How To Change A Worldcon
I saw something inspiring this past weekend.
I saw working people helping each other, toward a common cause. They were, in some cases, working toward this despite deep political and philosophical differences. They were working people, creating a World Science Fiction Convention.
This weekend, they met in San Antonio to plan logistics, scout locations, diagnose problems, create solutions, cement relationships, and make a convention. Their goal -- to create the best World Science Fiction Convention possible this August in San Antonio, and when this convention arrives, it will bring some of the world’s best talent in science fiction/fantasy literature and art, as it inevitably does every year.
I watch this happen, and know that I have no interest in running one of these or volunteering on a committee. Ever.
It takes a special kind of human to do these things – to create a convention from the ground up. I have my hands full making art clients happy, building a company, making opportunities, making art. I can’t help but take my hat off to those that do have the fortitude to do this kind of work. I suspect making a Worldcon is a labor of love for them, in the same way that making art is mine.
This past Saturday, I took a few minutes to swing by the San Antonio Convention Center and Marriott Rivercenter hotel to see just what these World Science Fiction Society folks do, in preparation for a Worldcon. This is what I saw.
1) They’re not a mafia.
Far from it.
They’re working people, just like you and me. There were roughly 100 to 125 of them that I could see. This was an ‘all-staff’ meeting for convention committee members. These people, in most cases, have day jobs. They have families and lives back home that have nothing to do with fandom or sf/f. They paid hundreds of dollars of their own money to travel, lodge and feed themselves, taking time off from work and family. All of this, so that they could do the invisible hard work of planning and problem-solving -- negotiating, haggling, analyzing, questioning, and solution-making. They weren’t there for glory or thank-yous, but simply To Do The Job, and do it well.
2) Worldcon wants change.
True. I’m not going to say that all Worldcons have, but from what I see and hear, this one in San Antonio wants to be different. Change wears a million faces. The shape of that face often depends on who’s looking, and from what vantage point. In this case, I see a chairperson named Randy Shepard who is what once made me proud to be a Texan. He belongs to a Texas before George Bush, before Rick Perry, where mavericks and democracy were celebrated, where the weird and the strange were welcomed, where being different was cool, where common sense was King. These days, it’s hard to remember that this Texas even existed. Randy hasn’t forgotten, and he wants the biggest, boldest programming ideas that sf/f literature and art can bring. More importantly, he wants them to happen. I’m rooting for him.
3) Worldcon is a team game, not a glory trip.
What makes this con special? Put the traditions aside. Put the guests aside. Put the Hugos aside. The ugly truth that many Worldcon critics won’t face is this – the World Science Fiction Society belongs to the critics, if they know how to claim it. The power of a Worldcon IS there for the critics to claim for their very own, and swing like a mighty hammer, if they just reach out and grab it. It’s right there. Why? Because the World Science Fiction Society is one of the best examples of democracy in action that we still have. Anyone can join the process, and anyone can change it, if they use the tools of democracy properly. It’s that simple.
What’s beautiful is that the ones that wield the power are the ones that are doing the work, and until someone works harder, works smarter, and works better than them – then the workers wield the power. As an American, I feel pretty good when accessible working people wield the power, rather than a faceless elite hiding behind pretense. Don’t you?
From what I see out here, those that demand change and spew venom at the Hugos and at Worldcon – they’ve demanded a place at the table with angry blogposts and derisive comments. They want their voices heard. They want the Hugos to reflect their tastes. They want to believe that there’s an ‘establishment’ blocking the world from seeing their way.
What makes Worldcon great is it's a convention by the people, for the people. At its best, it welcomes the outlier. It welcomes the outcast. It welcomes everyone to take part and better yet, to criticize it, and shape it into something better. And it’s always ripe for a revolution, for a new regime, for a group of critics, trolls, and nerd ragers to democratically bring their new ideas into the fold. It’s there for the taking every single year, with no exception. How?
Simply show up.
And do the work.
I just saw some of that hard work in action, this weekend. I saw hard-working people leaving behind their dayjobs and families for four days. They paid their own money to get on a plane and fly to a distant location. They checked their egos at the door. They thought about what they wanted. They took the time to understand the wants and needs of those around them. They took the time to understand others’ fears and hopes. They took the time to show up at the World Science Fiction Society meetings. They proposed amendments and changes. They built coalitions. They built relationships. They made the future happen.
Simple as that.
Once you put yourself in the shoes of these men and women – the ones who do the work – any agent of change would have to ask themselves first, “Why would someone do all of this work and then turn around and submit to those that aren’t doing any work?” Social media is a weapon. But to my friends who criticize Worldcon and the Hugos – let me offer some advice -- the truth is you need a bigger weapon. You’re bringing a knife to a gunfight.
If you want to change Worldcon, you’ve gotta bring yourself.
You’ve gotta bring your best desire to build a common good. And you’ve gotta bring what makes you extraordinary to Worldcon, in some way, shape or form -- every year if need be -- in person, until you've changed this world, as you see fit.
In short – you’ve gotta bring your best. And you simply can’t do that by solely hiding behind an avatar and a keyboard. Apathy has never rung more hollow than when someone slams the Hugos or Worldcon, and has never attended either.
I’m stoked about the experience and leadership I saw in action this weekend in San Antonio. I saw people methodically solving problems. I saw people with big visions. I saw people with the will to make those visions happen. I saw people who want to achieve the very best.
It bodes well for a landmark Worldcon this summer in San Antonio. I’ll be there. You should be there too, if you care about science fiction and fantasy, and especially if you don’t like the current state of the Hugos or Worldcon. Bring a revolution. Bring your best -- because this Worldcon, and this world, needs you.
If you do, it’s quite possible you might find a world bigger than yourself.
(Upper right photo credit: http://www.kylecassidy.com/ / Lower photo credit: William Lexner and The Brotherhood Without Banners)