Let the reader use discernment:
I was disfellowshipped in June of last year. While I've been awake for nearly a year, I still often feel groggy. My wife's been a godsend, in the proverbial sense, but there are so many uniquely-JW things that are difficult to explain to a non-JW. That's what sparked my curiosity in the Warwick protest I'd first heard about on this site.
We spent too much of our Saturday looking for an exact time, location, or itinerary, all to no avail. We nonetheless made the hourlong trek from our cozy Queens apartment to Ringwood State Park, In the Middle of Nowhere, NY. We were the third apostate party at the apostate party. All arrived around 1:00 PM, the previously-unknown-to-us scheduled start time. There were friendly but, at times, painfully awkward interactions. I felt like I was at an assembly. My wife preferred the heated car to "my" crowd.
Spike R graciously fielded all the "You're the teddy bear?" questions posed him. I didn't know who he was, but he struck me as gentle, humble, and sincere. I could see he was a good elder in a former life.
I nearly mistook Parker's (aka "Fateful Slave") arrival for that of a celebrity's at the MET Gala. Some fan-boyed and he did not seem to mind. I didn't know who he was, either. We shook hands but didn't speak beyond that. He brought copies of his book along to award deserving apostates, even interrupting Neil Gardner's (aka "The Great Apostate") part on the symposium to offer it as the prize for correctly answering an apostate trivia question. I felt like I was at the unwholesome version of a JW gathering where we'd take turns guessing which Bible character we were in exchange for "extra days of everlasting life". He also used his outdoor voice (to be fair, we were outdoors) while again hijacking Neil's part to answer phone calls. I found his style of apostasy to be very niche. I don't know; I think I'm just not a fan of suits in sneakers.
I'm not familiar with Neil's work on YouTube, but I'm leaving him a 5-star review on Yelp. We introduced ourselves and instantly liked him. He seemed kind, genuine, and unassuming. My wife liked his accent, anyway. I think he would be a good public ambassador for this movement, as he's very intelligent, likable, and seems normal.
Joel Martz arrived around then and I introduced myself. I'm not sure what his responsibilities were within the organization, but something about our exchange reminded me of the way certain self-inflated "prominent" ones dealt with those of little benefit to them. I know I look young and therefore statistically less likely to have scaled high or have been devout, but I didn't know who he was either. I suppose his mind could've been elsewhere; I'lll give him the benefit of a doubt.
Someone brought a mic and an amp, but there was clearly no program or much else, for that matter. I think if all truly cared about reaching their supposed targets, they would've dressed in a way more palatable for them. Some wore sweat pants, trench coats, even disguises! There was a lot of Superhero apparel, which I hardly think is coincidental, though perhaps subconscious. And here I had even trimmed my beard and worn a sweater vest! The few signs there were had to be covered, at the police's request. They kept an eye on us, but their camp was in the apostate corner.
Neil, Parker, Joel, Gilbert from JW Crisis, Spike R, Spoonfednomore, and a few others spoke. I noticed the common denominator for most of them was an apostate YouTube channel in need of content. I'm not insinuating all of them were there for this reason alone, but I think too many were. A former elder, or a rising YouTube star (I don't know who these people are) told his tale, making sure to include his and his son's partaking of the emblems at the most recent Memorial. I scratched my head about that one for a while. Do/did they really believe they were/are anointed? I would've probably stayed in if I was anointed. Could've made GB...
Once the YouTube stars and Christ's brother spoke, the open mic session was over. It was only then that the logistics of the protest in front of the HQ were discussed. Gilbert took the lead and it was actually decided that we break up into car groups and head to the territory in question. He made an analogy to the spies of Jericho and the group went forth. I looked around and wondered if anyone else realized that this was a meeting for field service. It was also amazing how many JW traits were still at play with many of these folks, ranging from their humor to their humble-bragging about former privileges. When asked, I disclosed I had been at Bethel 3 years and even my wife remarked that the reactions creeped her out. They still had the glow in their eyes a diehard JW has when hearing that name. It goes without saying that the Missus insisted we drive ourselves to HQ. I felt like those couples that would go to the meeting for field service and say they had a study straight away and had to go alone, only to return immediately home and hide the car.
