Where I’ll Be for My Birthday

All right, yes, my birthday isn’t until September, but I know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. I’ll be at the fourth Women in Secularism conference in D.C.

It will be bittersweet, as this is the first conference since Melody Hensley has left CFI. I also personally think recent changes at CFI have made the future of the conference unclear. Still, this conference has been an important catalyst for change in the atheist and humanist movements, and I expect it will be again. I’m not going to miss that.

Also, check out these speakers:

Johnetta Elzie
Johnetta Elzie, @nettaaaaaaaa, 26, is a protester and organizer, born and raised in St. Louis, who became known for documenting the events of Ferguson on Twitter in August 2014. Since then, she has worked to organize toward sustainable change. She sits on the planning team for mappingpoliceviolence.org and wetheprotesters.org to provide police accountability and organizer resources. In August 2015, she helped launch Campaign Zero, a comprehensive policy platform to address police violence in the United States. Johnetta believes that Michael Brown and the uprising in Ferguson forever changed her life. Her writing, “The TSA Searched My Hair Because I’m a Black Woman with Braids—And It’s Not Okay,” has been featured by Teen Vogue. Her work as a youth activist has been profiled in Teen Vogue, New York Times Magazine, The LA Times, and O Magazine, among others. Essence featured Johnetta on the cover of its February 2016 Black Girl Magic issue. She has been awarded the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award with fellow activist DeRay McKesson for their creation of the #Ferguson Protestor Newsletter, and been named to Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers 2015.

I’ve been advocating for Elzie to be a part of this conference for as long as I’ve known it was happening. To be fair, I received nothing but enthusiasm for the idea. I was just too impatient to wait for confirmation. Continue reading “Where I’ll Be for My Birthday”

Where I’ll Be for My Birthday

Providing Leverage

It started with Laura Anne Gilman:

I will be a Guest at Anachrocon this weekend, and there’s something I want everyone there to know.

I may look about as tough as a toasted corn muffin, but I lived and worked in NYC for two decades. I take no shit, and I give no shits. If you are at the convention and feel unsafe or harassed, you can walk straight up to me, no matter who else I’m talking to, and tell me you need Leverage (term in this usage suggested by the awesome Seanan McGuire).

I won’t be at Anachrocon, but you may do this at conventions and conferences I attend. Tell me you need Leverage, and you’ll have: Continue reading “Providing Leverage”

Providing Leverage

Swag for SkepchickCon

If you don’t already know SkepchickCon, it’s the slow invasion of CONvergence by science and skepticism types. (If you do already know it, you can skip this explanation and go donate for your swag now.) CONvergence is our big fan-run convention here in the Twin Cities, running over July 4 weekend.

SkepchickCon is a friendly invasion. Skepchick works with the convention to keep us from completely overrunning the place, and we (where “we” mostly means people who aren’t me to whom I’m very grateful) find ways to program around them to add more science and skepticism content without pushing anything else at the conference out. In the last couple of years, that has meant things like art projects and small-group discussions and afternoon sessions for kids who want to do hands-on science experiments.

All of this requires supplies and people with experience to share.  We do a lot to keep costs down by donating time and travel and materials and even furniture, but not everyone can afford to do that, and what we can give doesn’t cover everything needed to make all this happen. Neither do the donations raised at the evening parties. This year, the uncovered costs are $2,000.

In order to raise that money, several SkepchickCon participants and supporters are offering some great, geeky swag. Continue reading “Swag for SkepchickCon”

Swag for SkepchickCon

Getting Fun Again

Late Saturday afternoon, we were arguing about armed revolution, and I was grinning my head off. (I have a minor interest in the topic.) Sunday morning, talking plans and projects, I thought to myself, “You know, this movement could get fun again.”

Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.
Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.

It’s hard for me to talk about the value of a conference like Secular Social Justice. We need space for these topics, yes. We need to hear from these activists both about the problems they’re grappling with and about the solutions they’re finding, yes. We need to put this vigorous humanism center stage in a movement where even the humanists have centered atheism, yes.

More than that, though, we need to come together sometimes in places where we’re not having to justify any of that. We need to spend our energy on each other and our work and our dreams. We need to be where our voices drown out all hostile chatter instead of it happening the other way around. We need the time and the space and the energy to concentrate on each other.

There aren’t many places in the atheist and humanist movement where I see that happen on this scale. It happened at the first Women in Secularism conference, where what happened on stage was only the smallest part. Nearly five years later, we’re in a different movement, one where women are approaching 50% of conference speakers, anti-harassment policies are standard, and even Richard Dawkins faces significant consequences for targeting feminists. Continue reading “Getting Fun Again”

Getting Fun Again

Secular Women Work: The Nonsense

Why am I posting this? I’d collected it all as it happened, then never bothered to publish it. I’m reminded in another venue, however, that unless I remind people that harassment is continual, they assume it’s all better now. So here, this is what it’s like to run a conference as an open feminist in this movement.

