I've been on the WisCon con committee for the past few years. Used to be on the Program committee, specifically; I ran the Writers' Workshop for 2 years, until I became a pro writer myself and wanted to be in the workshop, not running it. Like many formerly active members of the concom, however, I've still been an active participant in discussions about con issues... including the recent furor over Elizabeth Moon's status as Guest of Honor for this year's upcoming WisCon, in light of her bigoted screed against Muslims, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who doesn't fit into the dominant white European Christian paradigm. I've talked already about my feelings on this, including my initial support of the Troika's decision, then my retraction of that support. But outside of these posts, I've stayed quiet on the matter publicly because I believe in working for change from within, if an institution's purpose merits that kind of effort.
On the WisCon concom's mailing list, I was honest with the folks there about my feelings: that bringing a bigot to WisCon as Guest of Honor was counter to the con's feminist mission, not to mention a slap in the face to a whole bunch of people. I advocated for her GoHship to be rescinded because of this -- and I also said that if she came to the con, I planned to participate in protest efforts already being discussed among WisCon's former and current attendees (e.g., turning my back on her during her GoH speech, challenging her when she's on panels). For this, I got verbally slapped by several other concom members with accusations of being abusive, unreasonable, too emotional, hysterical, and worse. I got into a particular battle with one woman who, when I pointed out that second-wave feminism was inadequate for dealing with this issue and it should be considered from a third-wave intersectional perspective, proceeded to try and inform me about how much second-wave feminism had done for me, and the poor black, Irish, and American Indian women who are my immediate ancestors.
Leaving aside the mind-boggling ignorance of statements like this, I was seeing another dynamic at work. All kinds of irrelevant points got brought up during this period: one guy wanted to discuss WisCon's future in light of the advent of the internet (I don't even know), another wanted to revisit the PoC safe space and whether it should exist (yeah, I know), and so on. Basically, WisCon's concom wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the cranky, stinking elephant in the room.
Then things got quiet for awhile, as the concom exhausted itself and we waited for... something. I wasn't sure what. But when two weeks passed in silence, it seemed clear that the Troika had had plenty of time to hear from the WisCon membership, and was either not going to change its mind or was simply waiting for the member rage to blow over. So, annoyed by this, and still pissed off over the Racism 101 reactions I'd encountered on the concom -- I kept thinking, didn't any of these people actually attend any of WisCon's panels? -- I sent a note to one of the Troika members with whom I was familiar, and let her know I was quitting in protest. She let me know about the SF3 organization's resolution in favor of rescinding Moon's GoHship... but also let me know that it didn't really mean anything. In point of fact, that resolution had been passed almost two weeks before (nobody bothered to make it public), and nothing had happened since. It was a pretty, but empty, gesture.
She also reminded me that there was a concom meeting scheduled for the coming (this past) Sunday, but I wasn't interested in attending it because a) I'd already made my feelings clear, and been attacked for them, and b) I didn't think any decision would actually be made, and I didn't want to waste my time. In fact I suspected it was just another step in the lengthy, pointless "process" that the Troika have apparently hit upon to make themselves feel better about the decision to keep Moon; WisCon prides itself on being democratic, so even if its leaders do nothing, they want everyone involved in the (non)effort. And lo and behold, to my non-surprise, at yesterday's concom meeting (which I've been told about by some other folks I know who attended) the decision was made to... do nothing. Scratch that: to wait some more. There is apparently a decision date set for at least a month from now, though I have no idea what the delay is for. As with the SF3, a majority of the concom believes (and stated at Sunday's meeting) that keeping Moon as GoH is a mistake. But they're not willing to do anything about that, or at least not anytime soon.
So the onus for action is on me. And all of WisCon's attendees, past and present and future -- but I can only speak for myself here.
This is no longer about Elizabeth Moon. She's just the trigger. Even if she recants and apologizes at this point, or resigns as Guest of Honor, the damage has been done. What this incident has exposed is a serious, and possibly fatal, flaw in WisCon itself. The decision to keep a bigot as Guest of Honor -- and the decision to delay or avoid reconsidering that decision -- means that WisCon isn't actually committed to the principles of intersectionality, social justice for all, equality, or respect, which are all ostensibly part and parcel of the modern feminist movement. They talk a good game, in other words, but when the chips are down, they're not willing to put their money, or actions, where their mouths are.
I'm reminded of King's thoughts on the uselessness of a certain kind of white liberal, who
...is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Replace "Negro" here with any of the groups harmed by Elizabeth Moon and people who share her attitudes, and the figurative "he" with "she" (since most of WisCon's concom is female), and we've got the current situation in a nutshell. There are a number of people involved with the con who actually do believe in the principles of modern feminism, including anti-racism/anti-bigotry, and some of them are actually willing to act on their beliefs. The problem is that those who aren't modern feminists, or who aren't willing to act, have enough power within WisCon to control policy. That's all it takes to fuck up any organization, really -- a large-enough, vocal-enough group choosing to maintain the status quo even when it knows that change is necessary. In WisCon's case, sadly, those people have chosen to support, rationalize, and even honor bigotry.
Having concluded that WisCon is not, in fact, the feminist con that I thought it was, I find myself far less interested in attending it. After all, I'm poor, and there are lots of cons I could attend that are easier to get to, cheaper, and more useful to me from a self-promotion or networking standpoint. The only reason I was willing to travel to the middle of the country and dedicate time, stress, and energy to WisCon's events, panels, etc., was because I thought the idea of a feminist con was cool, and I wanted to support it. But without that feminist component, Wiscon's just another regional science fiction con, lacking even the bells and whistles of most (e.g., cosplay, LARP, a film track, whatever). Might as well go to Arisia instead; it's closer and more interesting. And seeing as there are a number of new cons cropping up with a social justice focus, and also older cons making a serious effort to reconfigure themselves in this way, I might try those for my activist fix -- FOGcon and Readercon spring to mind.
If I find a new job soon and have cash and vacation days to spare when the time comes, I might still fly to Madison come March, but I won't be buying a WisCon membership, or attending any of its events. I'll be there to share fellowship with those friends of mine who are there. This will include Nisi Shawl, who is WisCon's other GoH; I very much want to be there to celebrate/support her. Just her, though. Not WisCon.
I'm making this decision for myself, note. I'm stopping short of calling for a boycott, mostly because I had a conversation with Nisi a few hours ago as I contemplated this step, and she expressed her belief to me that boycotts don't work. I disagree; I think sometimes they can be very effective. But in this case I agree with her; I don't think a boycott will fix what's wrong with WisCon. Its problem is systemic. It needs to decide upon, and act upon, its organizational mission, whatever that is. But while it resolves this identity crisis, I'm going elsewhere.
Breaks my heart. WisCon was the first SF/F convention I loved; it was the first con I actually felt motivated to work for again, after burning out on Shoujocon. I did my first panel there, and met some important mentors for my career, and made some real friends. But WisCon was never what I thought it was, and this incident has simply made that clear to me. So I do hope WisCon finds a way to survive this crisis and continue, but if it doesn't, oh well. 35 years is a venerable age for a con, but no con lasts forever.
ETA: Edited to remove "flyover country" and "dinky regional con". I deliberately exposed my inner snob show in order to emphasize that WisCon's feminism is really the only thing that makes it attractive, but point taken that it's distracting from my point. Sorry, Midwesterners and regional congoers.