After the Rapture – Still Alive
June 2, 2011The rapture is coming! Well...a rapture party, at least. Sean Gillespie shares the story of the Air Capital Skeptic's Rapture Party.
This article orginally appeared on the Air Capital Skeptics' blog.
"This was a triumph.
I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction." - GLaDOS
On 21 May 2011, Air Capital Skeptics, a Wichita State University student group, held Rapture Day in response to Harold Camping's widespread claims of Biblical doom. The two main goals of this event were to spread awareness of the existence of a secular community in the Wichita, KS area and to help educate people on the dangers behind these types of doomsday claims and how they spread.
Measured by the first goal alone, this event was an incredible success. We had approximately 150 people in attendance throughout the day and I have received countless messages of thanks from people who previously believed they were alone in this area. Many traveled to Wichita from the more rural surrounding areas where they have been very isolated. We hope to see many of them return for our future meetings and events. Some attendees had even traveled from farther away and were able to connect with secular groups from their home areas as a result of having attended. This aspect of success comes directly from everyone who attended and I thank everyone for coming out.
I believe the single most important aspect of the secular movement is to give people a community to belong to. Without that community people will remain isolated, afraid to act, and ultimately defeated. As the community becomes stronger it will encourage others to join, and as we support each other it will encourage others to stand up. When we band together behind our fellow members, like Jessica Ahlquist or Damon Fowler, we send a clear message that they are not alone and there will be a safe place for them to land. I cannot begin to express both my pain and happiness when someone tells me how their isolation has been ended by finding this community, whether through events, group meetings, or other means. This new type of free event, largely modeled on the annual Skepticon event, is becoming more common and makes the community much more accessible. However, it is not enough to simply hold more events. The greatest pain and isolation happens far from the major cities and that is where this community is needed the most. We need to focus more on holding these events in areas where the people who need it the most can attend without much difficulty and expense.
The second aspect of success comes from our speakers. Our speakers consisted of Blair Scott, Darrel Ray, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, JT Eberhard, and Brother Sam Singleton. They were a great group and I heard nothingbut positive things about their presentations. Throughout the weekend they remained accessible and approachable for all of the event attendees. JT in particular was a great sport about being put on stage with a piano under false pretenses. The speakers were really instrumental in attracting people to the event and keeping them engaged through the day. I have been incredibly lucky to work with such a great group.
If we are going to educate the community on why action is important we need speakers that can present a clear and concise case for action, what that action needs to be, and provide the motivation for taking that action. We need to give our support to the organizations that help provide great speakers such as the Secular Student Alliance, the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, as well as the speakers themselves. The work that they provide is not free and we need to do what we can for them through memberships, purchases, and donations.
Now to get a little more into the weeds on how the event went and what advice I have. The first and most important thing is to stay organized. Make checklists, take notes, and do proper accounting for any money handled. Regardless of how much delegation is done, this tracking of information is critical. This is what allowed us to pull of the event smoothly. There will always be issues that come up, so do not try to plan down to every detail. Instead, build a solid framework and remain flexible during execution. I had a great group of volunteers that helped keep everything flowing.
The only significant trouble we had was clear accounting of donations versus sales. In the end the money came out pretty close to the planned estimates so it was not a big problem, but it could have been. The best advice I can offer here is to ask anyone that you will be selling things for to use simple pricing and keep donations separate. Using multiples of $5 is the best because they are the easiest to work with. Special deals that alter the price of individual items or give away free items should also be avoided to simplify final book keeping efforts.
Getting the word out about an event is extremely important as well. Part of the reason we chose Rapture Day is because we would be able to tag along with the media coverage that was being given to Harold Camping. Attaching an event to a big story can really help you gather some attention. Andrew Juby, one of our members, did an amazing job of keeping our flyers up all over campus even as people tore them down. Additionally he was critical in getting our press release out to the media. Our story was picked up by almost every local TV station and even was covered on the front page of the Wichita Eagle, the local newspaper. We also received a few mentions in other sources across the nation as well as the UK. The best part here is that none of the coverage was negative, and a few of the stories were pretty positive.
The last thing I want to mention is that our university was incredibly supportive. The Student Government Association has a requirement that there must be an “academic component” for any event to receive reimbursement. They had even recently denied reimbursement to an evangelical Christian membership drive on these grounds. We received the maximum reimbursement allowed for our group. Additionally, when someone called the university to try and get our event shut down they explained that they were a public institution, that it was an issue of free speech, and they would not shut us down. They even called me to make sure that we had not been receiving any threats and that we had the information required to deal with any threat that may come up.
In the end, this has been an exhausting process, but it was well worth all of the effort. Even beyond helping people find a secular community they can be a part of, we were able to raise over $500 for the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas in an effort to help our greater local community.