The 11th of October is an important day for many progressive groups on campuses, because it is National Coming Out Day! And Georgia Tech’s Pride Alliance made the entire week have a focus on encouraging people of non-heterosexual, transgender, or non-monogamous status to be visible about who they are, and to remind everyone that we are all surrounded by those different from us that deserve respect and equal treatment under the law and in society at large.
It’s a positive message and movement that, of course, attracts opposition.
At Georgia Tech (where I graduated from in 2012 and now work at the Georgia Tech Research Institute), hateful religious groups arrive on campus during this week to demonstrate in the free speech area. They aren’t the Westboro Baptist Church, but they have similarly large, offensive signs and yell about their version of Christianity while demonizing the students of our college.
This year, in our atheist/secularist group, Campus Freethinkers, I proposed the idea of developing and implementing “street preacher bingo” for these protesters. The idea behind it is to keep people entertained while ridiculing hate speech by collecting the most common tropes of religious fear mongering and hate into a five-by-five game board! This is an idea that has been publicized on a few other campuses, and I thought it could have numerous benefits:
- Be a fun activity for group members to participate in guessing potential hateful speech
- Present a playful alternative for pedestrians passing by
- Demonstrate concretely an opposition to the demonstrators’ presence
- Advertise our group at the event and on the bingo sheets
- Adjust people’s perspectives of atheists, secularists, and nonbelievers
The group really liked the idea! So a few weeks before Out Week, we spent a while after a meeting filling up two giant bingo boards with ideas. People really got into it! I took pictures home with me and put them into a spreadsheet, organized into categories.
…And then created multiple versions of boards.
Making sure our logo and website were on there, and the instructions were clear, we were all set! (Of note is that we purposefully chose topics, quotes, and actions of street preachers that generally distance themselves from moderate, progressive theists.) I encouraged links to these documents be put on our website and pasted them many times in our Facebook group, so everyone felt they had the capacity to help out by printing off copies.
On Wednesday of Out Week, a member on Facebook announced they were here. The plans laid out worked perfectly: people said they were bringing copies, people showed up to spend time canvasing the free speech area by offering bingo cards, and the coordination and communication were key to accomplishing that.
The protesters returned both Thursday and Friday, and I spent some time on my lunch break actually at the event. I learned a few things while trying to pass out bingo sheets:
1. People are much more willing to take bingo sheets if they know you’re not with the protesters, and are in fact making fun of them.
2. Few people will actually play, but will read the sheet and simply be amused. (We offered candy for a “Bingo!”, but very few people were interested in achieving that, which was fine.)
3. Most people will take the sheet with them for a time, with our logo and website on there.
We also took pictures of the event, which I’ve got in a slideshow above. This is important not only for personal reasons of simply remembering the day, but also to show off our group’s activities and activism. There’s nothing wrong with asking to take someone’s picture while handing them a bingo sheet, for example. It captures the essence of the event in simply a slightly more photogenic way.
Many members of our group showed up to help, which I found very encouraging. Even better was on Thursday seeing other groups of people interrupting the hate speech and eating up time with inane songs. As I approached the location for the first time, for example, the chants of, “mas-tur-bation… Mas-Tur-Bation… Masturbation!” became louder and louder. Immature? Yes. Supportive and oddly heartwarming? Double yes.
I hope this quick story of how we formulated a response to street preachers is encouraging to anyone out there who would like to muster pushback against religious hatred but hasn’t yet. Please feel free to use the resources linked above and collected below to get a head start on a fun, snarky, visible form of activism! Just swap out the logos, group name, and website. And fine tune your bingo card for your blend of street preacher. “Bagpipes”, for example, made special appearances in previous years at GT specifically. 😛