In general the protest was successful. I would have liked to have seen bigger numbers in attendance, but it was a big enough group to get drivers' attention and some good press images. The group was also nicely diverse. We had people of all skin shades, gay, straight (and everything in between), male, and female (and everything in between). Fortunately we heathens were joined by several liberal theists. They probably got lost in the noise of the LGBTQ and atheistic signs, but they were there to add to the pluralism of the event. Above I approximated 100 people, but it was hard to tell. There were many people coming and going between the two main protest locations and many non-"Response" people were going in and out of the stadium to (A) see the show and (B) to get some relief from the relentless sun. (FYI: I was good with the sunscreen, but as always I forgot to apply lip balm and I burned my lips...like I always do).
There were many sign choices. I can't post pics from my camera today, but some of my favorites were as follows:
- Rick doesn't have a prayer in D.C.
- A picture of Rick Perry's hair with the phrase "I have No Ideas. Pray someone else will do my job for me."
- I'm here for the animal sacrifices. (after prayer fails)
- If you'd have prayed to ZEUS it would've rained already!
- Why does your imaginary friend have to be such a BULLY?
- Climate change is not god hugging us closer!
- Your prayer can't hide your hate.
- Where's the RAIN rick?
- Perry has the right to pray. I have the right not to hear him.
Add to that list a slew of LGBTQ signs, rainbow flags, a smattering of FSM's, a Darwin fish or two, and several inspirational (but not chuckle worthy) "god is love" type signs from the theists. Fortunately one group (I believe the local American Atheists chapter, but don't quote me) had a few boxes of pre-made signs for people like me who didn't have the time to make their own signs. These designs said "Keep church and state separate" and "Pastor Perry must resign!" Thank you to whomever brought those! FYI: You knew you had a good sign if you could get a gravely shaken head from one of the people driving into the "Response" event.
The media was out there in force. Probably almost every protester got interviewed by SOMEONE today. I talked to a couple, but then again I wrote on the back of my AA(?) provided sign the (apparently, now that I can google, badly paraphrased Ingersoll) quote "Hands that help are better than hands that pray." Probably not confrontational enough to make good 6PM news. Oh well. Less press for the ol' Skeptic Wire. :(
There were also two BIIIIG signs provided by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. But first, it was great to see that FFRF heads Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor showed up to participate in the event. I got to chat with Mr. Barker for a few minutes. We'll see if that audio is up to broadcasting on the show. On a "that's neato" note: I also met a FFRF intern & her mom who are from a town in New Jersey only a few towns over from where I grew up. See? A nice small world moment (Hi Taylor & her mom!) to warm your heart. OK, back to the FFRF signs: One was an airplane dragged banner that read "GOV - Keep Church/State Separate - FFRF.ORG" It wasn't too visible to the drivers outside the event, but I'm sure a whole LOT of "Response" attendees got a look (then shook their heads). Taking care of the attention of the average driver in the vicinity of the stadium was an FFRF billboard truck saying "Beware Prayer By Pious Politicians. Get Off Your Knees And Get To Work!" Along with a witty caricature of Mr. "The Hair" Perry himself. The story I heard was that apparently no billboard company would rent a regular stationary billboard to the FFRF. There may have been some problem with selling a billboard so close to the event or no one wanted to deal with a billboard responding to a specific event, I don't know. In the end, I liked the rolling ad sign for what it was.
Speaking of signs: The Westboro Baptist Church was there. Of course they were. It wasn't clear if they were protesting Rick Perry's event or us heathen protesters, but the more likely answer was that they were protesting EVERYONE! They had their typical "God Hates __X__" signs, but there were a few twists. First of all there were about a dozen folks from WBC at the event. Most pics I've seen have shown 3 or 4 WBC people, but this was a whole clan...with children in tow. (SHUDDER) Hate is pretty scary coming from kids. In addition to bigger numbers than I expected, the WBC also brought a boom-box. But what threw me for a loop was the tunes that they picked. They were singing Lady Gaga, Queen, etc....and they knew the words pretty well! It was one of those things that makes a tiny portion of my brain wonder: is this whole WBC thing just a Andy Kauffman-esque long-term prank? Of course I know better, but sometimes I have that little kernel of doubt. The WBC only stayed for part of the morning (they had other people to go hate), but that's when the bulk of the press were there. They may be the lunatic fringe, but they aren't stupid. The last item of interest about the WBC was how the police strategically placed them: On a traffic island hemmed in by metal barriers. Smart, very smart. They're not going to be able to confront anyone directly and the police don't have to deal with well-meaning, but angry people trying to argue with them.
