Some Observations From Austin

By Vic L. 

Firstly, after the relentless attention paid to the presidential election it was a “blessed relief” (pun intended) to hear virtually no discussion of politics either during the sessions or in private conversation.

As a member of the Board of Directors I am proud that our efforts were fruitful but particular plaudits need to go to Nick H. and Dianne P. They did a lot of thankless work.

The Austin convention was indeed a success, and from a personal point of view it was eye-opening and rewarding. I feel we’re headed in the right direction but must continue to pay attention to our challenges.

Money:

Austin was endowed with a prudent reserve of approximately $4,000.00 from Santa Monica, and we had hoped to end the convention close to that amount. However, due to the whacky pricing of food by the hotel it looks like we will add to that amount. Normally I would feel good about not going into the red, but as we all know AA traditions talk of the danger of amassing lots of money. So, that problem is passed on to the next Board of Directors. Perhaps the excess could be spent on subsidizing attendance for needy alcoholics, or paying for a “name” speaker that requires an honorarium (a controversial topic that is also passed onto the new Board of Directors.)

Speaking of money: each of my trips to attend Santa Monica and Austin from NYC cost me approximately $1,000.00 (air fare, hotel, food, and miscellaneous). Obviously it’s cheaper for those who can drive and not stay at a hotel, and a lot more expensive for those from abroad. In addition, some members need to take time off from work. It is my contention that attending a Secular AA convention is not only expensive but perhaps a tad elitist.

Here’s a (radical?) suggestion: We might consider holding Secular AA conventions every five years – scheduling it halfway between the religious AA conventions. In the intervening five years local Secular AA members might mount regional conferences around the country as were done in Phoenix and Olympia, Washington in the years between the Santa Monica and Austin conventions. Nearby conferences would be less costly to attend; they would encourage a more grass roots-up approach; and make the convention every 5 years more special and affordable. 

Demographics:

It’s fairly obvious that we are an old, white lot. That might be partially explained by the fact that some us arrive at our non-religious skepticism later in life, or that others have been reluctant to come out of the “non-believer” closet at a younger age (as in my case). In any event, we must do better, a lot better both in age and diversity.

Note that although we gained approximately 139 new groups from around the world since Santa Monica, it appears that the number of attendees at Austin increased by only 100. Are we merely talking to each other?

We must reach out, but how?

thesatevepost The people we want to reach are the members of religious AA who either do not know that we exist, and/or have misunderstandings of exactly who and what we are.

Religious AA will bring approximately 80,000 members to Detroit in 2020!

It would make sense, therefore that we should have a very strong presence in Detroit as an official division of that convention run by us. (Do the LBGTQ members allow GSO to decide the particulars of their LBGTQ meetings and speakers?) Or failing that, we should perhaps run marathon meetings near the main hotel and invite all attendees to come and “check us out.”

Some of us may wonder about the razor’s edge of setting an example vis-a-vis propagandizing, but GSO encourages exposure. See the Press and Media Page on the AA website, and the The Story Behind the Jack Alexander Article on A.A.

In addition, we should obviously have an ongoing outreach program to Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous. Let them know we exist and how to get in contact with us. 

Name change:

WAAFT IAAC has been officially changed to ICSAA (International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous), which I hope will default to “Secular AA” in conversation. And for those who are unaware: ICSAA’s sole purpose is to organize and produce conventions every two years.

Along these lines I would also like to make another plea for a wish of mine: the merger of Secular AA with WAAFT Central.

The newly merged entity would:

-Be a repository of all things Secular AA.

-Have one website which would:   

        -Post the directory of all meetings.

        -Post blogs & social media.

        -Post updates and FAQ’s.

        -Reach out to young people, people of color, prisons    and rehabs.

-The convention would be administered by a committee of Secular AA.

In general a central Secular website would help establish a “brand,” and be much more efficient and organized.

I’m sure others probably feel differently and I look forward to learning about their impressions.


About the Author, Vic L.

Vic L. is a documentary film producer in New York City.  His date of sobriety is February 11, 1979, and he is the founder of two AA groups in New York City. In the 1990’s he founded the “Columbus at 5” Traditional AA Meeting, and on January 17, 2015 he founded the “Without a Prayer” Agnostic AA meeting.

Vic was featured in the New York Times Article, “Alcoholics Anonymous without the Religion” (February 21, 2014) , and he moderated “Is Spirituality Compatible with Agnostic AA” at the Santa Monica Convention in November  2014. Vic authored the “Perils Facing Agnostic AA”, published in AA Agnostica on June 29, 2015. He has been serving on the Board of Directors for the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention since January 2016.

Audio Version

Narrated by Len R of Jasper, GA. Len is looking to start a secular AA meeting in his area.  If you are interested, please contact him at lenr.secularsobriety@gmail.com

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  1. Vic Losick November 28, 2016 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Galen,

    Thanks for your response. I couldn’t disagree with you more. But I’ve had my say.  I urge you to take up your thoughts and positions with the new board.

    Best,

    Vic

    • Galen T. November 30, 2016 at 1:38 pm Reply

      Vic,

      Please say more.  Exactly what do you disagree with, and why.  You have more experience in all this than I do.

       

      Galen

       

  2. Galen T. November 28, 2016 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Vic,

    Thanks for your useful summary.  I am not sure what we are all calling ourselves at this point.  I have some reservations about the term secular, because it suggest the exclusion of a spiritual orientation, and spiritual is not the same as religious. But for a temporary short-hand, it can do.

