Now, all I had to do as far as participation went in this orgy of wingnuttery was attend a bag stuffing the day prior to make sure my organization's propaganda made it into the tote bags everyone got at registration and spend a few hours the next two days staffing the booth in the exhibit hall where we gave out more of it. Fortunately, I didn't have to do a whole lot of talking. When people came up to the booth, I'd just smile and hand them a deck of "freedom" playing cards (picturing libertarian icons -- e.g. Ayn Rand as the Queen of Hearts). I performed my role well, not just as liberal playing libertarian but as Ph.D. playing secretary. When people wanted to talk about politically charged subjects, much as I would have enjoyed arguing with them (it was neither the time nor place), I made the excuse that I was "just a secretary" and really didn't know a whole lot about "the myth of global warming" or whatever.
So, I was in a good position to observe, and here are some random observations:
Divide and conquer could be an effective strategy progressives might use for undermining conservative campaigns. Indeed, I learned that libertarians dislike social conservatives almost as much as liberals do and, given the opportunity, will ridicule them almost as relentlessly.
Social conservatards scare easily. The wingnuts in the booth next to ours were wearing confederacy-inspired regalia and distributing anti gay marriage pamphlets. One of my coworkers encouraged her friend, a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, to go over and chat with them, which he did. We couldn't hear the conversation, but, oh my, was it fun to watch those guys turn red and back away! Once they realized they were talking to a real live gay person, their fear was palpable. He kept them talking for about fifteen minutes.
Conservative women like wearing super-high heels -- otherwise known as fuck-me heels. Why on earth else would anyone wear shoes like these
to a conference, when you know you're going to be walking around a lot amidst chaotic crowds?
Reserve the Evil Stare of Death only for those occasions when it's truly warranted. You know what I'm talking about -- that heavy, hateful stare that is meant to suffocate with loathing the person at whom it is aimed. Well, here's another irony: Granted my role playing, no one at the conference targeted me with the Evil Stare of Death. The day before, though, when I had to attend the bag stuffing, a progressive environmentalist conference was just wrapping up in the same hotel. When I asked some people working at that conference for directions to the room in which the bag stuffing was being held, much as I would rather have attended their conference, I instantly felt myself frozen by their Evil Stare of Death. They assumed I was Something I Am Not -- I became a caricature, an unwilling captive of passive performativity! It sounds like a banal thing to say, but if I learned anything this week, it's not to judge would-be opponents prematurely. Save your Evil Stare of Death until you know for sure that you're talking to wingnuts like these.