By Harlan Garbell
The year 2020 was one of those years that will forever be associated with an indelible historical event. Similar to 1945 as the end of World War II and 2001 as the year of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. At some point, historians will tabulate the dreadful toll in deaths, illnesses, lost jobs, and bankrupt businesses that 2020 left in its wake due to Covid-19.
To the best of my knowledge, there have been no deaths or serious illnesses among our membership due to Covid. However, a few of our members shared with me their economic hardship due to layoffs or reduced hours. Hopefully, this coming year we will see a vigorous recovery and a stronger economy.
The year was challenging for HumanistsMN as well. Even so, I am pleased that we have been able to keep our membership at a steady level, notwithstanding the economic downturn. I am also thankful that we have so many members who have been beyond generous in supporting our organization year in and year out. Their support allows us to do so many things throughout the year that serve to promote our humanist values.
Thankfully, our programming efforts remain robust even as most of us have been sequestered indoors. Since March of last year all of our programs and events have been held via Zoom, except for a few events where safety procedures were put in place. In retrospect, we hardly missed a beat. I would attribute this to our strong programming lineup developed by Program Coordinator Audrey Kingstrom, along with our talented roster of Meetup event hosts.
Aside from our mainstay programs, we also featured new programs including a humanist book club, as well as new philosophy and science fiction events. HMN’s promising “Secular Saturday” platform has proven to be an excellent venue for these types of events. Our monthly Community Gatherings have featured other timely and thought-provoking programs as our Program Committee made a major effort to schedule the type of speakers our membership has asked for. Expect 2021 to continue along these lines.
Until a large majority of the population gets vaccinated and we attain so-called “herd immunity,” we expect to continue offering much of our programming in 2021 via Zoom. When we can hold in-person outdoor, or even indoor, events safely, we will do so. This includes highway cleanups, bike rides, and our ongoing monthly food packing event at a local food bank warehouse.
Whether some of our normal seasonal outdoor events will be held, such as the annual picnic and tabling events at local festivals, is uncertain at this time. They will proceed only if permits are extended by the appropriate responsible parties. Our signature indoor events — the National Day of Reason gathering at the state Capitol and our biannual Winter Solstice party — will be held indoors only if we can assure the safety of attendees.
In 2021, we hope to be more proactive in reaching out to secular-minded people who may not be aware that HumanistsMN even exists. Recently, we created an internal Marketing Team for the express purpose of finding ways to make ourselves more visible to those who may be looking for a non faith-based community. We are exploring the possibility of targeted advertising to increase our exposure to the ever-increasing number of “nones” (those without a religious affiliation) in the Twin Cities, along with other options to increase our visibility.
We are also continuing to make contact with freethought communities outside of the Twin Cities Metro area. HumanistsMN has been in contact with folks in the Rochester and St. Cloud areas and we now have access to their Meetup events. Hopefully, these new relationships will generate a cross-fertilization of ideas on how to attract more secular-minded people to humanism. We aspire to be a state-wide organization open to communities of all sizes.
We will also continue to work on creating a “deeper bench” in our “back room” operations. This includes Finance, Technology, and Membership, which are so critical to the routine functioning of our organization. The folks who provide these functions for us are extremely dedicated and we would not be able to provide the number of programs or events we have without them. Although we currently have back-up capabilities for these functions, we could always use additional people who are willing to lend a hand to make sure things continue to run smoothly.
The HumanistsMN Social Action Team this year will explore new ways for our members to make a difference in activities that promote humanist values. We are still highly committed to the causes we have supported in the past (e.g. medical aid in dying), but are always looking for ways to support those organizations that share our passion for social justice, the environment, and ethically based ways to improve people’s lives. One of the organizations we supported last year, and will continue to support this year, is the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition. They provide support services for folks who have recently been released from prison and are navigating their way back into society in order to lead productive lives.
Finally, a reminder that HumanistsMN is an all-volunteer organization. Although we greatly appreciate our members’ financial support through dues and donations, we urge you to look inward to think of other ways you could help our organization. What are your talents or skills? For example, if you have an accounting background we would greatly appreciate your willingness to become part of our Finance/Budget Committee. If you have editorial or communication skills, your participation would allow us to make our newsletter and website even better than they already are.
Don’t think that you can’t make a difference — you can. And isn’t that what humanism is all about?
Harlan Garbell is president of HumanistsMN.