For anyone still not fully caught up on the drama that has become CFI Canada’s latest implosion, check out Katie Kish’s piece at SkepChick. Overall I think it’s the most impartial of all of the work to be written thus far.
But this post isn’t about re-hashing the drama. No, today I want to talk about reasons for optimism in a situation that has worries many activists and volunteers across the country.
The world of non-profit volunteering is an emotional one. While a corporation can fall and few will mourn (except those heavily invested financially), when an organization like CFI Canada begins to teeter literal tears are shed over the future of freethought in Canada.
It only makes sense though, as we invest ourselves into the charities we support by donating our time and money. Losing the charity then feels like losing a part of yourself. This fear is helped in no part by Justin Trottier’s success in trying to position CFI Canada as the single venue for secularism and skepticism in Canada. It became, in a way, too big to fail.
But I don’t believe that’s the case. Organized secularism and skepticism were around in Canada before CFI Canada and will continue regardless of its own uncertain future.
So lets look at ways that the many uncertain volunteers across the country, whether recently resigned or still with CFI, can have an impact in bringing the freethought movement into and beyond 2012.
Within CFI Canada
Despite the number of high-profile resignations, there are still a lot of talented and committed people within CFI. This volunteer strength cannot be discounted in those predicting its imminent demise.
I think its increasingly clear to many volunteers that CFI Canada needs to undergo a somewhat radical change in its organizational structure. Far too many decisions are being made in secret and the fact that it takes half a dozen different accounts to even begin to approach the truth of this story should give pause for concern.
Volunteers committed to staying with CFI Canada need to understand the organization’s history, lest they be doomed to make the mistakes of past volunteers. They also should implore themselves to hear from those who have resigned the full reasoning. Finally, keep a skeptical eye toward the leadership, and make sure to hold them to account.
Outside CFI Canada
As I mentioned earlier, many freethought organizations predate CFI Canada.
One reason for Justin’s early success was the controversial choice to attempt to co-opt local organizations – typically older and decreasingly active humanist groups. It was the Microsoft model of expansion. Many of those groups still exist though.
Humanist Canada, despite numerous implosions over the years, continues unabated and is receiving literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in bequeathments every year as its older members pass away. The current board is still cleaning up the mess of the last, but the organization remains democratic (which is likely why new people can move in after an implosion), so anyone with a desire to see humanist ideas pushed at the national level has an option there.
There will also be Michael Kruse’s potential national skeptical activist group that he mentioned in his resignation letter. There are a few other national organizations, and likely more in the works as people consider where the gaps in our community are if CFI Canada closes shop.
At the local level things get even more exciting (because that’s where the grassroots are).
There are dozens of Canadian secular student groups (the Secular Student Alliance lists eleven and CFI Canada lists over twenty). While these lists may be out-dated, campus groups are the easiest to form, they typically have free venues, and access to impressive speakers. They are also able to put on debates with the religious groups that can attract hundreds.
At the regional level, groups like the BC Humanists and Humanist Association of Manitoba have been around for quite a while and show no signs of going away. Similarly, newer groups like the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought and YYJ Skeptics show promise and will likely be able to quickly respond to grassroots concerns.
The JREF is also looking to put a lot more energy into promoting grassroots skepticism, so if you can’t find a group in your area (hint: google “my city/province” + “atheist/skeptic/freethinker/humanist” etc.) check out their resources and start a meetup group yourself.
The advantage of finding a local group is that they tend to have a much more transparent and democratic structure than national organizations. They do typically have less resources, but with help from Humanist Canada or the JREF, you should be able to accomplish some of your goals.
Add your voice
I don’t want to monopolize the conversation here, so please consider this to be an open thread on how you see your own involvement in the Canadian secular movement. Are you sticking with CFI through thick or thin to make it the premier venue or are you going to focus on your local community? Do you want a new national organization?
I think there’s enough to be optimistic. I see a lot of great people working toward the same goals but divided by personal egos. Let’s set them aside and get on with it.