What a blast TAM 2012 was. The people as usual were amazing, but what I want to tell you about was a smallish event Mark Edward organized almost at the last minute, a field trip to protest Sylvia Browne in Vegas.
I'm going to recount the chain of events in the hope that others can see how little preparation it takes to do something like this.
So my friend Paula announced to many of us in the IIG that Sylvia Browne would be preforming at a downtown casino during TAM. I started a secret Facebook group and we had some conversations with people, but nothing came of it. Mark printed a bunch of cold-reading flyers and then he printed a list of Sylvia's most egregious failures (4 on a sheet) for people to Google. He made about 100 copies of each and brought them to TAM, just in case.
|Steve Wheeler, Stirling Gerbic-Forsyth, Charles Valek, Horse's Ass, Jim Underdown, Mark Edward.|
So anyone who has been to TAM knows, everything is always happening all the time. There is no "down-time", no empty time that you are hoping to fill. You turn around in line at the buffet and there is someone wearing a TAM nametag and 30 seconds later you find you're in deep conversation and fast friends. That's the nature of being in a skeptic's conference.
Mark is a doer. He also has a degree in art, which included studies in performance and conceptual art. He grew up in the 60's, and he assures me that people took to the street and got in people's faces when there were problems. So Mark just announced, Friday at 6:00 we are going to stand outside Sylvia's show and see what trouble we can get into. Mark printed flyers and we were ready to hand them out. We posted on the TAM whiteboard an announcement for people to meet us at the horses's ass (at the large bronze cowboy statue near the meeting rooms) at 5:45pm on Friday, to visit Sylvia. That was it, all the planning we needed.
What happened to improve that was when we remembered that Brad Lutts (from Reno Skeptics) was hand delivering the Convicted Felon Banner to Ben Radford. I texted Brad and asked if he would bring the banner to the IIG table. He went up to his room and brought down 2 banners. I want to mention at this point that the IIG is in possession of these banners and you can contact us at email@example.com if you want to use them. Ben designed for these to follow Sylvia where ever she tours. No cost, other than shipping is needed. Plus we want to see the pictures!
The IIG table put up one of the banners to gain attention and also a sign with the date and time. Several of us tweeted to #TAM 2012 our intention to meet. During Friday lunch I texted every person in my phone contacts that I knew was attending TAM. We even had an announcement from the stage. Later we heard from many people how much they would have loved to have gone if only they had known about it. Don't know how much more we could have done.
|Jim Underdown, Brian Hart & Charles Valek at the IIG table|
5:45 arrives and only about 5 people have gathered at the horse's ass. We are starting to get a bit nervous, we knew that there was a thunderstorm alert for Vegas at about that time. People started showing up one at a time. We took a small group picture with the banner.
A few more people arrived, and amazingly Randi walked by. I didn't want to missing that, we took a group shot with Randi, the banner and the horse's ass. Most of the people in the picture left after that shot and didn't attend with us. We knew we needed to leave the protest at 7:00 which is when Sylvia's show started, no sense continuing when everyone was inside.
Sheldon Helms was just walking by and wondered what the commotion was all about. We encouraged him to come with us to protest Sylvia at a nearby casino and he said, "lets go." Most people didn't even know each other. We were not affiliated with any group, just skeptics attending TAM.
These were the attendees ...
We had 3 cars that we filled up, and one group shared a cab. We got to the casino, it had just rained so the heat level was low for Vegas in July. We had no idea where Sylvia's event was, but finally found the correct place. The walkway was enclosed under construction, which turned out to be a benefit because it was the most direct route to her venue. We couldn't hang up the banners because that would have been illegal, so we were forced to hold the banners. Mark led us in some of the craziest banter that would make side show people smile. He is truly a showman and in his element with something like this.
The video tells the story much better than I can. We had such a blast. Getting back to the casino we broke up and most went to eat somewhere. Some of us met up later in Room 666 (I kid you not) and watched Ross do some amazing things to the best house's ass picture.
Then he put together all the video I shot on my little flip camera into the amazing video you now see. He took out a bunch as you can expect. We had a few encounters, maybe I should say, I had a few encounters. I really went after a woman from Sylvia's camp and that just didn't fit with the tone of the video we wanted to portray. Another woman had just seen the Sylvia show the night before and said that Sylvia knew how her husband had died. Tamara talked to her, and seemed to be making sense but the woman's friend was upset and drug her friend away from us, with a last "if gives her comfort, leave her alone" comment.
We left room 666 at midnight, but Ross came back after the bacon and doughnut party and worked on the video till 4am. The next morning Ross appeared looking his normal Mormon self, cheerful and peppy, with the video on his laptop. We changed a few other things and the next thing you know it was arranged that Ross and I would be on stage after Lawrence Krauss ended his lecture, and right before Penn & Teller did the keynote address. It was a prime time moment.
Ross went on first and announced me, we talked about how easy it was to get this together and a bit about the banners and I said "do something, do something, do something" until they turned my mike off.
I took that same flip camera on the stage so below is some video of the audience reaction from the stage. Jay Diamond recorded some of the audience close-up watching the video.
In the end we learned that sometimes the simplest plans are the best. We also learned that most people don't know who Sylvia Browne is. That was a win by itself. Our sampling was not scientific, and yes, a lot of the people walking by had been consuming quite a bit of alcohol, and were happy to take our fliers into the casino for us. Several hundred were left in the bathrooms, bar and areas near Sylvia's venue.
If you are planning on doing something similar, Mark suggests that you form teams. One to protest. Another to be part of Sylvia's crowd. And both groups shouldn't act like they know each other. You will have much better results and you probably can infiltrate her venue and maybe even get to punk Sylvia to her face like Mark did in 2009.
DO SOMETHING DO SOMETHING DO SOMETHING DO SOMETHING DO SOMETHING
The main video - Ross Blocher & Susan Gerbic
Mark Edward's Skepticblog on the protest
Ross editing the horse's ass photo- Susan Gerbic
From TAM 2012 audience reaction from the stage - Susan Gerbic
TAM 2012 audience reaction - video by Jay Diamond (must find where I put the URL)