Activism

Hope

Looking around at my friends and my communities, I see a lot of grief right now, and a lot of fear. Some of us are pragmatically planning for the worst and putting things in order. But some of us are catastrophizing—borrowing trouble we don't need from a future that is, may I remind you, still unknown and unknowable.

There may be trouble, true. A lot of bad things could happen. But don't assume that they will. Despair is the enemy right now. 

I mean this literally. One of the tools of GamerGate, of the Sad Puppies, and of the white supremacist alt-right is fear and despair. Their goal is to make targets feel isolated and alone, to hurt them until they no longer have the will to fight (or even the will to live.)

Hope for the future is more than just a feel-good placebo. Hope is an act of resistance. Hope is your weapon. And if you're finding it heavy to lift right now, let me remind you of these facts:

  • Over 60 million Americans cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in this election cycle—never forget, she won the popular vote. Don't listen to pundits calling this a major victory that rebukes everything Democrats have ever stood for. It was a squeaker, only lost by the electoral college. There is no mandate.
  • The Voting Rights Act went missing this year and it hit us hard. That means untold numbers of votes weren't cast at all—largely for Clinton. We are not the minority. We are not the minority.
  • All of those millions aren't just shedding a tear and moving on, either. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets in an inspiring expression of their First Amendment right to assembly.
  • There's more. As of this writing, 4.4 million people have signed a Change.org petition asking the Electoral College to intervene and make a different choice. Even if it comes to nothing, again, that's a lot of people, and a lot of determination.
  • Donations are pouring into Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups planning to make a stand. We're literally putting our money where our mouths are.
  • The phone lines for US senators and representatives are getting so busy that some callers can't get through, and are even finding full voice mail boxes.
  • And it's already working. Today alone, our action inspired Congress members to strongly condemn the choice of white supremacist Steve Bannon for a job in the White House. Politicians are vowing to fight tooth and nail to protect their contituents.
  • If you're worried about fascism rolling over America while we look the other way? This isn't what that looks like. What we're seeing is action, not disbelieving resignation. And there's no reason to believe it's going to stop—not unless we let the alt-right tell us how to feel and what to believe.
  • Oh, and about that. If you don't think many of the upsetting extremist opinions you're reading are coming from comment factories in Russia? Whoooo boy do I have news for you.

Remember this, my friends. There is still goodness and kindness in the world. Hug your family, your friends, your pets. Smile at a stranger as you pass. Give a few dollars to a homeless person. Remember that love and kindness is what you're fighting to keep, and it's not gone. 

We're going to keep it that way.


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They Were Both...

This fucking election. This darkest timeline. I'm getting ready to fight, but some of us are still trying to pin blame — or to be blunt, to squirm away from having any blame placed upon them.

To that end, I'm seeing a sentiment around on the social medias that both sides were equally bad; that a vote for Trump was a vote for racism, sure. But a vote for Hillary was a vote for drone warfare, and the TPP, and for war in Syria and Russia. What did it matter anyway? They were equally bad, right?

But no, it turns out there is a difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It's the difference between not moving forward as fast as you'd prefer and actively moving backward. In the last decade or so, these beautiful things happened: my gay friends were able to marry one another and start families for the first time. My trans friends started to feel comfortable transitioning openly in public. My friends with a severely disabled child were able to get care for her. My friends who are writers were for the first time able to afford health insurance.  

All of the Federal protections that allowed this blossoming of life and hope are going to be gone in the next year.

I have at least half a dozen close friends with chronic disabilities who are straight-up terrified they might actually and literally die in this next four years due to lack of health coverage. I have trans and gay friends, disabled friends, friends of color, who are terrified of being beaten in the streets by white supremacists. I'm terrified about my own temple and children being targeted by home-grown white supremacists.

That's the difference, and this is what we've lost. I could and would have protested against some of Hillary Clinton's policy. But you can't protest drone warfare or trade deals or pipelines, you can't advocate for single payer, you can't move the ball forward if you're fucking dead.


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Van Halen, M&Ms, and Accessibility Policies

Van Halen famously had a rider on their touring contract that stipulated there must be a bowl of M&Ms backstage -- with all the brown ones picked out. But despite appearances, this wasn't ego run amuck. That contract rider also had complex technical specifications for electrical systems, clearance, even how much weight the girders must be able to support.

Once Van Halen arrived to set up a show, any brown M&M was a quick red flag that the venue hadn't read the contract carefully, and so probably wasn't complying with those detailed technical requirements, either. And while a brown M&M might not be poison, those technical requirements were literal showstoppers. Electrical fires are not rock 'n roll.

This brings me to accessibility policies, and more specifically to Mary Robinette Kowal's pledge not to go to a convention that lacks such a policy. Seriously, stay with me.

