A welcome few weeks of decompression from the billboard experience have provided me, I hope, the perspective to encapsulate the entire adventure, and its ramifications for SWiFT, myself, and non-believers in general.
The reaction from the sheeple didn’t surprise me a bit, though I didn’t expect such a wide-ranging misinterpretation of the message. Accusations ran the gamut from the usual associations with the “War on Christmas”, to lifelong believers thinking we were telling them not to go to church (like anyone cares). From the bizarre “Why do you hate Santa?” to the ridiculous “Christians don’t put up billboards attacking your beliefs…”! Whaaaat? First of all, the art was out of our hands. As part of a national campaign with American Atheists, we had no choice on the content. Not all atheists are happy with the billboard either, to be sure, but nothing would have happened at all without AA, so there you are. These things are never going to please everybody, but it was controversial without being offensive, and the right thing for SWiFT, right now.
The resistance to the process on the part of the billboard companies themselves was a bit surprising. A locally owned company flat refused to run the art. A larger firm with more regional clout led me on, consistently setting new hoops to jump through until it was too late. Of course, one never knows from whence an ally, or indeed an enemy, shall appear. Our Savior, Lamar Advertising, is based in Baton Rouge, Bobby Jindal’s own bastion of fundamentalism! The names of the billboard owners are at the bottom of all the panels. Not all of them are interested in Free Speech, but Lamar is.
What shocked me most was the willingness on the part of the local TV stations to spin this into a big deal for us. We all know controversy drives ratings, but there was no controversy until Carol Meekins shook her head and said “Controversy is swirling…” when TMJ4 ran the billboard in the first 5 minutes of the news the night it debuted, right after a double murder (in MKE, yawn) and a breaking story of an overturned semi. It was a fascinating bit of Wag-the-Doggery to be a part of.
It was predicted that the wry message would be lost on most Religiots, whose critical thinking skills are stunted to begin with, and this was completely evident. The messages on the billboard itself are pretty clear. First, when your child begins to question unbelievable stories, do not discourage them. Let them develop the critical thinking skills necessary to make up their own minds. It’s 2015. My 6 year old is already smarter than my dear Granny who just died at 93 ever was. Why would I indoctrinate him to her limited worldview? Second, Come to the American Atheists National Convention in Memphis on Easter Weekend, and meet thousands of other Atheists. If your family persecutes you for your non-belief, you are not alone.
The third message was delivered loud and clear by the local media, who refused to focus on the AA convention at all, instead making the story about the local group stirring up trouble. SWiFT, my friends, has arrived. What we need now is follow-through and that means more involvement from more volunteers with more time and more money. Like god (sic) said of lukewarm Christians, .”..I will spit you out of my mouth…”. The movement needs energy and dedication and nice, hot atheists. The ones who are happy to remain in the background have already retreated, and there will always be groups out there for those who want to sit on their hands and grouse. The rest of us need to step up in every way we can, as we need help in every area. If you have time, lend your time. If you have ideas, give us your ideas. If you have talent, share your talent, and if you have money, SWiFT has a PayPal button right on this page.
You can pay your dues there too, as Sunday January 4th we will elect the leaders who will inherit this beautiful momentum. Happy New Year, and I hope to see all of you there.