Guest Post By Edmund Schluessel: Worldcon staff have once again policed and censored my Zoom background.
This morning starting around 9 a.m. New Zealand time I was observing the Interplanetary Immigration Project presentation. Early in the program item I noticed my video feed had been cut off by the meeting host. I immediately raised the issue with Programme Ops.
According to Programme Ops, my background was indeed policed and censored by Program staff. I asked why my video had been cut. Patrick Maher, Con Ops manager, told me in reply, “Same reason as before. I informed the Room Manager that we cannot do that because your background, whilst overtly political, is not in breach of the CoC. they then lifted the lock on your video.”
Two days ago, after the first incident, I had an e-mail conversation with Kelly Buehler, CoNZealand Business chair. Buehler apologized to me and assured me: “There is nothing wrong with your Zoom background, and I encourage you to use it as much as you like. […] I am clarifying with the staff that we do not police backgrounds unless they violate our Code of Conduct.” This new incident shows that that has not happened. While I appreciate that running a convention is difficult and complicated, it seems clear that at least some staff are either unequipped or unwilling to uphold the event’s own Code of Conduct and facilitate the open exchange of ideas and inspiration that’s the whole point of a convention.
And whatever nice words people write in Codes of Conduct, the magic in those words are only worth the action that follows from them. Last September saw Fantasticon.dk’s racist poster. Last month an outlet proclaimed SFWA supporters of terrorism for supporting Black Lives Matter. Just a few weeks ago saw a neo-Nazi sympathizer running free on Finncon’s con committee. We’re saying some right words but our actions aren’t changing.
What would I like to see as an outcome from this? Worldcon attendees changing their Zoom backgrounds is a first step. Beyond this:
* I would like to call upon the FSF community everywhere to learn about and become active in the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement against the persecution of Uyghurs in China. When I lived in the United States I was involved in Mass Action Against Police Brutality, which focuses on not just organizing demonstrations but anti-racist education in the greater Boston area. The Free Rahile campaign meanwhile advocates for a stop to the disappearances and arbitrary arrests and detentions of cultural figures and academics of the Uyghur population of China.
* The simple fact is, the United States runs mass detention camps with inhuman conditions to persecute migrants and people of color, while political activists are taken off the street by government agents in unmarked vans. The People’s Republic of China is carrying out a genocidal colonial project in Xinjiang with millions in forced labor, while state repression of the right to protest across the country intensifies. Conditions in both countries are getting worse. We should all reflect on the ethicality of sending FSF’s preeminent international event, one not owned by any one country, to places where even the most basic level of human dignity is so brazenly trampled on such a blatantly racist, violent basis. I call upon fans to build some more ethical alternative for 2023 to a Worldcon in either of these countries.
* Transgressiveness is not inherently good protest, but effective protest is inherently transgressive. Whatever you are doing to fight against injustice in your everyday life, ask yourself — is it pushing up against the comfort levels of those in power? Don’t just talk about inequity and injustice, but about structural oppression and the nature of justice. And whenever someone tells you wealth is the answer, talk about class, and where wealth really comes from.
Fandom is a show we watch together where we get to see a better world. The price of admission is our labor: we have to try to build that better world together.