Geeks making a difference

One of the things that I love about anti-violence work is that anyone can do it, anytime, anyplace. You don’t need to have special training or education to start addressing the issue (though I’m always impressed by and thankful for those folks who’ve gone deeper in their learning).

Case in point: cons. For those who don’t know, cons are fan conventions, most frequently focused on things like comics, gaming, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Probably the most well-known con is Comic-Con in San Diego, but we have several cons right here in our own backyard, like Sakura Con, PAX Northwest, and GeekGirlCon (full disclosure: I am a volunteer staffer for GeekGirlCon). Cons are a fun way to connect with others who share your geeky interests, show off your cosplay, and maybe even meet some of your favorite artists/designers/actors/writers/etc.

hollaback-coverUnfortunately, cons—like the larger world—can often feel unwelcoming and sometimes even dangerous to women, to LGBTQ folks, to people of color, and others. A little bit of internet searching will bring up plenty of stories and history that I won’t go into here, because what I really want to focus on is what people are doing in response—actions people are taking to make things better!

HollabackPHILLY partnered with artist Erin Filson to create the anti-street harassment comic book Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue. They use the comic in workshops addressing street harassment, as well as starting conversations about harassment at cons and in the gaming community.

Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend sci-fi and fantasy conventions, with the goal of increasing ethnic and racial diversity at these events. While this work may not seem to some folks like it is directly addressing harassment, it actually makes a big difference to have larger numbers of folks who are typically underrepresented.

WisCon, GeekGirlCon, and BentCon all took a slightly different approach: they decided to make their own darn cons, focusing on feminism in speculative fiction, women in all aspects of geekdom, and queer geekery, respectively. This type of DIY convention helps create safer spaces, and the effects of those safer spaces often ripples out into the larger, more mainstream cons.

Author John Scalzi wrote about why he won’t attend cons that don’t have anti-harassment policies. He used his influence as a popular writer to take a firm and principled public stand. Not only that, he opened it up for other individuals and organizations to co-sign on his policy—to date, well over 1,000 people have co-signed.

I know these examples are just scratching the surface; please share any additions (or other thoughts) in the comments below!

The Revolution Starts at Home

What does it mean for an abuser to be held accountable? What does justice for a survivor look like? And how do we get there?

I’ve been studying domestic violence murders for the past 7 years and have seen time and again how the legal system is profoundly limited in its ability to provide justice, safety, or healing for survivors of abuse. But focusing on the failures of the police and courts can feel hopeless, because it is not clear where else to turn. I envision that our own communities can step up to confront abusers and support survivors. Yet it is hard to imagine communities where sexism, homophobia, isolation, and victim blaming don’t get in the way.

A new book, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, is a collection of stories from people who have also wrestled with these questions. The authors are activists working against racism and homophobia. It makes sense that the people trying to figure out how to hold abusers accountable within their own communities are those that have been the least served and most harmed by the criminal response to abuse—LBGTQ folk, people of color, immigrants.

The stories bring to life both the hope and promise of community solutions to domestic and sexual violence, and how painfully difficult this process can look on the ground. In one essay, a grassroots activist group describes how they organized to address abuse by one community member toward another. Their process had all the key ingredients for justice: a focus on the survivor’s safety and healing, treating the abuser with respect while demanding real change, and directly confronting the conditions that allowed the abuse in the first place. And yet, their efforts took years, required massive energy and commitment, and they found it was hard to know whether they were making real change.

Reading this book left me feeling both excited about the creative work being done and overwhelmed with the work left to do. The efforts, aspirations, and even failures in these stories felt like a call to action for all of us working to end domestic violence. As Andrea Smith says in the introduction, “the question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why have we given survivors no other option but to call the police?”