The SDCOR group purchased a spot for the atheist booth at today’s EarthFair in our usual location, Balboa Park. This annual event draws 50,000 – 70,000 people, and it’s a very different demographic: It’s attended almost entirely by San Diego residents.
As you see from the photos, there are hundreds of vendors so space is very tight. That means we didn’t have room to set up the ‘Ask an Atheist’ table, so this booth is more about handing out literature than taking part in more in-depth discussions.
The large crowds also made long conversations more difficult, with new people stepping up to the booth every couple of minutes, and because of the general noise level that results when you have a lot of people in a fairly small space, and thousands on the street in front.
Our first visitor was a ‘minister’ of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He said they didn’t have a booth at the fair this year, but they would next year. He was happy to see that we were there.
As the crowds picked up, we were visited by a couple of very cheerful members of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who posed for a photo and left us some “Get out of hell Free” and “Get out of heaven Free” cards. I’ve seen these guys around for many years, and they generally are in any TV News story on Gay Pride festivities with their incredibly detailed makeup… and burly arms. They are hard to miss, even in a crowd. Their group “does everything that real nuns do, except without the religion”. Oh, and they’re all men. I think.
We had an almost constant stream of visitors all day, roughly a new person every 3 or 4 minutes, and handed out a lot of literature. As always, many were unaware that we existed and were happy to see us.
San Diego heat records were broken today, and by early afternoon is was rather brutal in direct sun, with little breeze and large crowds. An older man with a shirt wet from sweat stepped into the shade of the booth. Instead of my usual pitch I asked of he was OK or needed anything. He said that if he passed out, I was to just let him relax there for a while and not call anyone. I offered to get him a chair, but he declined. He seemed to feel better after standing in the shade for a few minutes, and started looking around at our signs and the material on our table… then asks, “What is this?” I told him we are an atheist group — his only response was to raise his eyebrows and keep looking around. Then he thanked me, turned, and left. I think he was a bit freaked out to be offered help by a ‘heathen’.
On two occasions small groups of people stepped up and looked around at our signs and materials with a confused look. In both cases, they were visitors to San Diego and not well versed in English. After a few minutes they figured out we were atheists and slowly backed away with a smile…. literally walking backwards into the street. The second group were all wearing t-shirts from a church in Mexico, and their only English speaking member was as amused by the situation as I was. I wish I had video of that!
A middle aged guy with an Indiana Jones type hat stepped up and dropped a $50 bill in the donation jar… NICE! He gave a short statement about how he hopes the group stays together, “because often individual personalities get involved and split groups like this”. I’m not sure if he know the issues within our group or not.
Things livened up a bit when we got a visit from one of the men you often see on TV News with the gigantic religious signs and big events like Comic-con, concerts, fairs, and random street corners. We know him at the Ask-An-Atheist booth because he picketed our booth for a full day, standing across the street from our table for 10 hours. As far as I could tell, not a single person stopped to talk to him or take his ‘proof of God’ literature except those from our booth who went over to see what he had to say. I had a friendly chat with him at the table today, and told him I missed his presence because I felt that having a picketer was a big of a badge of honor — and a great photo op.
He smiled at that, and moved down the line to some of our other volunteers who challenged the assertion of his leaflet titled, “Proof of God”. His material contains references, and his second reference includes the word “crazy” which is not a word typically found in an allegedly unbiased reference. This started a somewhat heated exchange about the definition of reference, credibility of sources, and why he can’t seem to answer the question about his ‘proof of God’. His material references his website proof-of-god.org if you’re interested.
In the late afternoon, a 60-ish lady with a timid voice stepped up to the booth and explained to me that she is happy to see us because she feels lonely because she’s an atheist who “has to stay in the closet because of my family”. A younger guy immediately followed her, telling us he picked up our “Good without God” sticker, but it was scraped off his car at a grocery store. The hate is still out there, even in fairly liberal San Diego. Next up, a 35-ish man who seemed very nervous stepped into the booth, and told me that he only recently stopped going to Sunday church services because he simply doesn’t believe it anymore, and his wife continues to go without him. He clearly was troubled by that, and the obvious implications that religion could eventually break his marriage.
And finally, we got a visit from a man I’ll call “the hat preacher”. As you see in my photo, he has a hat with something about corrupt juries written around it and under the bill of the hat. He says he will be meeting with the president soon, at his invitation, and he already has secret service agents following him. Two of them. He asked that I look at his page at facebook.com/john.braehler… so there ya go.
In all, I would guess that I personally spoke to about 250 people in the 7 hours or so I was at the booth, and I think it continued for a few hours after I left. As I was leaving, I received a text message that the street preachers were getting aggressive with the crowd and that a fight had broken out, but I didn’t see the message until I got home. I haven’t seen any news coverage of it so far, and I’ll update this post if any more info surfaces. I don’t know our “proof of God” pal was involved or not.