Photo of the planning meeting for those billboards you hate

We need quality control, and that’s what Martin Wagner’s blog post was all about. I just disagree with him for his sloppy aim, misdirecting his valid criticism. He praised an American Atheists billboard (that he didn’t realize was from AA) (EDIT: Michael from the Mid-Ohio atheists explains how we were both wrong about this in his excellent post - the message of this sign is more complicated than we realized), as an example of what AA billboards should look like (instead of ‘fail’ and ‘embarrassing all of us’).

You’ll notice from my initial response to Martin Wagner that I didn’t even see that this next billboard may sound illogical to people. I pointed to this one because it had AA logo on it, and was part of the same campaign that Martin praised.

But then people left comments, rationally explaining how they interpreted it. Now, that illogical statement is staring me right in the face. “There is no god” immediately followed with “Don’t believe the thing you just heard”.

I mean, I still think it’s pedantic. If you take things this far, why not go one step further: you don’t ‘hear’ billboards. However, it’s plain that a lot of people instantly thought this, therefore it’s not as effective as it could be. This is far from a disaster, but I personally would have conceded the point and voted against this one. I do like the visual appearance of it, but I’d change the wording (or scrap it). [UPDATE: There is a really interesting back story to this particular billboard. I am now in the 'voting for it' camp...]

See? Criticism worked, instantly! However, nobody said it at the real life meeting about this billboard. I always try to surround myself with people who tell me I’m wrong (and are logical and reasonable about it). Many local leaders haven’t learned this lesson just yet – but they will.

Now for the titular photograph

photo-of-atheists-planning-their-billboard-campaign-404-So-brave

I’m sincerely grateful that the online community gives enough of a shit to be fearlessly critical. There is room at the table for that criticism in real life. That table has a lot of empty seats with your names on them – in every city. Maybe take some of the burden off the heavy lifters, write some clever billboard campaign slogans, or reuse and re-purpose existing ones that you thought were successful. Give these suggestions to your local group’s leadership at the meetings. Those well-versed in the internet atheist subcultures on blogs, reddit and Facebook have a familiarity with the subject that translates very well to real life activism.

Turn the highway into reddit

Wouldn’t r/atheism addicts love to see that clever image plastered 20′ x 60′ on the side a fucking highway? Well, make it happen! The internet is hording all this goddamn talent. I’m a reddit junkie too, but real life atheist activists are So brave. (for those not familiar with the ‘So brave’ meme)

Perhaps even try to be willing to be the ‘billboard guy / girl’. Take on the logistics of the task all by yourself – sniffing out funding, researching the law, contacting the local billboard companies… you could do this in a single day if you were part of a meaningful community. You’d already largely know the ropes and how to make it happen. The learning curve is not that steep, and there is ample opportunity for creative input / output.

Even if you don’t want to take charge – there is a spot for you in your local community. Vote on issues, tactics, policies. Show up to goofy little protests, movie nights, speaker meetings, pub crawls – it’s all there. You will ‘level up’ if you become active in your local atheist community. I wouldn’t have believed it until I tried it.

You have a booger on your face

At the very least, help us with quality control (more than [valid] criticism after the fact on the internet). I want to know if I have a booger on my face… don’t let me walk around all day with that shit dangling there. Be helpful, let your local group know if they’ve got boogies too. Show up to the meeting!

We are even trying to take the conversation to the internet. American Atheists are funding 30 billboards soon. We got 8 submissions last time we asked and most were unusable. Dig through your saved images, or some other source. Read the rules I explained at the end of this post. Send us something!

Why are we even still doing billboards?

The first billboard campaign was revolutionary. New ones aren’t. They are actually still very important, because they actually work! They are not really designed to ‘de-convert’ religious people or ‘de-stigmatize’ the atheist community – though some may do this. The real power behind them is their demonstrable effect on the local atheist community.

Billboards are a recruitment tool, aimed at uncommitted or otherwise inhibited atheists. Even a failed billboard message still shows others that there are indeed more people like them. A better message would accomplish this better but the lesser message still reaches some. Every single city that runs them reports the same drastic effect on their local group’s membership (UP!)