You know, of course, that neither I nor Secular Woman could be involved in running a conference without a load of nonsense being passed around and the conference hashtag flooded. It started with the Kickstarter.

He means I reported him to Twitter for harassment and Twitter suspended his account after agreeing with me. Continue reading “Secular Women Work: The Nonsense”

Secular Women Work: The Nonsense

Help Me Report on Secular Social Justice

Last year, I was privileged to attend part of the Moving Social Justice conference in Los Angeles. It was an invigorating experience. For a weekend, humanist activists were able to stop spending time and energy justifying their focus on making a better world for marginalized people and share information on their challenges and successes in doing the work.

To say it was inspiring is to focus on the least of what that conference was. It was deeply intellectual in a way that only grappling with the complicated realities of applying your principles can be. People spoke frankly about power in ways that acknowledged the tension between institutions and committed, self-organizing small groups. There was real, unflinching frankness without appeals to the popularity of particular opinions.

Banner image for Secular Social Justice conference showing speakers including Anthony Pinn, Debbie Goddard, Alix Jules, Sikivu Hutchison, Soraya Chemaly and more. Dates January 30-31, 2016. Location Rice University. Hashtag #SSJCON.
I’ve never been to a conference like that before. I want to go to many more. In particular, I want to attend the successor conference at the end of this January, the Secular Social Justice conference in Houston.

Obviously, I want to attend this conference for my own sake, but I think I have something to add as well. Last year, I was one of very few attendees live-tweeting the conference. I was by far the most active. No surprise there. This is what I do at a conference when I don’t have a bunch of other responsibilities.

I do it because it opens a conference up to people who can’t afford to attend. It gives them a window on the issues people are talking about and access to the perspectives of speakers whose writings aren’t plastered all over the internet. It makes the messages travel faster.

I particularly want to be able to spread the messages that will be shared at this conference. The first conference has already shifted which topics we discuss in this movement and how. This conference will as well, but I want to be able to push. I’m impatient.

The catch, of course, is that I can’t afford to go on my own. I made it to last year’s conference by working remotely the week before so I didn’t have to take time off during travel, having a spare room to stay in (thanks, Amy!), and giving a talk in town that allowed me to make the plane fare a business expense. Not only will all that not work this year, but I have even less financial flexibility than I had then. I simply can’t spend any of my small amount of income on this conference.

But I still want to go, and I still think reporting out is important. I also think that some of you will agree with me about that importance and want to make it happen, so here’s an opportunity.

I’m not really in a position to offer individual rewards to donors, but if you make it possible for me to go, you can follow along as I and my phone and my trusty backup battery tweet the conference. For those not on Twitter, I’ll also produce session reports here based around those tweets and others from attendees, plus comments on ideas that were too complex to be compressed.

I don’t know how much I’ll need to get to the conference and stay. I’m willing to travel cheaply as needed, and I don’t need to stay in the fancy conference hotel, but costs will depend on when I can buy tickets.

If I raise more than is necessary to get me there, my next priority will be helping Josiah Mannion of Biblename Foto get to the conference. He wants to attend for many of the same reasons I do, and his conference photos serve a similar function to my live-tweeting. They make a conference more accessible to those who can’t attend and help speakers spread their word further and with more impact. So if you folks help us both get there, you’ll have conference photos to go with my reports.

On the odd chance that you help me raise more than that, I’ll coordinate with conference organizers on getting scholarships and/or travel grants to others who want to attend but can’t afford it.

If any of that sounds like something you want to support, donations will be gratefully accepted. Even small donations help. Thank you.

Help Me Report on Secular Social Justice

Skepticon, and Getting It Right When Things Go Wrong

I push pretty hard for organizations to do things better. I suggest changes. I criticize what I think are obvious mistakes. I even helped run a conference this summer aimed at making people better activists.

Occasionally, people look at that and think I’m demanding perfection. I’m not. If I were, I’d be in trouble, because I personally have never run an event where something didn’t go wrong. I don’t know any other organizer who has either. Perfection isn’t nigh unto impossible and even harder when you’re being ambitious.

I actually advocate for two things. First of all, I want people to make new mistakes instead of old ones. I want us to share information with each other about our challenges and solutions. I want us to listen to people who tell us we’ve failed them and either do better or be up front about the needs we can’t meet. I want us to get good enough at what we do that we can spend energy on trying new things instead of scrambling when something predictable goes wrong.

