This week we are joined by Fred Edwords, the National Director of the United Coalition of Reason, an organization that promotes cooperation among local groups in the community of reason and helps raise their public profiles.
RDF: What is the United Coalition of Reason?
Fred: The United Coalition of Reason is a loose network of local coalitions of reason and what we do is we go into local communities and build local coalition of local groups around a given media market so it’s usually a city or a larger metro area or sometimes in somewhat rural area is whatever towns falls in the same media market but what we try to do is organize three or more groups within such a region into a local coalition.
We aim to recruit all of the like-minded groups within the area; we don't care whether they view themselves as religious or secular they can be congregational groups, they can be humanitarian churches they can be atheist churches whatever; they can be humanistic Jewish society. We also include all the secular groups likes chapters of the American Humanist Association, CFI, and many others. So what we are trying to do is keep them all working together.
RDF: So if I want to start a community TV show or put up a billboard your group might help me to find an ally in my area to work with on the content and the funding?
Fred: That’s correct. Once we identify groups that are interested in forming a coalition we get them formed up and then we publicly list them on a website united coalition of reasons website where all of our separate coalitions are shown on a map showing over 70 coalitions nationwide. Now when it comes to billboard campaign, not only do we organize them but part of the inducement to get them together is the excitement of having a billboard or press ad campaign. So what we like to do is put in some money there. We'll put in $6,000 or so and rent them billboard space for 4 weeks, or press ad space for 4 weeks and we'll do a media campaign with that.
And it isn’t just advertising. We send out press releases and I give them training. I make a personal visit and I train them in how to work the media to their advantage and how to be more effective in exploiting this opportunity to gain publicity and that training I give them is useful not only for developing the local coalition; its useful for developing their individual local groups since the same technique applies across the board.
RDF: Are their particular skill sets that you are looking for in volunteers?
Fred: I try to find people who are interested and can present themselves well and I try to show them the technique so they can identify more effectively within their local coalition who are the best spokespeople for the different media. Some people sound better on radio, some people look better on TV, some are better at newspaper reports. I teach them everything, and then I ask them to sort out among themselves who they think could be the most interested in and the most able in sharing it out. Yes, I am working here with amateurs, not professionals, but I am doing what I can to train them in professional skills so they would be better at it.
RDF: You recently launched a directory of groups based on work from the Richard Dawkins Foundation.
Fred: Yes, we went after groups that were non-functional and added many new groups [ to your list ].. and so we ended up with, all eyes closed, maybe four thousand groups in our final database… We launched it at the beginning of November.
Fred: It was just a 1-month radio campaign… But we had some serious satellite radio. We ran a series of 60-second ads in which we promoted the secular directory so that people could go to this directory anyone around the country could go to this directory and find local groups within their area. So this is our first national campaign because we don’t usually do media on a national level we do our media on a local level to foster the local coalitions we formed. So this time we were trying to drive traffic to not only local groups but to our local coalitions. I encouraged people to come to the national website and find where the coalitions of groups were nearest to them.
RDF: What's coming up that you want to alert people to?
Fred: Our convention is coming up early June but in early June we will be holding our conference jointly with that of the American Humanist Association in Philadelphia and we are going to be providing scholarships for as many of our coalition leaders as we can to get them to the conference because we are going to have training programs throughout the 4 days of the conference.
Fred: And we want to give them the opportunity to mix and mingle with each other as well as to be trained and more professionalized and so we’ve got a certain amount of money for getting a number of people there and so that’s a regular part of our budget. The more we can do, the better, because it’s always great when you can get a whole bunch of people together in one place.
Fred: The way I usually do it is: I travel around the country when I form each of these coalitions and I’ll give a training program there. I also give training at regional conferences. Regional conferences have blossomed all over the country on their own and the United CoR provides seed money for these regional conferences and has been doing so for quite a number of years to help these local and regional conferences get off the ground and we offer at no charge to them a trainer to come in; sometimes it’s me or it’s sometimes someone else in our stable of trainers to come in, because …again … when you got all those people gathered together in one place it’s a perfect training opportunity since we got all the activists in one spot. So we offer training and we’ve been doing that I’d say for a few years.
RDF: I see you’re suing the Pittsburgh port authority for rejecting your bus ads.
Fred: Yea we’ve done this before. We sued the transit authority in Little Rock Arkansas a few years ago and we won our case in federal court and they had to run our bus ads. You see when it comes to billboard ads, billboard companies being private companies are not associated with government. They can discriminate all they want.
Fred: A transit company is associated with a municipality and it’s government and they are not to engage in any content discrimination. So if they allow religious ads on their buses then they have to allow ours.
RDF: Right that makes sense.
Fred: So that’s the rule. They have to practice neutrality. Now if they disallow all non-commercial ads and they disallow all ideological advertising then they can disallow us too because they are playing fair by doing it across the board. So that’s what they have to do – they either have to let ‘em all in or keep ‘em all out.
Fred: So when they don’t follow the rules we have threatened suit in some cases and the local transit authorities have caved and we’ve gotten the bus ads and they’ve gone without incident. Most of the times we don’t even have to do that, most of the times our ads are accepted and there’s no problem. But in a couple of cases now we’ve had to file suit.
For more about UnitedCor, see UnitedCor.org
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