“I have something to put in my obituary now.” –Rebecca Vitsmun
The Biggest applause at the Atheist Alliance of America 2013 convention went to Rebecca Vitsmun, the young mother living in Moore, Oklahoma who became a viral sensation after CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her if she thanked the Lord for saving her life during a deadly tornado, to which she responded, “I’m an atheist.” The AAA chose to reward Vitsmun for her courage in coming out to her family and the nation by awarding her a “Grace Under Pressure” award, as well as giving her son a toy microphone.
In her talk and subsequent interview, she debunked Time columnist Joe Klein’s assertion that humanists did not contribute to the Oklahoma disaster relief efforts. However, she compared the lack of organized humanist organizations and secular groups like the Red Cross working on the ground to the clearly identified Christian groups who could be spotted sifting through the debris, as well as providing victims with meals and other basic physical necessities.
“The local humanist groups were disjointed and just doing their own thing. They didn’t have matching shirts like the Christian groups did so they weren’t easy to identify as a group. Hence, secular individuals who came in to help didn’t know how to get plugged in. So they just volunteered with a church group without stating they were secular.”
Through a connection with Oklahoma Freethought, Vitsmun has began collaborating with Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB) as they prepare to launch the Humanist Service Corps (HSC) in 2014. In addition to an already planned overseas volunteering component, the innovative program will include Humanist First Responders—pairing regional teams of nonreligious people interested in assisting with future relief efforts with applicable secular organizations working on the ground after a crisis. Vitsmun is also working to include victims’ advocates and other forms of non-monetary support to assist those in need following any negative life event.
Vitsmun’s brainchild, the Rainbow Lion project, will be incorporated into the Humanist First Responders program. Inspired by her son’s loss of his own Rainbow Lion after the Oklahoma tornadoes, the program helps to reunite children with their lost comfort item or special toy after a disastrous event.
Vitsmun says she will use the over $125,000 raised by #AtheistsUnite to help her family relocate to the Seattle suburbs. They intended to move to this region in three years but Vitsmun can no longer handle the sirens that induce panic attacks and contribute to her flashbacks. Along those lines, she was too shell shocked to pay attention to the media criticism from those like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who claimed she was a liberal plant. “I wasn’t out. My family didn’t even know I was an atheist.”
But whenever Vitsmun became too overwhelmed in coping with the fallout from losing her home in a tornado, she would check the monies raised from the campaign and realize things were going to be okay.