Get Ally Skills Training at Skepticon

If you’re interested in the work we’ve done around these parts to reduce harassment and sexism in movement atheism and skepticism, here’s a chance for you to play a part. The Ada Initiative, which works on these issues in open technology and culture, is doing their annual fundraiser. The skeptic community doesn’t usually fall under their umbrella, but a few of us have been supporting them and receiving help from them for a while now. In return, they’ve made us a deal.

Image of four people around a table in the workshop.
If our communities manage to raise $5,000 by midnight this Friday next Wednesday, October 8, the Ada Initiative will bring their Ally Skills Workshop to Skepticon for free. This isn’t usually something we manage to find money for, but I think we can do this, particularly since PZ has already managed to raise over $1,800 toward the goal.

Sound good? Great! Donate now!

Donate now

If you need a little convincing, or just want to know why I support the Ada Initiative, keep reading.

It’s been a long few years around these parts. They’ve been stressful, due to harassment and concerted, organized attacks on the credibility of feminists calling for change in the skeptic and atheist movements. They’ve been alienating, both because people we considered friends and colleagues have supported a sexist, racist status quo through action or silence and because some of us have been worn down to the point that we’re not much fun to be around.

Most of all, though, the last few years have been exhausting. The sheer amount of work involved in making change has been staggering. From education in basic ideas like consent and the scientific literature on gender differences to explaining why skeptic and atheist organizations should be more like professional groups than small social clubs to dealing with leaders official and unofficial who have felt threatened by feminist critique to carving out spaces in which we are not automatically expected to listen to the hate machine, a relative few people have done a lot of heavy lifting. I’m tired, and I’m not close to alone.

Life would have been simpler if the Ada Initiative had been around at the start. If you’re not familiar with the Ada Initiative, you should be. Founded by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner in 2011, the Ada Initiative provides resources and education to improve working conditions and the visibility of women in open source technology and culture. They offer ally and anti-impostor-syndrome training and the AdaCamp unconferences, as well as resources for those looking to make spaces more inclusive.

You’re probably familiar with at least one resource from by the Ada Initiative. Before the organization’s formal launch, its co-founders were involved in the creation of the Geek Feminism Wiki anti-harassment sample policy. This policy saved me when Jen McCreight’s offhand revelation of harassment from big-name atheist speakers tried to blow up the world.

I was prepared for denialism, justification, and apathy in response to her words. That had been the majority of my experience of most claims of sexism in the atheist and skeptic movements.

I wasn’t prepared for the broad sense of betrayal and outrage the announcement engendered. I wasn’t prepared for immediate demands to fix the problem and the real possibility of a large-scale exodus of women from the movements. I wasn’t prepared to be held responsible for helping to fix the problem in an area where I held some influence but no decision-making power.

Except that my knowledge of that template policy meant I was prepared. When it turned out that there was the political will to fix this problem, I was able to tell people that others had paved the way. I was able to point to resources they could use. In very short order, some of the best-known organizations in our movements announced that they were implementing policies.

I wish their resources on improving representation among speakers had been around when we discussed the topic in 2009. We did okay talking about why it was important and how to make a difference, but it was work we shouldn’t have had to do on our own when other people were already doing it elsewhere.

We need more of that. We need more templates, pathways to tested effective action. We need more of the issues that come up to have been carefully considered by others. We need more educational resources that reach beyond 101, that assume people understand why inclusion is important and help them implement it. These resources won’t always suit us precisely, but the time we spend not reinventing the wheel is time we can spend in self-care or simply being effective activists in the pursuits that excited us to begin with.

The Ada Initiative may not have the atheist and skeptic movements as its core audience, but the activists there have been paying attention to what happens here. Both Rebecca Watson and I have contributed material on harassment in the last year. Among us all, we’re building the resources to make confronting and fixing sexism and harassment easier. After all the work we’ve done fixing these movements, we wouldn’t have the time or energy to pull this together ourselves.

Of course, the reason the Ada Initiative is able to build this, to curate these resources and create more of their own is because the people at the Ada Initiative are paid for their work. This is what they do for a living, not just in the spare time they are able to carve out of their other obligations. And this takes money.

That means it’s time for those of us to whom this advocacy matters to step up and pay for it. This would be worth doing even without the chance to learn practical skills to put into place as allies to women in atheism and skepticism. But with that available to us, how could we say, “No”?

Donate now

We need resources like the Ada Initiative. There aren’t enough of us to do everything, and even if there were, reinventing the wheel only guarantees that we’ll be perpetually stuck at the beginning. It’s a service worth paying for. Plus there’s the sticker.

White text on black sticker that says, "Not afraid to say the f-word: feminism", and has the URL for the Ada Initiative.

Let’s make sure we all have what we need to make our spaces more equal.

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Get Ally Skills Training at Skepticon
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3 thoughts on “Get Ally Skills Training at Skepticon

  1. 1

    They are doing great work. The opening Wikimania 2012 keynote speech by Mary Gardiner, titled “Fostering diversity: not a boring chore, a critical opportunity” is worth watching:
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/en/videos/J8QWIve2XxJU/info/wikimania-2012-opening-plenary/
    She talks about the importance of diversity, here are some notes I took while watching (sorry for the lengthy comment, feel free to truncate it):

    * Why do we want to increase diversity?
    One argument is “Instrumental diversity” – how can diverse participation make projects like Wikimedia better. I.e., benefits of diversity to your project/movement. We shouldn’t think solely in terms of instrumental diversity, because it’s not fair to the people who are asking to be part of the movement. There has to be an exchange of sorts – you’re asking people to make your movement better, you’ve then also got to be willing to serve those people’s needs.
    * “Nothing about us without us” – slogan borrowed from the disability activism community. You cannot tell people from marginalised groups “This is how we’re making things better for you, take it or leave it.” Those people have to be part of the group initiatives. Hence to break the cycle, outreach is essential – you have to identify diversity failings and then make an effort to reach out those groups. Be willing to listen, ask for their opinions and believe them.
    * A contemporary view on the need for diversity is that it allows different groups of people to interact with each other, learn from each other and grow, even while maintaining their character (this is slightly different from the more traditional western philosophical view that diversity brings oneness/uniformity).
    * What should we do?
    – the “power of invitation” – have projects/initiatives (like a women’s “summer of code” project) that specifically reach out to these communities
    – avoid the “lone representative” – have a group of people from that group, not just one who becomes “the xyz” of your movement.
    – accept and embrace the identities of the people from marginalised groups; don’t expect them to cast those identities aside after they enter your movement. E.g., expecting women to not talk about women’s issues after they join a skeptic group.
    * The more people retain their identity, the better they are at fulfilling the goals of the movement (e.g. wikipedia editing) and the better it is for the movement as a whole.

  2. 2

    Since they don’t mention it prominently, it’s worth noting that the Ada Initiative is a 501(c)(3) organization, and hence any money donated to them is tax deductible. Just in case anyone needed any more reason to give to this very worthy cause.

  3. 3

    I saw the article on your blog first today (because my workplace blocks PZ’s blog).

    I’ve donated, posted on Facebook about it, and sent out a Tweet about it.
    I’m looking forward to attending an ally training event at Skepticon this year.

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