So what! Who cares about growing a local atheist community?

You care. Or at least I happen to think that you should care.

The rapid uptick in community-building breeds a whole new front in the greater conversation. Activism, litigation, social interaction, visibility (beyond billboards) – all of this is exponentially more likely to happen with a solid base.

It’s arguable that right now the tangible front of the movement in this nation is resting on the shoulders of a hundred or so local leaders. They aren’t perfect at everything, and they have a fierce support system of other people who aren’t perfect at everything.On top of all of that, they are overwhelmingly outnumbered, outfunded, and often out-maneuvered by their more experienced and more ruthless theist rivals. Local leadership is spread so thin, and wins so rarely, sniped at from all angles (even within)… some don’t last very long.

The leaders who stick around long enough to put up a billboard deserve some fucking medals. That being said, if you are reading this right now – join and/or start a group.

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  • Frank Kelley

    I’ll show to the meeting, hell sign me up as the recording secretary. I’ll even bring my copy of Robert’s Rules of Order along.

  • TwoPiDeltaIJ

    You are still using as your example an AA billboard that is not good (as has been explained to you, when the billboard that was pointed out as a good example in the original post by Martin is not an AA billboard. I had commented on the lack of AA branding on the billboard in question, and I am relieved to know that AA’s marketing is not so broken that they just forgot to advertise themselves on a decent product, merely that they had little to do with it (1/4 of the cost but nothing to do with the design). As a reference to back up what I have just said (since it fairly well trashes every point you have tried to make so far) I would point you to http://midohioatheists.org/?p=1729 which has been linked to in your previous post and in the comments of Martin’s post.

    I sincerely do not understand your commenting about showing up to the AA meetings where these things are decided. Do you really think that the people in the community would not comment on things like billboard ideas before they go out? I for one almost certainly can not make it to a physical meeting of this particular group, it is a scheduling nightmare enough to make it to my local group meetings. On top of that, many people do not have the skills required to choose a message that would be interesting in billboard format, appropriate to the cause of the atheist movement, and create a “good” graphical design to do the previous two things. Crowd-sourcing this to r/athiesm might help, but more directly people with the correct skills (and an investigable history of using said skills) can be hired. In short, I do not see why AA does not simply admit they are not good at this and that in the future they will hire someone (maybe the guy(s) who donated the decent mid-Ohio billboard designs for example) to correct what was in the past an oversight.

  • machintelligence

    I’m glad you illuminated the back story on the “Don’t believe everything you hear” billboard. I was aware of it, but could not find the appropriate link. I’m not much of a joiner, but I will look into local atheist/skeptic organizations.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    I wouldn’t even try to design a billboard. I have the visual imagination of a starnosed mole. However, I know there are people who design billboards professionally. These people are called “graphic designers.”

    If I wanted to have a billboard designed fairly cheaply, I’d go to the art department of the local college and talk to some of the professors for recommendations for graphic design students who might be willing to design a billboard for a nominal fee and possible credit in a class.

    I’m not particularly interested in joining an atheist group. I support such groups financially (although SCA will not be receiving my checks any time soon) but I’m not a joiner. I made the mistake of allowing the board of directors of my yacht club to talk me into becoming the commodore (or as I prefer to think of it, the commode door) and I’ve been regretting it ever since. Next January, someone else will become the commode door. Besides, with my luck, any atheist group I joined would likely be taken over by the Harvard Humanists and be taken in a direction I have no interest in going.

  • Justin Griffith

    You are still using as your example an AA billboard that is not good (as has been explained to you, when the billboard that was pointed out as a good example in the original post by Martin is not an AA billboard.

    Michael’s post is what made me realize the one featured here was a good billboard. Furthermore, while not all three were “AA” – they were all three mid-ohio atheists, an affiliate group of AA… as stated in Martin’s post.

    merely that they had little to do with it (1/4 of the cost but nothing to do with the design)

    Dave Silverman was the only one who ‘got it’ and encouraged this fledgling group to go forward. Other organizations were going to force their billboard design instead – so none of the billboards were even going to happen at all.

