel on How to Help the Still Suffering Alcoholic?”

    There will be a young timers panel of people who have five years or less of quality sobriety. The other panel suggestions are themes that will be addressed at the convention within the workshops, panels, speaker’s speeches and meetings. That being said if you feel that those issues are not addressed I encourage you to either collect 3 to 5 people to a panel on those outstanding topics or to host a workshop yourself. We have the time and space.

    If you are interested in this opportunity please send us a description of the topic you will cover to our email address at

  28. Dorothy H. says:

    Dear Doris;

    I am excited to hear that you will be attending the convention. I also have been impressed with the global interest in WAFT IAAC. Just last night I was able to book a speaker, Scott, from American Soma.

    I and the steering committee are thrilled beyond description to be able to meet everyone in November.

  29. Dorothy H. says:

    Dear Colin;

    it was Jonathon G. and I who came to your WAFT meeting in Josuha Tree. Jonathon and I had a wonderful time and was very impressed with your meeting. We really hope to see you in November.

  30. Brent P. says:

    “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.”

    Just wondering if there’s going to be a panel on Alcoholism? A panel on Early Recovery? A panel on How to Help the Still Suffering Alcoholic?

  31. Pam W says:

    Dear Jo,
    Perhaps the use of disdain is a little off the mark. However, the voices from the WAFT fellowship were strong and concerned over many different issues relating to speaker selection. Our goal was to listen and be as inclusive as possible. Those speaking will be from far and wide, with and without experience at the podium, sharing their experience, strength and hope in the WAFT fellowship, shaking and raw, strong and defined, just as we all are on any given day, one day at a time.

  32. Doris A says:

    This post came at a perfect time for me. This morning I was starting to wonder if I could afford to attend the conference due to the cost of travel and accommodations. My ambivalence was resolved in a heartbeat just halfway through the post. I am impressed with all the details regarding workshops, meetings and speakers, etc. I love who you all chose for keynote, and hearing about the folks traveling long distance was exciting, and it put my wee journey from in Illinois in perspective. But most of all, this event will truly help break the isolation I have felt for decades and will add some more cement to the foundation of my sobriety. Now time to send in my money. Thank you all.

  33. Doris A says:

    I agree, it was such a pleasure to read and it sealed the deal for me regarding attendance.

  34. Colin says:

    I’m not to sure who exactly showed up to our little meeting in Joshua Tree , Cal. but I do appreciate it and can’t wait until November. Thank you

  35. Jo says:

    Hi there,
    I’m excited about the convention but have a quibble here. As a free-thinker and a frequent attendee of speaker meetings, I do not disdain “shiny, scripted speakers”. I don’t view them as any less genuine than the raw, shaky, spontaneous speakers. Just more polished. I happen to enjoy a huge variety of speakers (and attend many speaker meetings)and find they all bring something valuable to the table. I’ve found many folks who speak frequently have developed certain skills that allow for sharing their process quite poignantly. They often inspire me as much (if not more) as someone who is new or shaky. Maybe because I no longer see them as trying to sell me something. (I used to). And they don’t get paid. I really get most of them are simply offering their version of experience, strength and hope as it pertains to addiction. And I am very grateful for it.

  36. Joe C says:

    I hear some say, “I’m leaving AA (or my home group) because of all the hypocrites.” I say, “Don’t leave – one less won’t make any difference. Stay and be a good example.”

    We all have ideas of what AA could alter or improve, what should be focused on and what should be under-stated. Some of us bitch and some of us do. In fact, all of us bitch and all of us do. But some of the doing will inspire others and I hope this conference inspires a legacy of agnostic conferences every year or two. Maybe one day in the future there will be a few a year – but not if there isn’t a second one. So I hope somewhere in our modest but capable subculture, WAFT IAAC II (the squeal)is incubating.

    Another AA service saying that has been around longer than AA is “If you want to be criticized in AA just do something – anything.” That’s because we all have opinions and there are many ways to do something well. There has been praise and criticism expressed as this We Agnostics conference has emerged and set it’s course. For many of us, so much is on the line; we all want it to succeed and we each have a vision that if others could save time and see it our way, would ensure that success. I know I do.

    Our Twelve Concepts talk about insuring effective leadership, requiring us to endow each element of AA with a traditional “Right of Decision” (Concept III) and that “every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority (Concept X).” There is much more to the tenets of service work that we observe in AA, but it’s enough for me to say that the awesome responsibility of putting this on ought to come with a liberal dose of authority for the committee to decide amongst themselves how it should materialize. Other than serving cocktails, there almost 360 degrees of direction this conference can take and while it won’t even exactly turn out how each committee member envisioned it, I am sure it will be a great event and maybe a start to something bigger. History may well recall that this was an important turning point in AA’s history.

    I hope we continue to try new things and learn from our experiences. I expect we will. At this time I just want to say thank-you for those who are devoting the time, creativity and love to see this first one through. These things are always more than we bargain for. So, “Thanks.”

    Maybe others are already talking with fellow AA members in their cities about stepping up for the next We Agnostics and Freethinkers International Conference of AA.

  37. Pat N. says:

    What a great summary and description of what you folks have been up to. I’m more excited about coming than ever. By the way, that’s one of the best-written, most compassionate, most hopeful, good humored articles I’ve seen in ages. I’m sure you’re a great teacher, but maybe you should be a writer?

  38. Christopher G says:

    Dorothy, I look forward with anticipated glee to meet you and fellow WAFTs in November. I’ve purchased my 3 day ticket and am available for some sort of service. Thank you all so much for this upcoming event. We are in our 3rd week of a new meeting in our small town a 100 miles east of Santa Monica and look forward to seeing and hearing how others are doing it. I haven’t this excited about recovery since my initial pink cloud experience almost 22 years ago!

  39. Jaye says:

    Wow, this just gives me the warm fuzzies, Dorothy, so many people across the world coming together in recovery whether through volunteering, attendance, presenting…
    Thank you to all, especially you, Pam, and Jonathan for making this a historical reality.

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