I also want us to get better at dealing with mistakes. I want to stop seeing people vilified for pointing them out. I want to see us keep taking responsibility like adults even when things go badly. I want us to learn instead of asking our friends to comfort us and tell us we did nothing wrong.

None of this is impossible, but it is often hard and uncomfortable. In light of that, I’d like to talk about a few things that went wrong with Skepticon this year and give the organizers some kudos for how they handled it they figured out they’d screwed something up. Continue reading “Skepticon, and Getting It Right When Things Go Wrong”

Skepticon, and Getting It Right When Things Go Wrong

Getting Ready for Skepticon

Me? Oh, I’ve just been doing major fall housecleaning, preparing for Skepticon, working on behind-the-scenes FtB stuff (including FtBCon4, January 22-24!), and butchering a deer. All, you know, more or less simultaneously. This is why I laugh at whoever decided to put NaNoWriMo in November. Couldn’t they have chosen March, when cabin fever is starting to take effect?

I digress. I would share more of all this with you, but pictures of rooms with the vast majority of allergens removed aren’t exciting to anyone but me, and pictures of huge, dog-fur dust bunnies are just kind of gross. Then there was the Ziploc bag labeled “cheese” I found in the radiator in a room that hasn’t been a kitchen since at least 1999. For the record, it was empty.

More information is coming on FtBCon4 soon, though, so start thinking about what you want to propose for a panel. Yes, you.

If you’re coming to Skepticon, definitely come see me. I’m running a slightly modified version of the Ada Initiative’s impostor syndrome training as a workshop (part of the Secular Women Work track of workshops) on Friday at noon, and my talk, “Justice in a ‘Just World'” on the challenges presented to activists by just world beliefs, is on Sunday at 2 p.m.

In between, I’ll be spending a bunch of time at the Secular Woman table, where we’re announcing a new project that I proposed and am heading up. I’m excited about it, so let me explain it to you! Also see this space over the weekend for more information on the project.

And now, back to more dealing with venison. I promise, no pictures.

Getting Ready for Skepticon

Building a Better Workshop

A few years ago, atheist and skeptic organizations started adding workshops to their conferences, and that was great. Workshops are hugely useful when you’re trying to become more effective, as the activist wings of both movements were, or when you’re trying to apply abstract principles to your life, as rank-and-file members of both movements were.

There were a few problems, however, because everything was new. While some presenters knew what to expect from workshops and had maybe even facilitated some before, most people didn’t. They had skills and knowledge to share, but no good idea of how to get that across in a workshop format. Nor were conference organizers clear on what they wanted or expected from their workshops.

As a result, we ended up with a few workshops and a whole lot of mini-lectures. Now, lectures can be great, and if your purpose in adding workshops to your event is to keep adding content after you’ve spent your speaker budget on the main stage, there’s no reason to stretch beyond the mini-lecture. But if your goal for workshops is to get people to change their behavior, to be more effective or to live their principles more fully, lectures can’t substitute for workshops.

Why? Because the interactive nature of workshops builds confidence at the same time it conveys information. You can walk away from a lecture thinking the information is interesting but you don’t have what it takes to apply it. You can’t do the same with a workshop where you’ve spent a good chunk of time applying your new knowledge. You know you can do it because you just did.

So now that I’ve convinced you, as an organizer or potential workshop facilitator, that you want to offer real workshops instead of mini-lectures, how do you go about it?

Read the rest at Secular Women Work, where I’m writing today.

Building a Better Workshop

Help Make Skepticon Happen

Is Skepticon in danger? Honestly, anything that depends on ongoing donations is always in some danger, but Skepticon really is coming up hard against their funding deadlines with a long way to go.

It’s October, which means we’re only about a month and half away from the universe’s largest (and totally FREE to attend) skeptic convention!

However, we need to ask for your help–we’re only about halfway to our fundraising goal.

Each year, our small team of volunteers work tirelessly to put together this event. Every dollar raised goes directly to making the convention happen–no one takes a salary or honorarium.

If you like Skepticon and want to help make it a reality, consider doing one of the following:

We’re sure that with your help, we’ll be able to make this year a reality.

As always, Skepticon wants to thank you, our supporters, for your continued awesomeness. We couldn’t do it without you!

One of the best things about Skepticon is that every year, it’s gotten more diverse and showcased new atheist and skeptic voices, all while continuing to grow and succeed. It is now the largest atheist and skeptic conference in the U.S. That’s worth celebrating and supporting. Won’t you help if you can?

Help Make Skepticon Happen