Mill Avenue Resistance: Saturday, November 8th 2008

Introduction

Instead of introducing everyone to the cast of characters, I’m just going to jump right in. I don’t feel like playing this out like some stranger than fiction episode of Supernatural or bore everyone to death with a 48-hours with Dan Rather. Instead, let’s just wing it and see where we go. For a less dicey version that includes a different perspective on Mill itself, go see the Mill Avenue Nights for Saturday on my blog.

I have just gotten back from Michigan and so my perspective of all the players has yet coalesced but tonight I saw a number of the old standbys and a few new people. How about some old fashioned name dropping? Edwin, Jeremiah, Jim, Erin, Al… These are all names we’ll see appear in this post as the evangelists. As for the SFTS we have Kazz, Rocco, Todd, Rachel, Brad…

I am probably missing people so forgive me, my memory for names is only as good as my notes, but reflecting the actions of tonight I can do.

The evangelists pooled around the wan half-light of the Borders around the book trolleys as they waited for a consensus of action. By way of introduction, this group of evangelists who come out to Mill appear to be some schism of Protestant Christianity who study a religious marketing technique known as the Way of the Master—which is a technique taught through propaganda, political training, and videos produced by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.

Tonight Mill welcomed the presence of a particularly well known almost-celebrity among the evangelists, Jeremiah. He is a stout, handsome man with a strong jaw and a stronger set of windpipes. He used to bring with him an easel with propaganda messages that contained mistakes and some easily researched outright falsehoods. But now he comes fairly unaccompanied except for his trusty metal step—which he uses as a pulpit—and a small amplified speaker about the size of a large flashlight.

The evangelists usually set themselves up in front of Urban Outfitters (much to the chagrin of the shopkeepers who actually tolerate them quite a bit) but lately a well-played busker with an extremely loud amplifier sets up there and drowns them out more effectively than the SFTS could. Although, extremely loud guitar music debate does not make. And I want to hear people talk: not scream their lungs hoarse.

So, Jeremiah set off across the street from Borders, in front of the dirt parking lot that used to be Long Wong’s. As the crowds stood, agitated and happy some with drink and some with their own frivolity, I watched the cabs as they drove up and parked along the edge waiting for their fares. I didn’t get a chance to interview any of them—but as anyone should know, I have a particular adoration for taxi drivers.

Shortly: it was on!

I have never witnessed such extreme noise before. Although, it was impressive. Here and there we could hear Jeremiah shouting out simplified, succinct versions of the usual mirror-speech the evangelists use. “Give up your sin that you love!” And once or twice he claimed to have his free speech diminished due to the criticism levied at him; but pretty much he simply shouted on and on, ignoring pleas of questions, and rolling over anyone who wanted to speak to him. But, this is Jeremiah to a T.

The result became audible chaos. A stream of burning words from Jeremiah refuted by tag-team echoes from Rocco and Todd of varied quality (since the amps seemed to have a problem) and direct admonitions from Omar with his bull-horn, which was clearly the winner when it came to audibility.

The real amusement of the night happened to be displayed in Jeremiah’s sulking behavior, generally right after he accused Omar and others of being rebellious children, or acting juvenile; more than once he abruptly changed position—never more than 6 yards from his previous. “Looks like we’re moving to the left people! There we goes, set up to our left!” He moved no less than four times, back and forth, and once stationed himself with his back to the street instead of the dirt lot.

Another time he mentioned that, “The atheists cannot get a crowd of their own, they have to steal mine,” and promptly went on—but, I’m sure he didn’t notice, but about the point he said that Todd and Rocco were in side conversations with such a mass of the people nobody was listening to him anyway. Shortly thereafter Jeremiah stopped speaking entirely, shut down, and hung around in the background for some one-on-one conversations with others.

Topics ranged from the origin of evil to the mechanism of morality. Largely the evangelical preaching from this side of the street didn’t evoke anything more than rebuttals instead of debate or observation. But then, I don’t know that it’s supposed to do more than that. An evangelist isn’t here to strike up thought; they’re speaking commands: “Do this. Do that. Or suffer this. Suffer that.” There’s little in the way of debate with this sort of behavior—it is a concrete I’m right, you’re wrong, do as I say.

I am interested in hearing what people of varied cultures think of what the evangelists do on Mill Ave. How many people think it is in their best self-interest to behave in this manner?

Aftermath

Although, I would guess that Jeremiah was fairly well running interference. He managed to blunder his way into gathering a large crowd of dissenters and some apathetic people—mostly of the younger teen variety who went away irritated at him and his message. However, all those losses could have been recouped by the fact that Al and his little crew set up in front of the Post Office while the rest were sitting around Borders, and all of the SFTS was next to the dirt-lot to counter him.

Suggestions

The SFTS can bring out a lot of amplification but the speakers seem to have issues with their upper end. Loud speakers like Todd have their voices husked and silenced in strange ways when they speak too loud. Perhaps it’s the speakers themselves or maybe it’s the microphones.

I’m no sound expert but Jeremiah’s little amp far excelled at clarion speech over that of the SFTS.

Avoid multiple speakers at once in the future. One speaker and the bullhorn should have been more than enough, especially with Jeremiah’s particular brand of talk-over-everyone-and-not-listen behavior.

Interaction

At this point I’d like to invite experiences from any of our users who want to tell us what they got out of the spectacle last night. And, if you’re willing, give me what you think about everyone coming out.

Remember: I’m here to study Mill, and especially its people, so if you have something to say about the current condition of Mill, the evangelists, the SFTS, I’ll be very happy to hear it.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports

Kazz has asked me to come in as a guest blogger in order to produce observations of the Secular Free Thought Society’s activism on Mill Avenue as part of their resistance against the activity of Christian evangelists. I will attempt to do my best to perform a critique of the position and reliability of the SFTS, give sociological and anthropological observations of the evangelists, and hopefully entertain a few people along the way.

I cannot promise that I am going to be very kind to either side, although really I am reluctant to say there are “sides” here in spite of the obvious dichotomy of philosophy and the nature of protest activism. Expect a scathing whenever someone steps out of line—yes, I do pull punches, but that’s because I’m inherently academic and not mean spirited, but I can be riled when I see people misbehaving.

I am not a totally outside observer. I am strongly biased against evangelism on Mill Ave because I am essentially embedded with the SFTS cause, although I do not have a strong presence with them. This is because all of Mill Ave is grounds for my study, it’s the place that I’ve lived, and it’s pretty much my stomping-grounds. As a result I feel very strongly about things that disrupt, annoy, or otherwise cause injury to the Ave and its visitors.

If anyone has comments on my observations, my technique, or my apparent lack of discipline in my fields of study, please bring them up. Expect my style to be somewhat gonzo journalism and gung-ho anthropology.

I am here because I love people.

As always this will be excerpts and extended reflections of my notes from my author blog at Under the Hills.

I hope everyone enjoys and I’ll see everyone there.