    As a reference to back up what I have just said (since it fairly well trashes every point you have tried to make so far) I would point you to http://midohioatheists.org/?p=1729 which has been linked to in your previous post and in the comments of Martin’s post.

    I didn’t notice the link until later because it was non-descript at first glance… “Here’s my take.” or something like that.

    Look, you don’t need to ‘trash’ or argue points here… I know how billboard campaigns work. There are two main ways:

    1) It’s usually a local project. When a group gets enough momentum to do a campaign, they do one. Some percentage is almost always donated by a national org (AA, AHA, FFRF, etc. and another percentage is from the local chapter of the parent organization… this varies widely.)

    2) The other times, it’s the national organization itself doing them directly all directly. If method 2 is how you view 100% of billboards, you’ve simply got it wrong.

    —–however… you also clearly missed how I quite viciously attacked AA’s earliest (method 2) billboards. I said “these look like they were done in MS Paint”. ———-

    You seem like the type who ‘always wins the argument’ even when you aren’t in an argument.

    On top of that, many people do not have the skills required to choose a message that would be interesting in billboard format, appropriate to the cause of the atheist movement, and create a “good” graphical design to do the previous two things. Crowd-sourcing this to r/athiesm might help, but more directly people with the correct skills (and an investigable history of using said skills) can be hired.

    Every time I get enough eyeballs on a subject – people come out of the woodwork. I had a hollywood actor do voiceover work for our radio commercial hours after he heard our ‘demo’ version – UNASKED. I had multiple graphic designers help or offer to help with the logos for the Fort Bragg festival UNASKED. It’s easy to find volunteers who are experts in the field.

    Without crowdsourcing for volunteers – much of ANY secular organization’s output goes away. That’s how it works. I know what I’m talking about here. Martin and I both got some stuff wrong about billboard campaign from Mid-Ohio [who once again, affiliates with AA]. We both now agree (as does Michael from Mid-ohio) that American Atheists were absolutely ‘part of’ this whole campaign. Especially the one with our website and logo prominently displayed (the subject of this current blog post too).

    In short, I do not see why AA does not simply admit they are not good at this and that in the future they will hire someone

    Didn’t you read my blast about “looks like it was done in MS Paint?” Seriously… what’s your deal dude? Didn’t you also see how I read criticism of the billboard in my post, and posted in a completely ‘my mind was changed’ way today?

    Confusingly, minutes after I posted, I read Michael’s excellent summary and changed my mind AGAIN. But I left this thought process in place. It’s good to respond to criticism and correct yourself. But it’s not fair for me to change things that I wrote after people start talking about them. I feel like it would be dishonest! The things that they ‘disagree’ about disappear and then they are left looking like whiny idiots.

    (maybe the guy(s) who donated the decent mid-Ohio billboard designs for example) to correct what was in the past an oversight.

    That’s what happened! That’s what usually happens!

    Graphic designers are not that rare of a commodity. For example, Bruce Harris is a genius that I got dozens of RBB designs for various shit made (from posters, t shirts, parking passes, flyers, mugs, giant banners for the stage skirt, the web banner etc.)

    I crowdsourced and he stood up and kicked ass for us (American Atheists)… because I got visibility and ‘went viral’. You can’t “buy viral”. You just roll the dice. But he can’t submit 30 Billboards… and he doesn’t even live in PA, and he IS active in Raleigh, NC. The ultimate goal is to nose out some local talent to help local groups.

    Stop working against this just because you don’t understand that billboard campaigns are usually local, or some combination of National and Local. FFRF has a billboard generator, where all you had to do was type your message in. I think that’s a great idea, and I’ll be putting that forward to AA (but it wouldn’t possibly be ready in time for this campaign).

    That’s the sort of thing I usually keep in the backchatter, but I assure you things are in motion that are pretty slick. We’re volunteers man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/o51r15 michaeladams

    I would like to point out that no part of putting up the billboards were as simple as it should have been, there is a reason these billboards were 9 months in the making. There were also several points where I just wanted to say fuck it, quit, and crawl back under the covers and it was nice to have Dave Silverman on the other end of the line to keep me motivated.

