Thinking About Austin

By John S.

I woke up early on the morning of November the 10th to pick up D., my truck driver friend  from Virginia, so we could begin the journey to Austin. (D. is an over-the-road trucker whose trucking company has a base in Shawnee, Kansas, and he frequently attends meetings at my home group — We Agnostics Kansas City.) Joining us was Amy P. and Shannon W. from Kansas City, and Samantha S. “Sam” from the We Agnostics group in Lawrence, Kansas. We made the trip in Mike H.’s RV. Mike, who also attends meetings at my home group, recently purchased an RV to enjoy during his retirement, and he was kind enough to volunteer to drive it to Austin.  It was a fun trip. We played Uno, munched on some really unhealthy snacks, laughed, took naps, and read Facebook posts. D. helped Mike with the driving so that Mike could also enjoy a few rounds of Uno.

mikes-rv It was past midnight by the time we arrived at the hotel in Austin where we were greeted at the front desk by Larry K. from Toronto’s We Agnostics Group. Larry had driven all the way from Toronto with others from his group. It was nice to meet him and his fellow Torontonians. It seemed like they enjoyed their trip and they were in good spirits. I found Larry to be a lot of fun and very interesting, and I enjoyed the many conversations we had over the weekend.

After a good night’s sleep, I headed downstairs for breakfast where I was greeted by my friend Doris A. (Chief Editor at AA Beyond Belief). She’s one of my all-time favorite people so it was a lucky break to have breakfast with her. We were joined by a British couple. I regret not remembering the man’s name, but the woman is Suzanne and she works on the literature committee for the GSO in the UK, and had an instrumental role with producing the “God Word” pamphlet. I found them to be a delightful couple, and I loved their exuberant attitude. 

Doris left after eating, and I later excused myself from my new British friends to visit with Gregg O. from my home group. He was sitting at another table with John H. from the Washington DC We Agnostics. You may remember John from the “Angry Atheist” podcast and article that he did for us last year. He and I had a rather animated conversation about an article he submitted to AA Beyond Belief that we declined to publish. I must say in all fairness to John that he was friendly toward me during the rest of the weekend and it was good to see him.

After breakfast, I headed over to register for the convention and set up a table to display the WAAFT coffee cups and buttons that my friend John H. from Cypress, California made to give out to the conference attendees. John was on the podcast we did a few months back“ Spiritual John”.  He has been sober since 1965 and is very excited about WAAFT IAAC. He wanted to make it to the convention, but sadly his wife just passed away and he is going through a bad time right now. Please keep him in your thoughts. 

I didn’t go to the opening panel about the atheists. Instead, I went back to my room to prepare for my presentation for the panel I was doing with Thomas B., “WAAFT’s Relationship with Traditional AA”. Here’s a copy of my talk if you care to read it. I went off script a bit when I delivered it, but this is pretty much what I had to say.  WAAFT’s Relationship with Traditional AA. 

buttons I must say that as I looked out into the audience and saw so many people who I respect and admire, it made me wish that I had been a little more prepared. A few people asked questions and made comments after Thomas and I did our thing. Overall, I think our panel went well, and after speaking with many of those attending the convention, the consensus seemed to be that we secularists should work within the AA General Service Conference.

The panels and workshops were secondary to my overall experience. What I enjoyed more were the many conversations that took place between the panels and workshops. There were a lot of people who came up to me to tell me how much they liked the podcast. That just blew me away. One young man, Matthew took a Greyhound bus all the way from South Carolina. He shook my hand and told me how much he enjoyed the podcasts and how much they mean to him. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it is to hear something like that. There is something about telling our stories in those podcasts that really touches people, and hearing this feedback inspires me to keep doing them.  

The next panel I attended was the literature panel. I was really looking forward to this because Ami Brophy, the Executive Editor Publisher of the Grapevine was speaking. I recently have come to value and respect the Grapevine more than I ever imagined that I would. I’ve known Grapevine devotees in the past and never quite understood them, but now I find that I am one of them.

I acquired my new attitude toward the Grapevine through an unexpected confluence of events, a sort of perfect storm if you will. First, the October issue with a special section devoted to agnostics and atheists came out, which I found to be incredibly inspiring. I thought it was a game changer, and  it helped me realize just how powerful the Grapevine is as a means for sharing our experience. Reading stories from people who I knew, and who shared my belief system was amazing.

