Justin Scott is one of the hardest working atheist activists in the United States, having committed the past four years to atheist activism to help normalize atheism and stand up for the rights of one of the most ignored minority (soon to be majority) groups.
Named Atheist of the Year by American Atheists for 2017, Scott is now currently serving as State Director for American Atheists in his home state of Iowa, which he has called home for all of his 37 years.
From “bird dogging” presidential candidates–he was able to confront every major presidential candidate during the 2016 presidential race–to delivering secular invocations at the state capitol and in city council chambers across Iowa, along with ending government endorsed prayers as well, Scott has made a name for himself as one of the most successful atheist activists out there. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have been active and, more importantly, successful in activism for secularism. What have been the tools of the trade? How can others learn from the setup by you?
Justin Scott: There are a few items that I would consider “tools of the trade”.
1) A willingness to put yourself out there, on any level.
Of course, not everyone has the stomach to go out in public declaring that not only they’re an atheist but that you’re coming right at religious/Christian privilege. To most, it’s too big of a risk and I get that. But at the end of the day, if you’re interested in making a difference, even just on a local level, you may be the only one that can make a difference.
2) Do the little things.
I didn’t just wake up one morning and know as much as I do now. It’s taken me nearly four years to be as knowledgeable about church/state issues, what candidates feel which way about which issues and what the best ways to approach these issues are. I’ve had to dig into issues, candidates, the backgrounds of elected officials, various aspects of church/state separation and laws/court decisions. And the best part is I’m still actively trying to improve on this. The key to being a good activist is to do these little things in order to make you better when you’re out and about.
3) Be prepared to fail…AND LEARN FROM YOUR FAILURES.
Early on, I didn’t have all the right questions or answers. But with time and experience, I’ve gotten to the point where I can walk into most situations confidently knowing how to handle myself and how to approach the situation to get the desire result. Again, this hasn’t come easy and without a ton of mistakes. I’ve asked terrible questions. I’ve missed opportunities to follow up with candidates/lawmakers/elected officials. I truly believe however, that that’s the beauty of being an activist: you can always improve!
4) Seek constructive criticism and then use it.
One of the things I’ve really learned in all of this is that I’m not the first atheist activist and I hopefully won’t be the last, so with that I’ve truly learned the value of reaching out and in some cases leaning on others. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out to activists across the country and seeking their opinions on how you can become a better activist. In most cases, the person you’re reaching out to has been in the same boat and would be happy to offer you some encouragement.
5) Have fun…despite the ups and downs you WILL make a difference!
It’s cliche to say “Have fun!” but I’m going to do it anyways. The relationships I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met (and challenged), would have never come my way had I not had fun with all of this. Atheism and the path I’ve chosen by embracing my role as an atheist activist has already, in just under four years, provided me with a story that even Forest Gump himself would be jealous of. I can’t wait for what’s up next!
Jacobsen: In terms of honest failures, what can others learn from those failed activist attempts, by others or yourself?
Scott: No one “failure” stands out (I also don’t refer to them as such but rather as “opportunities to get better”. Here are a variety of things that I’ve learned the last couple of years:
-When you’re approaching candidates/elected officials: It’s OK to write your thoughts down and bring them with you. No one cares whether you can rattle off a 5 part question from the top of your head.
-When you’re working with other atheist groups: Every kind of atheist and atheist group is beneficial to our cause. Don’t try to push people and groups to be something that they’re not. Embrace them for their unique qualities and celebrate how they can contribute to the common good.
-Support other groups, atheist activism is not a contest. In addition, you never know when you’ll need to count on someone a few towns or area codes over.
-Work as hard as you can to create a coalition of groups wherever you live. I’d rather have too many groups working on a similar goal than not enough.
-Understand that not every atheist/atheist group is as determined as you may be on a certain issue. Do your best to sell the reasons why you’re passionate about an issue but don’t drive yourself crazy if you can get everyone in your area onboard. It’s better to keep your focus moving forward on solving the issue.
-Lastly, and I made this point above but it’s one of the best: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there out of a fear of failing. Failure will make you a better activist. Responding to failure in a positive way will also motivate and inspire those around you.
Hope this all helps!
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Justin.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Justin Scott.