In 2019, Writing our Future was sixty people and six pushables - a giant book and separate pages, with a different message on each page. Here are the costumes, simple lengths of fabric to be worn as aprons. The printing on the chest was digitally designed and a stencil of baking paper and tape was cut on a laser cutter, then screen printed by hand. We had two photographers on the night, and we'll eventually get hold of the photos. Without them, few details are accessible, but some of the slogans were:
Writing Our Future: What will we choose?
Climate Action OR Climate Crisis
Thoughts and Prayers OR Action and Change
Freedom From Discrimination OR Freedom To Discriminate (It's possible the wording was improved since the notes I have)
Proportional Tax Payment OR Continuing Religious Exemptions (no wonder I can't remember the exact wording!)
(and one more, about listening to lobbyists or experts, which I hope will come to me soon!)
Unfortunately there was a mutiny - one friendship group booked out 39 of the tickets, then showed up but operated like they were their own separate float. From the start, they wore the pictured costume, but not in the specified manner. The printed logo was carefully turned in. One of them had choreographed a routine, which we encouraged as we hadn't managed to do one, but they refused to teach it outside their group. They were overheard saying that two pages were enough and five were unnecessary. They 'helped' assemble the pushables as many of them were far bigger and stronger than the rest of us, but insisted that they knew better than us about the float we'd spent months building. They stood over us, belittling us and eventually slashing our painstakingly painted panels with knives, cutting the pages down from 3.6m to 2.4m tall, with the bottom panel flopped out horizontally over the base and the remains tied back to the frame with bits of rope.. When the last base was found, they refused to assemble it, so we had to work around them and try to reproduce their vandalism to make it fit the others. Then, when it was time to move, they took off without us - two thirds of the people with one third of the pushables, leaving maybe a dozen of us behind with four pushables, including the big heavy book.
A couple of strangers volunteered to help, and it was just enough for us to get everything moving once we got permission to join in a gap. Just before we cleared Start Area, however, it turned out our permission was not duly authorised and we had parade officials I'd never met demanding we stop, shouting threats in my face, refusing to listen or to talk to the people pushing at the back of the float and trying to physically push over the book. Eventually an official I did know came over, explained the situation and helped get our float across the starting point to wait at the top of the other leg of Start Area. We were now to be the very last float before the volunteers, so that the media would have time to be alerted to the change. Two more of our people were overwhelmed and had to leave while we waited, and I don't even remember if our helpful strangers stayed or left, but just enough volunteers eventually got on board so that we did, finally, get to march.
And when we did, our messages were chanted!
We never found out why this happened, the best we can figure is that they weren't being deliberately destructive but just wanted to have some fun and didn't appreciate how much work went into making the float happen, how much we would care about the thing they knew we'd slaved over for months, or that we were humans at all; the more persuasive of the group saw our float and our good faith invitation as an open playground, and the others, who we'd never met and who never even said hi on the day, were caught up in the atmosphere and didn't know what was happening. It's hard to maintain that level of optimism given the careful misuse of costume and the apparent planning regarding the number of pushables they ended up pushing, but it somehow feels like a less devastating explanation than one that involves the mutiny being deliberate. yeah, positing that the people we provided a float for forgot we were human is the upside. great.
This is why we didn't produce a float in 2020, despite a perfect parade theme for us, "What Matters". Producing a float with few people and little funding is always difficult and there is always drama, but it is worth it to have atheism represented within our queer community and also get our specific messages out there. We get to exist as part of an intentional grassroots community working somewhat together towards something worthwhile, there are a number of high points throughout the process, and we get to see all our people love being there on the day. In fact, thanks to the Community Workshop, this year the process was a joy as well as the usual hard slog, surrounded and supported by fantastic staff and other groups of float builders.
Cruel bullying and having our hard work callously taken advantage of, however, is beyond the pale and is taking some time to recover from. Eventually we should pull all the threads together enough to remember the final slogans and recover our photos to put up here, and hopefully we will be back one day, with something positive to say and a good crew of people who are honest when they sign up to do something. Frankly they don't even have to do the thing, there's a difference between sabotage and the many perfectly good reasons for things not happening that we pull together and make it through, so honest intentions and maybe a touch of communication feel like kinda baseline requirements!
So if you are a generally decent human being and you have an idea or would just like to see us back on the road, give us a prod and let's talk!