For those unfamiliar with the Empire's new digs, everything about Warwick was meticulously designed with every possible scenario in mind, including this one. For instance, there really is no way to protest near the gates without trespassing. You have to stand across the road with two-way traffic in between. It's not safe and a large protest is not possible. The sprinklers were turned on and either spun a full 180 degrees or Watchtower had pointed them in the direction of the cement driveway. There's no safe place to park nearby, either. None of this is coincidental. Furthermore, the long driveway leading to the gates is guarded by watchmen in a booth outside. Inside a pickup truck was parked for added security. Police hid nearby in case things got testy.
We stayed in our car and waited to see what the other would do. It took less than 10 minutes for two protesters to make fools of themselves by walking into the sprinklers Watchtower had clearly turned on for them. That was exactly the behavior Watchtower expected to see. It accomplished nothing besides potentially getting them sick and cementing the propaganda that apostates are crazy. I was disappointed to see Gilbert leading this comic display.
After that, I decided to just take pictures and speak to a few of the other protesters. The police came when a few of the YouTube apostates theatrically slow-walked up to the gates, but left without addressing the protesters. A few people honked in support as they drove by, but that road doesn’t see much traffic and the facilities are so far from the gate, I doubt more than the handful of Bethelites that exited or were charged with security took note. Joel stated that the local congregations received instruction to cancel preaching activities in the area on 10/4, though I cannot confirm that. The park ranger did say someone had called his office to ask that the protest be shut down, citing concerns for his or her family's safety.
I tried multiple times to not be an introvert and connect with protesters but there was inevitably that huge homeschooled-JW-social-awkwardness factor or their stories took turns that seemed unlikely or exaggerated. I left after getting the photos below, and they left not long after. There was a very local TV outlet there, but no one else from the community turned out. There were only about 40 protesters there, as shown in the pictures. I did make my first apostate friends with some folks who are still in and privy to documents detailing specific incidents of child sex abuse, who I’m hoping to collaborate with.
I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of how the poor weather would be used as the setting for a story about how Jehovah delivered His House from the hands of the evil apostates and how it surely signaled the imminence of the Great Tribulation. Very little was accomplished but I don't regret going. I think it provided guidance regarding the type of advocacy I want to engage in and gave me inspiration for meaningful action.
As I mentioned in another thread, these things need to be more organized and folks need to examine why they’re really doing it. I felt like some were still chasing the prominence that eluded them while members of the organization, which plays beautifully into Watchtower's portrayal of us as sore losers. Others seemed to just want to feel good about themselves, as morpheus bluntly pointed out in another thread. I also felt that, for victims, they seemed too cheerful. Signs alleging abuse or cruelty were held under smiles and laughter. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be happy; I'm saying that even when I was ACTUALLY sick, I would still play it up to make sure my mom would give in. The signs lacked cohesion and some did more to confuse than expose. They also seemed to each have a different grievance to air, and some were in poor taste.
My point is that if protesters can’t take their protests seriously, then neither will Watchtower or anyone else, no matter what their latest YouTube clips say. Whether it’s politically correct or not, some apostates would help more by staying home or using different methods to advocate, as theirs are too often counterproductive. The movement also needs more folks that are relatable, likeable, and had enough clout within the organization to publicly and broadly legitimize the movement and its testimonies. Those who have shouldered heavier responsibilities within the congregation than the average publisher may feel less of a need to chase after creature worship. Maybe. And instead of targeting a JW audience, which is mostly futile, I think a well-balanced, factual, and emotional approach to a secular audience would put more pressure on Watchtower. Anyway, enjoy the pictures. (Update: If they ever upload...)