I also attended two AA meetings with the topic taken from stories in the agnostic/atheist section. These were meetings with people from traditional AA and I found it interesting that they accepted our stories as completely normal. Even Ami said that the reaction to that issue was positive or at least neutral. The Grapevine wasn’t flooded with complaints. It’s as if being an atheist in AA is now almost mainstream. 

Then, after reading the October issue and a week before the convention, I worked as a volunteer at the North American Central Office Seminar that was held in Kansas City. While serving lunch in the hospitality room with my District, I learned that there was going to be a Grapevine presentation at the seminar, so I asked our Central Office Manager if I could sit in on the presentation that evening. She allowed it, though the event was intended only for Central Office Managers.

That night, I showed up for the talk, chatted with our Area Delegate for a bit, took a seat in the back of the room and just melded into the crowd. I’m glad that I could stay, because I was able to hear both the Director of the Grapevine and the Senior Editor speak, and when they took questions, the person who handles their customer service answered some really tough questions from these Central Office Managers. I was impressed by their professionalism, and their dedication to and love for AA.

With these experiences behind me, by the time I got to Austin, I was on fire for the Grapevine and I was psyched to meet Ami and to hear her speak. I enjoyed her talk. One thing she said that stuck with me was how the Grapevine has served as a record of our experience since 1944. That’s something that is important to preserve in my opinion. We have an uninterrupted record of our Fellowship going all the way back to 1944!

I will say that I think the organizers of the convention dropped the ball by not giving Ami a full hour to speak to the entire convention on her own. I mean, she is the Executive Editor Publisher! It’s a big deal. She speaks at the General Service Conference. There was a lot that we could have learned from her. If you had read her presentation to the last General Service Conference, I think you would understand just how forward thinking she is–she appears that way to me anyway. 

The Grapevine is really trying to reach out to underrepresented groups right now with us being one of those groups, but people didn’t seem to understand this, and I felt that Ami was treated disrespectfully by some who were in the audience. It seemed like the literature panel was a bit chaotic with a lot of anger and incivility emanating from the audience.  I was embarrassed quite frankly, and I was glad that our Central Office Manager and the incoming Chair for our Area Assembly couldn’t make it to the convention. They wanted to be there but they had other commitments. Had they been there, my embarrassment would have only been compounded.

The following day, I attended Ami’s workshop and again, I felt that she was greeted with hostility. People were for example, accusing the Grapevine of censorship. I thought they were just plain rude. She couldn’t even put on her presentation. I felt terrible like I should apologize. Maybe she understood the anger. I understand it to a certain degree, but there was more of it at this convention then I remembered in Santa Monica. Of course, this is just my perception, I could be wrong. Maybe, I’m viewing Santa Monica through rose colored glasses.

Speaking of anger. I walked out of the business meeting. I think part of my problem was comparing that business meeting to the small intimate gathering in Santa Monica which I found to be polite, orderly and peaceful. This one was crazy with people shouting out from the floor and not letting Dianne  P. finish a sentence. Anyway, I guess they got the business done that needed to be done. The convention has a new name (ICSAA), a set of bylaws, and a new Board of Directors.

The next day, my KC group hosted one of the around-the-clock AA meetings. I was glad to see that our meeting was so well attended and it was nice to meet people from other parts of the country. I was going to go to lunch with some of them, but right after the meeting, I got a text message from Thomas telling me that the new Board of Directors wanted to see me ASAP.

I ran over to see what they wanted. It turns out they wanted to know about  WAAFT Central. They had assumed it was part of WAAFT IAAC, and were surprised to learn that it was something else. I went through the entire history for them and told them what WAAFT Central does.

They suggested that we wrap WAAFT Central and IAAC into one entity. Though, I had always opposed this idea even as recently as the previous day, this suggestion from this Board, at this time, actually lifted my spirits. WAAFT Central was hardly ever mentioned at the convention except for my short presentation, and I was disappointed that we couldn’t bring it up at the business meeting and get a new group of volunteers to take over. I was concerned that there was no succession plan, and now suddenly sitting before me was a group of intelligent, talented people—Trusted Servants who understand and respect the Traditions and Concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

It remains to be seen if this consolidation happens. However, I did offer to donate the domain name secularaa.org. We can use that as a site for all things related to Secular AA. It would include WAAFT Central (Secular AA Service Board), WAAFT IAAC (ICSAA) and the regional conferences.

The newly elected Board of Directors ended up drafting me as sort of an auxiliary member. I hope to be able to help with the website. I plan on creating a mock up to send them so they can see the concept that I have in mind. 