    I learned allot through out this process. The thing that sticks out the most is no matter how awesome your designs are someone will not like them and they will likely be the ones speaking the loudest. The most popular one we have up is ‘On the First Day man created God’. I’ve been called to task repeatedly on facebook with comments like ‘why does it have to be the first day’ or ‘I hardly believe that statement to be accurate.’ To which I can only say DUH! The point of that billboard was to simply imply that the first day the concept of ‘god’ existed was because man created it. However people seem bound and determined to over analyze every aspect of every billboard campaign.

    My biggest complaints about the internet atheist community is how many are super quick to criticize and ridicule but are often not willing to participate or donate to improve anything. If your not working to be part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

    I guess I don’t know what the answer is to all of this.. I’m happy to see that American Atheists is reaching out to improve the quality of the billboards. I can however promise that regardless of what the next billboard is that AA puts up or how much they invite the internet community to be involved the chances that many of the comments about the billboards will be snarky and pointlessly insulting is still pretty good.

    Jason, you have my support, and the support of Mid Ohio Atheists 100% If there is anything we can do to help in any project you’ll have what ever support you need!

    Thanks again for talking about the billboards, good conversation and discussion is always constructive, and this has been both. I’m glad we could help spur this.

    -Michael

  • Martina

    They should have a billboard design contest with the winner receiving a gift of art supplies or a scholarship… maybe also a science billboard? Engaging the mind through art and science seems more productive than just a pedantic message to the masses.

  • TwoPiDeltaIJ

    Dave Silverman was the only one who ‘got it’ and encouraged this fledgling group to go forward. Other organizations were going to force their billboard design instead – so none of the billboards were even going to happen at all.

    So your claim (which is not in the backstory provided by any post about this so far) is that since Dave Silverman recognized a good idea and somehow promoted it, AA should get to claim credit for something that they did not contribute enough to that they actually put their name on it? You are saying that AA in general is the reason all atheist billboards exist, and well frankly I do not believe you.

    We both now agree that AA had about 1/4 of the cost input into the three billboards only one of which bears the AA name. The one you hold up as the example (because it has the AA name on it) was for all intents and purposes a local joke. It was funny, but it is due to the context an outlier. Thus, the one that hasAA’s name on it is not like the others in several ways, and is I think much worse (as an example of a national level campaign) than the two which do not have the AA branding on them (which would work anywhere because they do not rely on local context information).

    It is not a vicious attack to point out to someone (even someone you ‘work for’ that they did a bad job at something by claiming it looks like it was generated unprofessionally. You did not viciously attack AA, I did not attack you (or AA). I do not know what I have said or done that makes you think I can not (or did not) read all of the relevant posts. I do not know why you think I am unaware of what the purpose of a billboard is, or how activist movements work mostly at a local level. I am confused as to what you think I have done that is working against anything. I am not actively supporting AA, or many other groups. Is that the same in your mind as working against them? Would it mitigate things for you that I am active locally, that seemed important to you about other people? Most of all, I am confused as to why you think I care what your opinion of my level of knowledge, or my motivations are (and if you claim not to, why question them…).

    I did not attack you personally though it appears you are attempting to attack my motives or perhaps my awareness of ‘how stuff works’. Shame on you for trying.

  • Justin Griffith

    Shame on you for trying.

    I’ll just cower in shame now… Or something.

  • TwoPiDeltaIJ

    I’ll just cower in shame now… Or something.

    Instead you could just admit it was a dick move, and poor argumentation. You could respond to any of the arguments that have been made. I think what you will probably do is complain that you are a volunteer, and so it is ok that you are bad at this…

  • Justin Griffith

    It was a dick move. I argued poorly. I never responded to you. I’m a volunteer and it doesn’t excuse how much I suck at activism. I announce my retirement tomorrow. Press conference is at 11 AM.

    You win so hard.

  • katkinkate

    Atheism: Join the discussion.

    (webpage/facebook/email address/whatever of the local atheist group/a local atheist volunteer)

    The locals can then an online discussion forum for the local area and take if from there.


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