Ten years ago, thousands of atheists, humanists, and skeptics descended by the busload upon the National Mall in Washington to attend the Reason Rally, the largest-ever gathering of nonbelievers. “We’re here, we’re godless, get used to it,” chanted the crowd, estimated to have between 10,000 and 30,000 people. For America’s growing non-religious movement, it was a jubilant coming-out-of-the-closet party.
“For so many people who attended the rally, it was the first time they had been around other atheists who are open about it,” recalls Hemant Mehta, a top atheist blogger who spoke at the rally. “It’s the first time they could be themselves without having to put up a filter … We were like, ‘Wow, we’re on the cusp of something huge.’”
Billed as a “Woodstock for atheists and skeptics,” the rally seemed to be a watershed moment for atheist and humanist political representation. But even as the number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated has grown steadily—Pew’s polling shows a jump from 19 percent in 2011 to 29 percent this year—a follow-up rally held on the Mall in 2016 saw lackluster turnout.