Blogs have been on fire about the Atheist Alliance International Convention in California this weekend. Why wouldn't they be? Not only is it a gathering of freethinkers (which is always fun), but they have great speakers like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Daniel Dennett, Brian Dalton (Mr. Diety), PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Eugenie Scott, Sean Faircloth... It's an atheist celebrity extravaganza. But on top of the delight of meeting someone you highly respect, the convention is also educational and a great way to motivate atheist activists.
So why no attention for the younger atheists?
We are the next generation of atheist activists, after all. And many of us are already busy forming clubs, debating, and blogging, at an age where many of today's movers and shakers of atheism would have still been religious. I'm not saying we're completely ignored by the movement - the Secular Student Alliance is a fabulous organization that works enormously hard to help freethinking students, and even had their own conference. I'm talking about the huge conferences, like AAIC or TAM or the Global Atheist Convention. And I'm mainly talking about monetary support.
Where are the reduced ticket prices for students? I'm fairly well off for a college student since I'm lucky enough to have many scholarships, but I still can't just shell out $200 to $400 dollars for entrance into a convention. I would have to think about if it's worth it for a long time, but for most students it's not even a question. That money is next month's rent or food. That money might not even be in their bank account yet. Would it hurt too much to offer a discounted rate for students? Most likely, these individuals wouldn't be able to come without it, so you would be making a profit with their attendance.
Or looking at the model of other academic conferences, why stop there? The only reason I was able to attend Evolution 09 in Idaho and the American Society of Mammalogist meetings in Alaska was because I won awards that funded my trip. For Evolution, NSF actually sponsored the program, and I had my plane ticket, room and board, conference costs, and food entirely paid for. For ASM, they offered their own award that covered my plane ticket (the biggest cost when going to Alaska). Both were on the stipulation that I present my research.
I understand that the economy isn't at its best right now, especially for a relatively small movement like atheism... but there have to be donors or organizations somewhere that could pay for part of a plane or conference ticket. Make it highly competitive and so the future leaders of the atheist movement can apply. Make it 25 and younger to narrow it down. Make them contribute - tell us what talk you'd like to give at the convention, send a video of it, do something to prove you're a good speaker and you have a great story to tell. A younger atheist may not be famous like Richard Dawkins, but that doesn't mean they don't have something interesting to say. I think the movement can benefit from hearing the voice of a different generation.
PZ said it himself: "Along similar lines, I'm seeing more young people and more women in attendance; not enough of either, but still a good sign of a healthy, growing movement."
Trust me, there are plenty of us who'd love to come - we just don't have the money for the admission price, let alone the travel costs. Give us a little help, atheist organizations!