I got out of bed around 8, and I went to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. After breakfast, I arrived at one of the early morning panels, already in progress. I think the panel was about half-done by the time I got there, but I got some notes:
The Feeding and Proper Care of Your Underclass: How a Society Maintains Poverty
We all say that we want to abolish poverty. But we all know that our society works very hard to maintain its poverty class. Let's talk about some of the practices that are inherent to Western society that keep the poverty class poor and hopeless. And since this is WisCon, let's talk about the books/stories that examine this issue.
M: Beth Plutchak, L J Geoffrion, Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey, Karon Crow Rilling
At the time I arrived, there was a conversation going on about moral hazard w.r.t. notions of debt relief. The argument that the panelists were parroting was the idea that providing relief to people in debt might lead to people not working. A number of months ago, I quoted a report the suggested that Canadians would rather spend twice as much money on services for the poor than it would cost to just give poor people enough money to raise them above the poverty line. I think this is related.
Shortly after that, Beth talked about an interesting contrast between state universities and private universities. She said that when she was a first-year student, she was told by her professors to look left and then to look right and that one of the three people involved in that looking exercise wouldn't finish the program. By contrast, she said that her partner (I think?) went to a private, Ivy-league university and was told to look left and look right and that they were the people who would rule the nation.
After that, the conversation bounced around a lot -- because I missed the beginning, I'm not sure how a lot of these points fit together, but they were all roughly tackling the nature of wealth and poverty. There were a number of book recommendations, including Gladwell's Outliers and a documentary called Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders. Someone referred to an Elizabeth Warren quotation that suggested that the average person who declares bankruptcy already owes 3 times the amount that was originally borrowed and they've already paid back the originally borrowed amount.
One last point the I thought was interesting: Beth referenced the Women Don't Ask thing and talked about the way that the media fixated on the finding of the original study that women didn't negotiate higher salaries (which provided a neat explanation for why women earn less than men). What was almost-never reported, she said, was that the other finding was that, in the few instances when women did ask for higher salaries, they were invariably viewed as "trouble" and were slapped down for asking, in contrast to the men who were just negotiated with. As Beth pointed out, if you have no resources, you can't afford to be slapped down.
Like I say, it was hard to get a coherent picture of the whole panel, given that I missed about half of it. After that it was on to:
Imagining Radical Democracy
The General Assembly has become a familiar practice since the growth of Occupy Wall Street. Anarchistic and radically democratic organizing processes have a much longer history, though, including the Zapatistas, the Spanish student movement, and movements in the history of feminism. For WisCon members, a familiar feeling might have bubbled up in watching, reading about, or participating in Occupy: wasn't this a bit like what they did on Le Guin's Anarres, or in DuChamp's Free Zones? This panel will discuss the possible growth of a kind of democracy other than our current party-based political systems, using the ways it has been prefigured and imagined in feminist science fiction to help make sense of radical histories and futures.
M: Alexis Lothian, Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Liz Henry
Wow. This was my favourite panel from the entire WisCon, and I doubt that I can capture its full awesomeness. There is, however, a really good transcript of the panel. It was one of the first panels that broke from the WisCon-standard format of "first the panelists are going to talk for about forty minutes, and then we'll take questions." In the end, the panelists spoke for most of the allotted time, and I was okay with that because the panelists were awesome!
Timmi introduced herself, referring to The Marq'ssan Cycle, and the key thing that she used the writing process to teach herself was that utopia was a process. She also talked about being disillusioned by working with NOW -- that all of the hierarchical organizing just seemed to feed a fundraising process. She also went on to say that bad experiences create low expectations and that results in political apathy. Her last point was a bit subtle: that the kind of political apathy she's describing isn't a passive thing. That there's an active form of opting out.
Later in the panel, she recapped her experience being arrested and going to trial -- a bit of a circus of a trial in which she and 17 other people had to defend themselves (most of them declined public defenders) and how she responded to this as "an oceanic merging with the universe" and really understood through that process why people throw themselves into civil disobedience.
Then Liz introduced herself and described talking to a variety of journalists regarding the occupy movement. The point she stressed was that these journalists were incapable of writing about a movement that wasn't hierarchical and had no leader. She argued that something like occupy can't really be reported on from the outside, and yet the media is kinda constrained in the way it can conduct journalism. She also related this to the Riot Grrl movement and their idea of killing all the rock stars: we don't need rock stars to have a revolution.
Later, she talked about working in hackerspaces, and the sometimes difficult relationship between her hackerspace and occupy. She also referred to her article about using pattern language to talk to computer types about sexism in geek spaces. Some of this stuff went by really fast, but it's nonetheless full of awesome.
Then Andrea provided her intro, talking about how her family was full of organizers -- union organizers, civil rights organizers, etc. -- and that she was a much more artsy person. But she said, "I could organize -- I was just slower" and that her style of organizing had always had art woven in. She also told a story about the Igbo people and how the women had this form of performance/protest called "women's war" in which they would object to something. They'd perform their anger, insult the men, demand change, threaten to leave with the babies (leaving the men to take care of other childcare), and strip down. This kind of performance/protest was well-understood in the community and it could powerfully effect change, but when the British colonized, their way of reading this behaviour was that the men didn't have their women under control. At times, this would end with the British firing upon the Igbo women. She also talked about how colonialism fundamentally stamps out these narratives, replacing them with Victorian standards of behaviour.
She continued to talk about the narrative of anarchy as relying on metaphors and language such as chaos and disorder, but never as ecosystems or biological or diversity. Or even, for that matter, fun.
At one point, Liz was talking about Internet Drama and Andrea (a theatre person) wanted to know what "drama" was describing. She ultimately offered "melodrama" as a replacement term. Much of her conversation was about the relationship between art/performance and activism. She said "the fascists get the trains running on time, but the trains don't go anywhere." They're just rules.
In contrast, she says, theatre is about preparing you to be ready in the moment. She talked about the experience of things going wrong during a theatre performance and she said that audience loves it when you solve the problem. She didn't quite use these words but I think it was clear that she felt that these are great tools for anachistic activists. She finally ended with the idea that "social drama" is essential to humanity, and that that's fundamentally a slow process. And many activists seem to want fast processes. "Slow money. Slow food. I think we need to have slow anarchy -- enough change to develop new processes/ideas."
A great, great panel, full of many, many, many nuggets of gold.
After that, I was off to a panel about the database project, but I didn't have much to contribute:
Open Source WisCon DB
WisCon continues to develop and refine an open-source application to handle convention programming, registration, and administrative tasks. We're just finishing year 4 of the effort and getting ready to work on the list of tasks we have for year 5. Want to talk to the developers? Find out what's behind the code? Get involved in improving the User Interface? See if you can use it to plan your convention? Come talk to us! We need your feedback. Suggestions for new features, questions about existing ones, and offers to write documentation, test, q/a, manage(!) or join the coding team are all very welcome. You can look at our source code and see our issues (bugs & new features) list at http://code.google.com/p/wiscondb/ for a preview of under the hood. Pizza will be served.
Piglet, Jim Hudson, Emily Jones, BC Holmes
It was mostly a talk about code I didn't touch, so I didn't have much to say. There was some "compare and contrast" with other tools used by other cons. And we ate the weirdest flavours of pizza.