Monday, April 08, 2013

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: / Lower photo credit: William Lexner and The Brotherhood Without Banners)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your keyboard to ghod's monitor, John.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, John.

From someone who is not on LonsStarCon's staff, but appreciates the sentiments.


12:46 PM  
Blogger Eretria8 said...

Wow, thank you! That's one of the best write ups I've read about this labor of love. It was lovely as always to see you this weekend. :)

It's very true that we always need people to volunteer, to share their ideas and to get involved. We have room in many different divisions for fans to help us pull this off and allow us to show everyone what an amazing place San Antonio is! We have so many interesting and exciting things for everyone - plus keep in mind, our membership cost covers everything we do and see at con (programming, events, exhibits, etc).
So volunteer to help us! or simply be an ambassador and help us spread the word.

Thank you John for sharing your experience with people. HUGS

Elizabeth McCarty
Promotions & Marketing
LoneStarCon 3

12:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

John, you do work for the Worldcon, and it's very important work that many of us our bad at: you are an ambassador.

Welcome to the meritocracy.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Allison Stein said...

Well said.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Kevin Standlee said...

Brilliantly said, John. Thank you for writing about what many of us who do the work believe and live in our hobby.

One of the ways I've put it was that the Secret Masters of Fandom aren't really Secret, but being a "master" in this community means sweeping up the floor a lot.

Jack Vance's novel Big Planet also had a Worldcon-like community: Kirstendale, where everyone lived like a king, except that for every hour spend lording it up, you had to spend five or six hours in a menial service job in order to keep the society running. Outsiders only saw the lording-it-up part, not the cleaning-out-the-blast-furnaces part.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Thanks, John.

You will help Worldcon be a success. You do that by participating in the program and art show.

We are happy to share the process with people like you who usually see conventions from a different angle. (I say "we" as the extended community, I'm not on this year's Worldcon concom.)

I may want to link to this blog post in some other places that have a less generous view of convention fandom. Which is why I say "thanks".

1:23 PM  
Anonymous lmv said...

Great post John!

1:25 PM  
Blogger Lapis said...

Any fan convention is a labor of love, whether large or small. But the big ones take an extra measure of love, plus a whole crapton of labor. "Fans are we, what more can be said? We do it for Pride, and not for the bread." Thanks, John, and hope to see you soon.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Deb Geisler said...

You're a pretty cool guy, John. I've known that for a while. You're smart, talented, and interesting.

And now, you're a hero to everyone who has ever sweated, worked their brains and heart out, to bring a Worldcon to fandom.

You just get it. And we thank you for it.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Laurie Mann said...

Thanks, John!

San Antonio is one of my favorite places to visit and I'm glad to be able to lend a hand or two to this year's Worldcon. Besides, I LOVE to visit Mi Tierra and County Line while I'm in town.

And, thank-you for being the artist and fan that you are. We appreciate your hard work.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks! Wise and wonderful words!

-- Michael Walsh

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Sheila Strickland said...

Beautifully written, John; thanks for saying this. Worldcons are an amazing event and I am impressed by the many who do so much to make it happen.

I'm hoping to be at Worldcon this year and maybe even volunteer to help that intricate machine run. If not; I'll see you at CONtraflow where I can thank you in person.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Auntie M said...

Thank you John. A Bunch of my friends were there. I don't have the money to go, but I got reports, and I'll be volunteering during the con.
See you at the con.

Lisa Harrigan

6:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is one of the very best posts I have seen about what it takes to win/run a Worldcon - well said, well done!

6:57 PM  
Blogger Darlene Marshall said...

Thank you so much for writing this.

7:16 PM  
Blogger MoStarkey said...

There can never be enough positive words for all the folks who work so hard to put any event together.

7:21 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Thanks, folks. 'Appreciate the kind words! Hat's off to everyone with blue-collar hearts.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Gary Robe said...

Thanks for this write-up John. As one of the worker bees there at the meeting if any of us wrote something like this it would seem like self-promotion. Genuine comments coming from a relative outsider looking in helps to justify the effort. Drop in on us in the consuite sometime during LSC3 and let me hand you a cold beverage!

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Adrienne Foster said...

As someone who has worked on several Worldcons (although not this one), I thank you for posting this. As Deb said, you get this.

It was so refreshing to run across this post after some of the harsh and unhelpful criticism we've been seeing too much of recently.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Sara Cooper said...

John, I want to thank you on a personal level for participating. Your participation, and the participation of all the volunteers means a lot to me.

I agree with Eretria8, your support and ambassadorship for WorldCon is invaluable whether you know it or not.

Thank you so much,

Sara Cooper

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Geri Sullivan said...

John, you post reminds me of Walt Willis, who wrote oh, so long ago, ""Fandom is a very worthwhile hobby, and the most worthwhile thing in it is doing as well as you can something that interests you and gives other people pleasure, no matter how much trouble it is." (I found it in Warhoon 28, Richard Bergeron's collection of Walt's fan writing.)

One of the things I love about Worldcon is that there are places and ways to help for pretty much every sort of fannish interest. Some fans work for years to bring one together; other fans are happy to show up on site a day or two before the convention starts and pitch in helping unload trucks, toting supplies and equipment where it needs to be. Each is a valuable, much-needed contributor.

Heck, I've even had a blast doing jobs large and small for Worldcons I knew I wasn't going to be able to attend. And I'm far from the only person to do so.

Thanks for your great post!

1:09 PM  

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