Saving WisCon and Other Myths (my post con chair report)

WisCon 39 happened this weekend. I co chaired with Levi & we made a bunch of changes with the help of an amazing team of people. And I heard that we saved WisCon. I have a hard time with that idea because I don’t think WisCon was ever in danger of ending. I think it was in danger of drastic changes in one of two directions. Do I like the direction it went? Yes. My goal when I agreed to co chair was that we would make WisCon a safer space for the most marginalized members of the community. I think we accomplished the first steps of reaching that goal.

I am 100% certain it was imperfect & that we could have done many things better. This year was always (in my mind anyway) going to be the transition year where we had to learn old processes, improve some processes, and in some cases come up with new processes. Some people left, and new people came aboard. That is the nature of any long running annual event. Personally, I hope to make every position on the convention committee accessible to anyone who wants to do the work. We are all replaceable or should be when it comes to these kinds of events. No community event should hinge on the participation of one person, or one set of people. That way lies burnout.

We made some decisions that aren’t going to be popular. But you know, that’s life. You can’t please all of the people any of the time. Some people will likely not return to WisCon, and that’s their right. Some new people will be coming to WisCon, others who had left are now announcing their plans to return. That too is life. WisCon is changing. WisCon will always be changing. That’s not about destruction, that is just growth. Sometimes painful, often messy, and thoroughly inconvenient.

Despite the hype, decisions at WisCon remain community decisions. It’s just a question of the demographics of the community changing. Is fandom still the last refuge for outsiders from the mainstream? Well to be honest…no. Because fandom is mainstream. When we power whole industries, and are a demographic that is often courted as a financial and social force we have to let go of the myth that enjoying speculative fiction makes us outsiders. We have to stop pretending that being fen means we can’t set any boundaries with anyone in our community. Our community is global, and in order for it to be inclusive we have to learn to navigate that space, not the one of yesteryear that came about during and after Jim Crow laws in America. Part of having an integrated inclusive community is recognizing there is no hierarchy of who gets to be treated as human.

Yes, fandom spaces are not courthouses or governments. Conventions are essentially private parties with really large flexible guest lists, and many many things cannot be regulated in house. But…many things can be, and in order to make conventions like WisCon sustainable over time, one of the ways to regulate behavior is to set up clearly written community guidelines, create mechanisms to enforce them, and then for the community to hold members accountable. That too is messy, awkward, and often emotionally fraught. Because community health (like any relationship) requires a lot of work.

WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci fi con. And feminism keeps evolving. So too does sci fi. And so WisCon itself must evolve. It may not go in a direction everyone likes, but then that was always the case. The key to being a part of WisCon’s future isn’t towing some imaginary unknowable line, it is treating everyone with a basic modicum of respect, displaying some form of common sense about behavior in public spaces, and knowing that other people have a right to say no, to set a boundary, or to consent as it suits them. That’s a far cry from the draconian reputation being given to anti abuse/harassment policies. It’s not that you can’t talk to people, it’s that you can’t treat them like they aren’t human and expect that to be accepted.

We are a community that is learning to work together in new, and sometimes exciting ways. This is hard work, it will be hard work, but the potential results are worth it. WisCon is getting some much needed shaking up, and in twenty years as whoever is chairing gears up for WisCon 60, I hope they can look back as I do, and be grateful to their predecessors as well as aware of all the work that lies ahead. Thank you WisCon community for giving us something to fight for, for supporting us when times were hard, and for partying with us when times are good. We made it. Now we just have to keep moving forward. I am honored to have apparently been your first chair who is a Black woman. We’ve come a long way in 40 years.


13 thoughts on “Saving WisCon and Other Myths (my post con chair report)

  1. I just want to say thanks for all the hard work you did this year. I’m relatively new to WisCon and only tangentially aware of everything that’s been going on behind the scenes (although I did follow the creation of the new anti-harassment policy with great interest), but I had a terrific time this year and if I hadn’t known that practically the entire concom had changed I wouldn’t have guessed it.

  2. I like this statement a lot.

    I’ve never found Wiscon particularly welcoming: it was too wrapped up in self belief. This contains the things I want to hear.

    One specific point tho: as long as the Governor’s Club privileges exist, are policed, and are abrogated by those who can afford to book instantly, there will be a clear elite at Wiscon of a kind I have never come across at any other convention. If this has already changed I’d be glad to hear it.

    1. The Governor’s Club is the hotel’s structure, and not under WisCon’s control at all. Getting a room on those floors at the convention rate is actually possible for most of the year. They make reservations available the last day of the preceding year’s con, but generally the only rooms that are difficult to get on those floors are the rooms with two Queen beds because the hotel (for whatever reason) mostly fills those floors with rooms with a single king bed.

      1. Actually as WisCon does not sell out the hotel we have no control over what the hotel provides for all of its guests. No business is going to punish other paying guests to please one set of attendees.

    2. I hear what you’re saying, but the line “afford to book instantly” suggests to me that you might not have a clear picture of the booking process.

      It took me a couple of years to figure this out myself, but there’s no authorization on your card when you book. I routinely secure my hotel booking during the con with a debit card attached to an account that is severely depleted by WisCon, and then spend the whole year scrimping, saving, scurrying, and scavenging to be able to actually afford it by the time it comes around next year.

      This time, there was literally no balance in the account I used when I booked my room for next year.

      Now, this could leave me in the position some year of having a hotel reservation I can’t actually afford to keep, but I’ve seen other people in the same situation trade their reservations with people in the opposite situation (booked for a cheaper room, and unexpectedly flush as convention time approaches).

      Note that not needing to afford the room immediately after paying for the previous year’s doesn’t change the fact that some people can afford better accommodations than others at any point during the year, but I really don’t see how you get around that fact at an event that most of the attendants travel to.

      I mean, say there was no governor’s club. There would still be people who are members of the convention but not guests of the hotel, right? Locals who can’t afford a hotel room they don’t really need, travelers who can only afford a hostel or off-site motel, et cetera. Even assuming these con members could make it to the hotel at the start of the programming day and stay until the end (which would not be a sure thing), they’d still be missing out on parts of the experience that aren’t reflected in the program.

      Not only that, but there are whole areas of the hotel that require keycard access, notably the pool, sauna, game room, and the fitness center. These are amenities that some members have free access to, and others don’t, and I can tell you that some of the social aspect of the con definitely happens in the pool area, just as some of it happens in the upstairs bar.

      Private floors with a complimentary bar might seem like a more conspicuous bit of stratification than any of these examples, but let’s imagine for the sake of argument that the governor’s club was removed from the equation and everyone’s drinking in the cash bar downstairs.

      Well, the bare, basic fact that some people have more money than others hasn’t changed, has it? And this fact is still going to come into play with who gets to use the cash bar. Some people can afford to drink, some people can afford to drink more than others, and some people can’t afford to drink at all. We haven’t eliminated the divide between people who can afford a thing and people who can’t, we’ve just shifted one of the ways in which it manifests.

      TL;DR – Economic inequality sucks, but we’re not going to solve it by trying to find a way around the fact that different levels of accommodation cost different amounts of money for one long weekend in May.

  3. Thanks for that session on Sunday where all the stuff that went on last year and this summer was explained. I don’t agree with all of the decisions made, but I appreciate your willingness to discuss them openly and without a lot of finger pointing and drama.

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