By Roger C.
The second international convention for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA will be held in November in Austin, Texas.
The convention will run Friday through Sunday, November 11 – 13, and will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The first convention was held in 2014 in Santa Monica, California, and was a huge success with, on the final day, three hundred participants from forty states and thirteen different countries. The convention featured exceptional speakers including Reverend Ward Ewing, former chair of the AA General Service Board, and Marya Hornbacher, author of Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, as well as variety of very diverse and compelling panels and workshops.
You can read more about that convention beginning right here: We Agnostics and Atheists AA Convention – Day 1. It was organized by three people: Jonathon G., who died on Saturday, October 18, 2014, just three weeks before the convention, Pam W, and Dorothy H.
They did a superb job.
On the first day of that first convention, a new WAAFT (We Agnostics, Atheists and Free Thinkers) IAAC (International Alcoholics Anonymous Convention) Board was elected with its mission being to organize the next convention for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA. Also at that meeting, Austin, Texas, was selected as the location for our second international convention.
Things have not gone all that well since then.
Today, only four of the initial eleven people elected remain on the Board. Early on a battle developed between Dorothy H, the founder and chair of the Board, and several other people, both in and out of the Board. They wanted her out and they succeeded.
In December of last year, Dorothy stepped down. As John S, the manager of AA Beyond Belief, aptly put, “There was an organized plot to overthrow her, and the plotters ended up taking over the show”.
One of these plotters, John C, has twice threatened to organize scorched earth demonstrations at the convention if the Board voted against his wishes. Fights have raged over speakers and panel and workshop topics. As a result, it has taken more than sixteen months since the Board was first elected to come up with a first draft of an agenda.
We will share that agenda shortly.
But, prior to that, a few questions need to be addressed.
First, should the WAAFT IAAC Board continue to exist?
Some with knowledge of the history of the WAAFT IAAC believe that it should be abolished, that it is simply unnecessary. They argue that delegates at each convention could simply vote on the next location for the (biennial) conventions. The “Host” Committee, the folks who have volunteered to organize the convention in, say, New York, Chicago or London, England, would then be responsible for all aspects of the convention.
The Host Committee in Austin, Texas, is chaired by Nick H. This Committee was put together in February 2015 and is made up of representatives from all of the freethinker groups in Austin and is officially named the “WAAFT IAAC Austin 2016 Steering Committee”. Up to 15 people attend each monthly meeting. It chose the Crowne Plaza Hotel in April 2015 for the convention. It consists of many talented people quite capable of putting together an engaging and well-run convention.
Oddly enough, to date they have very little to do directly involved with the convention, other than to pick a good location for it. Nick reports that he initially thought the Host Committee would be in charge of the convention agenda.
Not so. That is done by the WAAFT IAAC Board, which has its own Program Committee. And this is precisely where the roadblocks to putting together an agenda – speakers, panels, workshops – have emerged.
Two members of the Program Committee, John C and John H, are apparently at least as extreme as Big Book Thumpers but on the opposite end of the spectrum: they are atheism thumpers. John H is aggressively opposed to any mention of the 12 Steps, secular or otherwise, and is contemptuous of words like “agnostic” or “spiritual”.
After the wars between the Program Committee members – and then the wars at the WAAFT IAAC Board, where John C was joined by the newest Board member, Vic L – the agenda was imposed upon Nick and his Austin Host Committee.
This is a problem.
Where, for example, is the input from others, who are not on the Board?
Certainly the WAAFT IAAC could indeed continue to exist, but as a “service” Board, in line with Tradition Nine. It could provide guidelines for a Convention – no “musts” – and involve as many others as possible in developing a agenda, including the Host Committee. What it could also do to help would be to collect delegate fees for the convention and it could also be an effective and important voice in promoting the convention.
And here now is the current agenda for the convention in Austin.
None have been selected to date.
I would heartily recommend that the first speaker at the convention be one of the members of the Austin Host Committee. He or she could talk about Charlie Polachek – you can read about him here: Father of We Agnostics Dies – who started the first agnostic meetings in Austin. And she could talk about the fascinating history of the growth of agnostic AA groups in Austin, Texas. The Host Committee deserves at least this attention from the full convention.
(Panel moderators or participants are in brackets)
- WAAFT Introduction (Board of WAAFT)
- The 12 Steps in Secular Meetings (Roger C)
- GLBTQ (Mikey, John C)
- International Panel
- Afternoon with Atheists (John C, John H, Vic L, Jane J)
- AA and Non-AA Literature Discussion (Ami Brophy – AA Grapevine)
- Spirituality: An Enhancement of or an Escape from Reality
- What is a Free Thinker (Nick H)
- AA and the Law (Martine R)
- WAAFT – Should we Change our Name?
- What is WAAFT? (Vic L)
- Mental Health Issues and Recovery
- Toronto Agnostics and the Human Rights Tribunal (Larry K)
- Starting a Secular AA Meeting
- Slogans (Mikey)
- Meditation and Recovery (Flint S)
- Freedom from Fear: Coming out in Traditional AA
- Yoga and Recovery (Sober yoga teacher)
- Media and Recovery (Deirdre S)
- Carrying the Message to WAAFTs
- Atheist, Agnostic, ADDICT and Alcoholic (Ken S)
- Why is AA in Decline ((Jerry F, John H)
- Atheist, Agnostic and Free Thinker Al-Anons
- WAAFTs Relationship to Conventional AA (Thomas B and John S)
- Young People’s Meeting
- Avoiding Relapse
- Reunion en Espanol
- Women’s Meeting
- Newcomers’ Meeting
- Recovering from the Committee in my Head
- Spirituality vs. Religion (Jeb B)
- Changing the Big Book (Jerry F)
The convention is now just six months away. After climbing over the summer, that’s not very far from today.
Going forward, I believe our code should be one of “love and tolerance”.
One of my favourite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Forcing our own creed or dogma on others is wrong. This is no doubt one of the worst things done by we humans. It is disrespectful. It leads to hate. It leads to war. It can be, and of late often is, a problem in our fellowship of AA.
The venue for the convention is a great one, as the Austin Host Committee reports. The Crowne Plaza has great room rates in addition to excellent facilities for the convention. There is a large ballroom for main gatherings with ten smaller conference rooms for round the clock AA meetings and workshops. The hotel, located in north central Austin, has a restaurant, outdoor pool, and 24 hour fitness center on site. Several good quality eateries are within walking distance, and many others just a short drive away.
The Host Committee will be offering excursions to several Austin tourist attractions.
Moreover, since Austin is the Live Music Capital of the US, the Host Committee felt that for a truly Austin experience lots of live music should be part of the convention. They are currently working with several sober Austin musicians to provide musical interludes during meal times and between speaker and panel sessions.
Should you go, even though there has been brouhaha in the early planning of the convention? Of course you should. That’s kind of par for the course at this stage of our movement but it is something that must be honestly acknowledged if it is to be dealt with as we go forward. And besides, as John S, the manager of the website AA Beyond Belief puts it: “No matter what, people will have fun. It’s really about getting together”.
He is absolutely correct.
See you in Austin.