The Oklahoma Atheists marched in the Gazette's annual Halloween parade last night. Our theme was "Scary Everyday Atheists" and we dressed up as ourselves: doctors, homemakers, managers, salespersons, paralegals, analysts, and so forth. Apparently, what makes us so scary is that we don't believe in any gods, and that is somehow considered threatening around these parts. Before the memories dim, I've written up a few initial impressions and lessons learned, for the benefit of other groups who might like to try something like this.
Lesson one: Strength in numbers. The fact that fifty atheists showed up to march made everyone feel more comfortable, more social, and less individually exposed to public scrutiny. Which turned out to be necessary, because sometimes, people can be total assholes and go in for a bit of booing and heckling. Whenever they did that, I'd try to comfort them with the fact that we were being followed by a troupe of crazed sock monkeys on bicycles, which is always fun for the whole family. That last bit is not generally applicable advice, of course, but it seemed to calm them down. I neglected to mention that some of the sock monkeys were also atheists.
Lesson two: Pack loads of candy. Kids are insatiable little monsters and because atheists are generally progressives rather than conservative supply-siders, we tend to be overly generous with our handouts.
Lesson three: Make up signage with pithy pro-atheist messages. We had posters reading "Good without God," "Atheism: Think about it," "Don't believe in God? You're not alone." "Sick? Science saves!" and "Hi, neighbor! We're more alike than different." Probably my favorite one was simply read "YOLO" which if you stop to think about, could be taken as a profound metaphysical assessment, instead of just something that teenagers say to each other before making terrible life choices.
Lesson four: Have something positive to say and have fun doing so. This goes for everyone, but most especially the leadership. The president of AOK lead up our parade contingent, shouting funny and positive things at the audience. His most recurring line was "Who's sleeping in tomorrow?" It can be difficult to be smiling and friendly when being heckled by people who are visibly upset by your very existence, but that's all part of the gig.
If you are having a good time, people will respond to that. A chorus of "Woooooooo!" never goes wrong at a parade. Crack jokes. Every time I saw an audience member dressed as Santa, I'd cry out "We believe in YOU, Santa!" During awkward silences (there were plenty) we'd ask if anyone had ideas for churches we should visit. When people took the effort to heckle in a positive way, e.g. "Jesus loves you!" we shot back with positive messages of our own "Love for everybody!"
I'd like to thank the group leadership for putting this event together, everybody who spent time and effort making up the signage, and most especially everyone who had the courage and took the time to march. You guys rock!