    Benn raises the useful question of why we should be organized at all, and this asks us to define our organizational purpose. I think this purpose should be to make AA as comfortable for non-believers as it is for the religious.  This is part of the point of setting up secular meetings.  But let’s not take this too far, since this would risk setting up a parallel track  within the fellowship rather enlarging the fellowship as it exists so that separate meetings become unnecessary.  If we all attend only secular meetings, “regular” meetings will only become more inhospitable to secularists than they are now.  But if we do our job well, we will organize ourselves out of needing to be organized, because AA will become equally hospitable to believers and non-believers.  The issue in the service of which we are organized will cease to exist, and with this our need to exist organizationally will evaporate.

    But we are not there yet. So we want to have some meetings that are safe for secularists, but perhaps not so many that we become isolated in our humanist ghetto.  I assume for the most part that we should stay in regular meetings and work for reform and a more inclusive fellowship. So our purpose is to work ourselves out of having to exist.  We can move in this direction by speaking honestly in meetings and affirming our diversity of spiritual and non-spiritual beliefs.  We can work at easing the Lord’s Prayer out of meetings in favor of the serenity prayer and the responsibility statement. We can work on being represented in the mix of articles in the Grapevine.  And we can work at gaining representation in AA’s service and governing structure.  But let’s not get so organized that we lose our capacity to work from within AA to make it what it should be.

     

  3. Benn November 28, 2016 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Personally I see organizing ourselves and our message as POINTLESS. And if we are gung ho about that I see it violating the traditions in the matter that we are aligned with something other than AA. Now I don’t really care about the traditions in such a manner but if we are going to chastise someone for talking politics, let’s keep that in mind as well.

    This is just my opinion. I spoke about politics from a podium during the convention. I believe I did so as a way of discussing my personal distress and how I have used what have (in part) learned in AA to manage my emotions. I don’t believe I did so in any manner that was divisive, but I may not be remembering correctly.

    My overall point is … I’m not a part of this “movement” (I don’t like calling it that) because I’m aligned with some grand scheme to change AA or that I want to be a part of some offshoot organization of sorts. I personally see this as a freethinking way of looking at AA. It is getting together with similarly like-minded (ish) persons who want to support each other in knowing that we are members if we say we are. We CAN not agree with the steps (all or any) … we CAN not believe in a diety … we CAN find things in AA lacking, etc. etc. etc. Somehow these things have been lost a bit over the years in AA but as we know we have a lot of words from one particular co-founder that says this is correct … you don’t HAVE to do anything. AA is a fellowship with a suggested program.

    The simpler this is kept, the better imho. A nice get together and community where We don’t need to get grandiose and controlling like the general tone of much of traditional AA.

    I like a lot of Vic’s suggestions … my point is not to combat his points. And yes we do need organization on some level, but I think less is more. A website with a meeting list of our meetings and some material for starting a meeting would be just fine by me.

    • Benn November 28, 2016 at 9:08 am Reply

      I should not have said POINTLESS … I maybe moreso meant counter-productive. None of us have the same message that we can rally around I don’t think except maybe we have the right to not believe or practice AA as we see fit. We have the right to start any meeting we want.

  4. Kit G November 28, 2016 at 5:07 am - Reply

    thanks for the news!

  5. Vic L. November 27, 2016 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    Eric,

    Thanks for the comment. I suggest that you contact the new board about coordinating your efforts with theirs.

    I find what you say about capital “s” or not interesting. Hmmm. I’ll have to chew on that.

    Thanks again,

    Vic

  6. Eric C November 27, 2016 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    I brought up the 2020 International A.A. gathering in Detroit during our meeting in Austin, Vic, and I’m glad you mentioned it here, too.   I am the admin of a Facebook page called Secular AA in Michigan and hope to stand up a website by the same name sometime early next year in hopes that we can spread secular AA in Michigan..  While there are some secular A.A. meetings in Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Traverse City, we’ve found none, so far, in Detroit or in other parts of the state.

    I am volunteering to work as an advance man for ICSAA as we prepare for the 2020 event in Detroit and expect we will have a stronger cadre of secular A.A. members and groups in Michigan by then.

    Please note, Vic, that when I refer to our brand of A.A. in general, I think of the word “secular”  as a lower-case adjective rather than an upper case proper noun.  We are not “Secular A.A.”  We are just A.A. that happens to be secular.  “Secular” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence or in the context of a proper name such as ICSAA.  So there!

    I have already voluntteI am also volunteering to work as an advance man for ICSAA as we prepare for the 2020 International A.A.

  7. David B November 27, 2016 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Vic,

    I, too, was in Austin and very much appreciate your synopsis.  The momentum is building, and, in my opinion, headed in the right direction.

    I agree that an increasingly concentrated effort will be in the best service of newcomers looking for understanding through the AA fellowship, as well as for those who have found a home in Secular AA.  What that looks like might, in the interim, a merger as you’ve proposed.  It could be built into something more extensive thereafter.  Certainly merging Secular AA and WAAFT Central could be a good start.  Finding regional support for smaller conferences might also be indicated.

    I applaud the thought of going to Detroit and joining together to be heard. Regrettably, I will need to support from afar as I likely will not be able to attend the event.

    Thanks to you and all others whop understand the importance of organizing ourselves and ou message.

    David B.

    P.S>  There was political commentary from many podiums and seminarians throughout the weekend, much to my dismay.  We are agroup of people who feels shamed and unheard elsewhere – why would we want to further divide ourselves by making political commentary that might push others away?

  8. Vic L. November 27, 2016 at 6:41 am - Reply

    In checking the name change submission (by Dianne P.) I believe ICSAA stands for International CONVENTION of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous.

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