Also on the negative side: there was one potential monkey wrench that could have sidetracked the positive attitude of the day. This was the "Trust Jesus" guy. This man (and assistant) stood across the road from the protesters for most of the afternoon providing a megaphone amplified Gish Gallop of rhetoric and admonition. A lot of "Read your bible", "You love porn and other sins," "you are evil", "turn to jesus", and on and on and on. The guy was in it for the long haul. He would go at it for an hour or more, spewing out a non-stop rant, and then turn the megaphone over to his assistant (who read a scripted litany) only to get back at it after just a few minutes. It was hard to tell if this guy was WBC-esque or if his heart was in the right place. Unfortunately he made a lot of people yell back at him from "our" side of the road. Most of the media had left by then, but it did make us look like foaming-at-the-mouth, angry folks. The Police felt they needed to post four officers by him, just in case, but there was no hint of a physical confrontation. Icky, yes, but all's well that ends well.
That brings me to the police. 99% of them were courteous and fair to us protesters 99% of the time. There was an incident when one officer got all worked up because one guy's poster was mounted to too big a stick (which apparently is a nit-picky "you can beat your wife with a rod so-and-so thick" law in Texas), but the protester was firm yet non-confrontational towards the officer and the situation diffused. The worst I could say about the cops was that they kept getting all in a tizzy over people standing on the grass. When it's 105+ in the middle of the afternoon and the ONLY shade is on the grass you gotta cut us some slack. Not too bad when you look at the big picture. Throughout the day I made a point of thanking every cop I met for being out in the heat with us. Yes they got extra pay, but it's best to make a good impression and keep them on our side. Like I said: the fuzz seemed to like us well enough, were mostly good to us, and knew better to set up the WBC anywhere they could cause trouble.
All of this was going on outside the stadium. What about inside you say? Give me a break, I'm TIRED. ( OK Greg, take a breath) The event was free to enter, but I felt more useful adding myself to the numbers of people visible to the general public. Do not fear podlistners: I did get some secondary insight as to what went on inside from a few friendly San Antonioans who also made the pilgrimage out to Houston for the event. I'm sure there's a lot of footage on-line because it was streamed, but to summarize: it was basically just a old time tent revival, with a big-ass tent. Lots of "repent for your sins", "isn't jesus just nifty", and "let us pray" by various preachers interspersed with some gospel singing. From what I gathered Rick Perry only appeared for around 15 minutes. He did a lot of preachin' in those few minutes. Mostly regurgitating scripture from what I gather. To quote Paul Mitchell of the TFC organization "If I didn't know he was the Governor, I would have sworn he was a preacher." But for Rick Perry the "Day" of fasting and prayer wasn't much of a "day", more of a drive-by vomit of some "holier than thou" slop. No declaration for presidential candidate that I heard of.
My last thought before I collapse into my roll-away bed for the night is concerning that pesky"Day of fasting and prayer" event subtitle. I've already said that, at least for Perry, it wasn't much of a "day." What about the fasting part? Sounds very pious and humble when an event is couched in such terms. The truth is a little less holy than the hype. The event organizers did say that some concessions would be available for those who needed it "for medical reasons"...but there seemed to be a LOT of people who had medical reasons for chowing down. One news clip I saw this evening showed a healthy teen stuffing his face with nachos. Somehow I doubt those were communion wafers drizzled in "cheese product." Seems like a lot of people didn't quite live up to the sanctimonious level they had going into today. How about this question from my road-trip buddy Paul Mitchell: "Does anyone know if Perry fasted today? Is he walking his own talk?"
Assuming this farce of a political ploy doesn't disappear into the news cycle, I'm wondering how people will analyze the "Response" in the days/weeks to come. There's the anti-gay, non-inclusive angle we knew about going in. What about how the event didn't live up to it's claims. Lot's of prayer yes, but did anyone do the whole fasting thing? What about all those OTHER Governors that Perry invited? Did this alienate Perry from his constituents or potential presidential voters? How about the BIG question: Did this event actually DO something. Was it worth a Governor's precious time to hold a prayer event when he could have actually been working? What actually got done today? Was it really worth it Rick? Thanks for nothing.