We secularists, agnostics, and whatever we may be in AA have made some great strides these last few years, in large measure thanks to the aaagnostica, aabeyondbelief, and WAAFT/ICSAA websites, and Deirdre’s long standing list of meetings.
All good, but this mostly facilitates centralized vertical communication. There is only little to tie us together horizontally, on a regional level. So far, if I want to make contact with a meeting 3 hours away my only option is to drive there.
I did also drive up to the regional conference in Olympia, WA a couple of years ago, this was really a great thing to go to, though it was only because I could combine it with other business that I got to go. The folks folks in Toronto had a similar conference together this year, which I flew in for.
All good, but we still don’t have much contact with each other locally here in Northern California, and it’s because if we want to have contact with each other we have to drive there.
The main difference between 18th century technology and our predicament is that instead of 2 days’ travel by horse it only takes 3 hours by car. But that is still absurd in the age of Internet and telephone. It is an all-day event to go to a meeting 100 miles away.
I should think everywhere else in the world the problem is the same.
So we need to remedy that. I hereby call on everyone to help remedy this.
I realize there are anonymity and confidentiality issues, but I should think at every meeting there will be someone who doesn’t mind having their phone number and e-mail address posted. We have Intergroups all over, and most of them are at this point positive toward us, but even sometimes it is also a practical matter. Our small town is 50 miles from where our Intergroup meets. We need to publish a local phone number by a local member, even for the sake of our regular AA meetings so people can call and get pertinent local information, and also because Intergroup is not staffed, we only have a hotline.
Second, this information ought to be available at our other sites in some way. I should be able to – and have more than just one way to – contact a group in Tucson AZ or Miami FL whether I’m looking to go visit, and need to know that the meeting is still happening, or to do things like send material to them.
A while back I got a shipment of “The God Word” pamphlets from GB with the idea of spreading them around. I have sent out some of them to those meetings I have established contact with by driving there, but that’s all I could do at the moment, and I sat on some of them for a while, but eventually distributed the rest locally. Oregon? Southern California? Colorado? Forget it.
Allow me to describe some of the other problems I have run into:
I’m trying to get some regional networking going. I have visited the meetings in Sonoma county a few times, even visited one meeting each in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.
I have put together a schedule of Northern California Secular and A&A meetings. There was talk in Sonoma County, that maybe the meeting in Napa had closed, but nobody knew for sure. Eventually we found out, took us about a month and a half to accomplish that. An e-mail or a phone call – had it been possible – would have solved it in a couple of days.
To the north of me, a good 2 hours away there is a Sunday 10 AM meeting in McKinleyville. That is – it is on the schedule. I had contact with someone up there a few years ago, when he had first started an A&A meeting, but eventually he had to turn it into a Lifering meeting, because he was getting harassed by the AA police. But now I see it on the schedule again. Do I feel inclined to drive there early one Sunday morning – just to see if it is indeed there? Heck no. But I would have called or e-mailed long ago, if I could, and once I knew, I would have loved to go visit that meeting.
These are the sort of problems we wind up with. I have at various times in the past asked Deirdre and whoever ran the other meeting schedules to do something about this, but of course they’re already plenty busy just maintaining the schedule as is. And getting this taken care of is not at the top of anyone’s list, but please, let’s try do it.
What has brought us the strength in numbers we do have, and the feeling of not being alone anymore is the networking that is already happening through our internet sites, and of course the hard work of the few people running those sites.
Reading Thomas B’s article a while back on survey results from the Austin convention brings up even more issues with the lack of networking. This event apparently was held without an e-mail list of participants resulting from it, or if there is one, the people who made the survey don’t know who has it. So they resorted to their e-mail list of pay-pal customers. Next time it ought to be announced repeatedly for people to make sure they get put on a convention-wide e-mail list – which ought to be made available to all attendees. Yes it can be done, yes it can be done without violating anyone’s privacy rights, all we have to do is to let people know that the list will be shared with everyone attending.
Some of us attending from the same general area ran into each other at the convention. I think I had even met one or two back home, but basically it was all by chance. We ought to have had a way of gathering together at the convention, sort of a mini regional gathering, just an hour to help people from the same area to get to know each other. We were probably about 10 from Northern California, but barely got to talk with each other. Would have been a great opportunity to help us establish something locally, but that is of course also because so far no other options exist. There are perhaps a few hundred of us here in northern California. We ought to all know each other personally by now. Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but we ought to have been well on our way there, and we’ve barely started. They have at least 7 secular/agnostic meetings in San Francisco a week, and I didn’t know a single person from there, until I recently drove there. There must have been some at the convention?
A couple of suggestions in Thomas’ article on what future conventions should include stood out to me:
More regional conferences so more people can attend. This organization feels very elitist. None of my sponsees could afford to take off work & take a trip to Toronto. I’m sure many people in AA can’t.
…would love a way to somehow identify/connect with Secular AAs from my state/local area while at the conference. If I hadn’t already known folks from Santa Monica, I would’ve never known who the other Colorado folks were. Perhaps voluntary participation in a Secular AA phone list and/or directory published before or during the conference so that folks can connect in person?
Yes we really need such a directory. Whatever can help us get further organized generally, let’s get started.
Here are some further suggestions of things that would help:
ICSAA currently maintains the only directory for all meetings. Would be nice to see e-mail addresses and telephone numbers for all meetings as part of the listing. I know that would entail contacting all the meetings and ask permission to do so. That’s a lot of work, but it can be done. A shortcut would be to program the directory in such a way that it will be possible to send an email to groups without having direct access to their currently confidential contact information. I have seen that done on many other websites, for instance Craigslist.
It is my impression that the directory has been optimized for searching for a meeting on mobile phones and such. While I personally am a luddite and don’t use that technology, I realize that it is a good thing for most users that ICSAA keeps up with the times. And it is likely a newcomer still has their mobile phone. However, it would really be nice to also have a PDF list of meetings, simply organized by locale, like Deirdre’s NY directory used to be.
It is the only good way to get an overview of regional activity.
Half a year ago I volunteered to help make this happen. As my health is slowly deteriorating I can no longer do that, but I would like to see some of this come to fruition while I’m still here. It would be really good to have a Northern California roundup. And of course it would be great to see them everywhere. Seems like the Toronto area is well networked, but I confess I can not imagine how the folks in Washington and Arizona have pulled it off.
Meanwhile, anyone else in Northern California who would like to make it happen, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Please anyone, anywhere, feel free to give my address to anyone who seems to earnestly seek recovery.
But this is not just about Northern California, it’s about everywhere.
I think we non-believers are on an average more service-minded, and have given more independent thought to what recovery is about than the average AA member, so we are in a unique position to help AA move forward, but we would be much, much more effective if we could reach each other individually.
About the Author: life-j
life-j got sober in Oakland in 1988. He moved to a Northern California coastal mountain village in 2002 and helped wake up the sleepy AA fellowship there. He’s been involved in service work of every kind all along, but now thinks the most important work is to help atheists and agnostics feel safe and welcome in AA. Events in the fellowship conspired to make him become way more radicalized than he ever wanted to be, and he finds it difficult to settle back down to focus on his own program again, for better or for worse. He’s spent parts of his life as a building contractor, part as a technical translator, and has dabbled a bit in artwork and writing. life-j is now semi-retired on a five-acre homestead together with his sweetie, and his dogs, chickens, and gardens.