So as many of you probably know, I was in Chicago this past week, taking part in a panel about atheism and social justice at DePaul University. I also got a chance to discover a little bit about the city while I was there. What follows is a re-cap of my time there.
If you haven’t already, you should read the liveblog version of the event from fellow FTBorg Miri Mogilevsky. Unfortunately, there was no video of the talk, so Miri’s recap is the closest you’re going to get to seeing it. Despite what I said in the comments, I was not drunk during the talk – I’m just that incoherent in person.
First off, I have to say what an immense honour and privilege it was to be invited to speak at the event. I was even more flattered to be included on a panel that included Anthony Pinn and Sikivu Hutchinson, two people whose work has influenced my own profoundly. I have had the opportunity to interact with Sikivu before, and she was exactly as brilliant and insightful in person as I remember from our last encounter. She does the same thing that Christopher Hitchens is noted for – she speaks in paragraphs, and her writing could have been transcribed from her speaking (or vice versa).
Meeting Dr. Pinn was a trip, because he’s ‘Tony’, this extremely laid-back and affable guy when we’re just hanging out, and then someone mentions something that is relevant to his work and he becomes ‘Doctor Pinn’ – the Rice Endowed Chair who is dropping knowledge like an over-encumbered librarian. It’s amazing to watch. For the record, I couldn’t tell you which one I like more – both Tony and Doctor Pinn are fascinating and great people to be around in their own right.
I was also really happy to be there with Ashley Miller and Stephanie Zvan. It’s weird to meet people who you’ve known for years for the first time in person (Debbie Goddard called this “meat meeting”, which I enjoy mostly for the several entendres). Ashley is warm and extremely funny, and I kept forgetting that we’re not BFF simply because we fed off of each other’s sense of humour without skipping a single beat. Stephanie is the kind of person who puts you off your guard, because she very much does not wear the fact that she’s a black-belt intellect out in public, until you’ve been listening intently to her speak and realize you should be taking notes.
I don’t really need to talk too much about my impressions of the panel itself, because you can get all you need from Miri’s livecast. What I will talk about, briefly, is the audience. I haven’t been to a lot of these events, but this one stood out to me both for the sake of numbers and the diversity. This wasn’t a bunch of white college students (which is what I expected) – there was roughly even representation of black folks, which was really cool. It definitely influenced the questions that were asked, and the direction the overall conversation took. All in all, I was really impressed.
The Chicago community
This event was organized and facilitated by Andrew Tripp of the DePaul Alliance of Free Thought. I can’t find enough good things to say about Andrew, who was an incredibly gracious and accommodating host, in addition to being an extremely erudite and passionate thinker. Someone should pay Andrew a lot of money to just be himself for their organization. He can’t drink worth a damn though.
I was also really excited to get to meet some more of my fellow FTBorg, including Brianne Bilyeu who drove down from Madison, WI to attend the panel, along with Debbie Goddard. Of course I got to meet Miri Mogilevsky and Kate Donovan as well. It should be, I suppose, no surprise that people who have demonstrated themselves to be 31 Flavours of Awesome in their writing are also really cool people in real life, but it was still remarkable.
Based on the new people I met (or people who I had known more casually online), the freethinking community in Chicago should be extremely proud of itself – but for an accident of geography I could see myself fitting in really well there. Well, and the fact that it’s America. That’s sort of a non-starter for me. If you live in Chicago and would like to be more involved in secular stuff, you’ll have a lot of amazing company.
The city of Chicago
I’ve never been to Chicago before, and I was happy to get a few examples to visit the city. Obviously one day is not enough time to see all of the things, but I did get to check out the Chicago History Museum. I was really impressed by the way the museum does not shy away at all from owning up to how much racism (and, to an extent, sexism) played a role in the city’s life and past. Yes, there is a certain amount of “hooray Chicago is awesome”, but it was definitely not all that way.
I also got to walk around and see the distinctive architecture that makes up the downtown core. I don’t usually go in for super-touristy things, but I did happily part with 30 bucks to take a river architecture cruise, which was worth every penny. You can check out some of the photos I took here. Another thing I was not expecting is how amazingly polite Chicagoans are. Everyone had what I would describe as above-average manners, unless they were behind the wheel of a car (somanyhornssomanyhornssomanyhorns). All in all, I would be more than pleased to visit Chicago again, given the opportunity.
And so that’s what I did this weekend. I have intentionally omitted the ridiculous amount of drinking I did (I assure you - after the panel) and the fact that I forgot about Daylight Savings time until it was absurdly late at night (or early in the morning, if you prefer). 4-hour flights are not a hangover cure, people. Let that be a lesson to you.
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