It’s totally up to them and the Board of WAAFT Central as to what will be done, but we definitely need to do something. Dierdre S. who maintains the World Wide Agnostic Meeting Directory at Agnostic AA NYC  gave an incredible speech about the history of special purpose groups, and during that talk she asked why we have two meeting lists; her list and the list at WAAFT Central. She suggested consolidating this responsibility with WAAFT Central. As soon as she said that, I felt a tremendous obligation to make sure that WAAFT Central lives on and has a structure in place so it can be passed on to future generations. That’s one reason, I like the idea of consolidating with ICSAA. They have a structure in place, and people who are dedicated and willing to do the work.

I was impressed with this new Board of Directors and as I returned home and thought about the convention, I must say that despite my perception of there being more anger than was present at Santa Monica; the convention itself was a success and I had a good time.

Pam W., Pat N. and Dierdre S. all did an incredible job as speakers at the banquet and every single person who I spoke with that weekend was an immediate friend. The workshops and panels were well done. The hotel and facilities were great and Austin is a beautiful city.

The weekend was so full of activity and there were so many people I met and so many old friends who I was able to see again, that it is impossible to go through it all in one article. I know that I’ve left a lot out, so I will conclude with a few shout outs.

  • Glenn G. and the gang from Jacksonville, that dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant was a blast! I guess I’ll be seeing you in Jax in July of 2017.
  • Joe C., your workshop Living Cyber was incredible and it was so cool to chat with you. Of all the people in agnostic AA who have inspired me, you are at the top of the list.
  • Peter T. from Vermont, thanks for dinner on Sunday night. That was a lot of fun and it’s great that we could connect on Facebook. I love your  Sober Bingo app
  • Life-J, how nice it was to finally meet you. I have always admired your writing and your intellect.
  • Iain H. from Bristol, England, how wonderful it was to meet you and your lovely wife. I hope you can visit KC when you chase your next tornado. As you know we have plenty of them around here.
  • Thank you, Dianne P., and the past IAAC board for all your hard work at making a successful convention.
  • And to all the people who complimented the podcast…thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much that means to me.

Here’s to Toronto in 2018!

toronto-2018


About the Author, John S.

John’s home group is the We Agnostics Group in Kansas City, Missouri where he is the outgoing GSR. He volunteers at AA Beyond Belief, WAAFT Central, and ICSAA. 

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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VictoriaGalen T.Roger C.Kit GJohn L. Recent comment authors

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Victoria
Victoria

I’m a bit hesitant about writing this, but here goes. I write as an observer from afar – very afar (in Aus), plus as a very Ordinary Member of AA, in the sense of just being in and out of the rooms, and not involved within the larger service structure at all. My comments are thus: The couple of cautions about proceeding with a ‘merger and acquisition’ of the WAAFT Central and ICSAA (formerly WAAFT ICAA? – see? it’s already become confusing) are very wise. The two, it seems, do in fact have quite sound and specific work to do… Read more »

Galen T.
Galen T.

John- Thank you so much for your informative account of the Austin convention.  It made me wish I had been there.  Among other things, it well-illustrates that a relatively new movement like ours is bound to still be sorting itself out and have some rough edges, including angry ones. As time passes and we feel less embattled and more secure, I trust that the anger will yield to gratitude, and to pride in what we have to offer AA as a whole. I have never been an avid reader of the Grapevine,  but I am impressed by the willingness of… Read more »

Roger C.
Roger C.

Hi John, I really appreciated your article. I particularly liked the candor of your take on some of the elements of the Austin convention/conference. In one of your comments you wrote: “We need to turn things around with more modern and secular literature that is approved by the General Service Conference. Until that happens, we should be flooding the Grapevine with our stories”. I totally agree, good Sir. I think it is exactly that kind of engagement and involvement that resulted in the October “Atheist and Agnostic Members” of AA issue of the Grapevine. And coming up – thanks in large… Read more »

Kit G
Kit G

Thanks for the news and comments!

life-j
life-j

John, now going through your article a second time, I have a couple of comments: I’m not directly involved with waaft central, or for that matter icsaa, so I may be speaking out of turn, but it seems to me that it is OK to have a few separate organizations, it is my understanding that icsaa is only about the convention, waaft central is more about every sort of service week to week, month to month, and thus two different things, and people join one or the other not so much because they think one is more important than the… Read more »