Some years ago, John Scalzi made a similar pledge regarding harassment policies. At the time, I worried that participating would be damaging to my career -- when you're a tiny fish in a wide blue ocean, you have to take all the publicity you can get your grubby mitts on.

I've been to a lot more conventions since then, and here's what I've learned: the sort of convention that can't be bothered with a harassment policy is likely going to have serious organizational problems, weird politics, dull programming, or some combination thereof. It's true I'm very early in my career as an author, and I can't afford to miss out on promotional opportunities. 

But the flip side of that is that as an early-career author, I pay my own way to conventions. I have only so much time and money to give, and there are so many, many conventions. So I need to budget carefully to make sure I get the most bang for my promotional buck. I really can't afford to go to a lousy convention.

Which means harassment and accessibility policies are increasingly important to me -- not just because they're morally right, not just because of my leftist SJW politics. Even if you're not worried about harassment yourself, even if you're not worried about accessibility yourself, if those policies are missing, that should be your brown M&M. The sign that what you're dealing with is very likely to be a shitty convention. 

Sign the pledge.


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The Always/Only Test

Lo these many months I've been using a quick rule of thumb to explain how I identify offensive, stereotypical, or even just atrociously thin characters through a variety of intersectional lenses. And I thought I would share it with you! It's called the Always/Only Test. It is very simple! Only two questions! They are:

Does the character always have that attribute?
Is the character the only one to have that attribute?

For our purposes "a character" can also mean "a class of characters in this story." So: people of color, fat people, disabled people, you name it.

Let's see how this plays out with, oh, sexual objectification of women. If your women always have sexiness as their role in the story, then what you have is not a character so much as the embodiment of a fantasy. If you only ever have women who are sexy, and none of the men are ever sexualized at all... hm. Hmmm. Yeah that's pretty sexist.

But if you have a story where men and women are both viewed as sexual objects and they also have more character traits than that.... awwwww yeah that's what I'm talkin' about.

OK, let's try this one: If black characters are always drug dealers; if black characters are the only ones to deal drugs.

If fat people are always eating donuts; if only fat people eat donuts.

If Fundamentalist Christians are always violently racist; if only Fundamentalist Christians are violently racist.

A yes/yes answer is potentially problematic and stereotypical, depending on what the character type and attribute is that you're using. If you all your lesbian characters obsessively love flying kites, this doesn't play into an existing stereotype, so it might be shallow characterization, but it's not actively hurting anyone. Fine! Sometimes shallow gets the job done.

Yes/no and no/yes can be a little trickier. They are by and large better than a straight yes/yes, but can still be kinda not OK. If you have a Wall Street film where all the Jews are greedy, but actually all of the characters are greedy, that's less troubling than it would be otherwise, though it probably still bears extra scrutiny. Or if you have a single greedy Jew who hoards food, rejects close relationships with others, and engages in self-harm behind closed doors, you have a complex and multi-faceted character who isn't a caricature of the avaristic Jew, though again: still bears extra scrutiny.

And then no/no means you're probably looking at an awesome, super interesting, complex, and non-hurtful character. 

This rule of thumb can't completely solve the thing where media is sexist, racist, ableist, all the -ists. But as a writer and a consumer of media, this tool helps me to put my finger on what it is about some media that bother me, and also where I may be falling into hurtful stereotypes in my own writing, too. Maybe it can be useful to you, also! Let me know what you think.

 


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How to Not Be a Bullying Mob: Version 1.0

I've been very concerned the last few years with how easily we are rallied into howling mobs baying for blood on social media. There's a certain joy to being a part of it, the feeling of being just and righteous and striking a blow for good. It's a very human, natural behavior, and it cuts across all lines of belief and political stances. But it also does a lot of damage, especially because sometimes there's no true villain involved -- just regular, flawed people, and mobs that pit them against one another.

It's one of the most crucial tasks of our new era to work out new social norms and etiquette to deal with the implications of social media. How to be kind to one another, even when we're angry, even when we disagree about things that are important. So I'm taking a stab at what that kind of etiquette should look like.

The guidelines I've used are aimed at allowing people to express their anger, but in ways that don't wind up targeting specific people for harassment. The more general guidelines as I see them are:

  • Don't escalate a disagreement by crossing privacy barriers or bringing in uninvolved parties.
  • In general, target institutions and non-human entities by naming them, but not people.
  • Be mindful of when an issue isn't yours, and you're just adding fuel to an inferno.

I obviously don't think I've solved the problem of people being outraged on the internet. (But man if I did, Nobel Prize Committee, you know where to find me!) This is more like a jumping-off-point. At the very least, we can collectively start thinking about what just and appropriate behavior is.

Social norms like "don't bite your friends" and "sneeze into your elbow" go a long way toward making civilization more bearable to live in for all of us. And the first step to adhering to social norms is figuring out exactly what those norms should be.


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