Post Skepticon Thoughts

Wednesday morning hit me hard, as it did many people. My week proceeded from the numbed shock and horror of a president-elect Trump to the whirlwind of the 9th annual Skepticon in Springfield, MO. As it turns out, the timing was impeccable. Wednesday was for crying, and shocking my coworkers by walking out of work because my emotions were so acute. Evidently, it didn’t occur to them that anyone would cry over something as silly as an election. Thursday was for traveling, checking into the hotel, and commiserating with friends. By Friday, I was attending workshops, having the most amazing conversations with strangers, meeting some of my godless idols, and feeling hope and purpose bloom in my chest.

The workshops were planned long in advance of the election, but I found them especially timely. I attended Stephanie Zvan‘s workshop on how to handle public criticism first. Mainly it reinforced my ideas about what is right to do in those circumstances, while simultaneously reminding me that I have yet to successfully implement those ideas on a ¬†regular basis. Scarlet, get thee some practice. Following that was Stephanie Novotny’s presentation on Ethical Advocacy, which introduced me to something called the “power and control wheels” and gave me a lot to think about.

Finally on Friday, I saw Neil Carter‘s “Nonversations: How NOT to talk to very religious people” which was a profound end-cap on the day’s lessons. I’m already an avid reader of Carter’s blog, Godless in Dixie, but come to find out he’s also an engaging and dynamic speaker. While engaging believers in discussion about their religion isn’t high on my to-do list, it is painfully apparent that talking with folk who have opposite political and social beliefs is a necessary part of moving forward – both for myself as an individual and for all of us as a country. Carter is a self-described diplomat, as opposed to firebrand, though he sees the importance of each. I myself tend to go firebrand first, but I very much want to be the diplomat in my approach. I want to be that person that can calmly and rationally have a conversation with people who espouse pretty much every political and social belief that I find abhorrent. ¬†Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? *ahem* Listening to Carter’s thoughtful perspective drove home my inadequacies, and how important to me rectifying them are.

Saturday was for more speakers, including Greta Christina who abandoned her original presentation to give a heartbreakingly poignant talk about survival and resistance. It was hard to listen to, quite frankly, but a necessary outlet for the terror of marginalized communities.

Speaking of which, I’d like to address the safety pin issue. There have been some excellent expansions and rebuttals about it online, and my point (as I said on facebook) was this:

I thought the safety pin was a great idea because I have, and will again, stand or speak up when witnessing threatening behavior. So it didn’t occur to me that some may see this as more of a declaration of their values than as a declaration of their intended behavior. For me, the pin isn’t just a sign for at risk individuals; it’s a warning to potential violators. Please be conscious of this.

Edited: Also, please Fellow White People – don’t expect the pin to make you trustworthy. Wearing symbols does not make you an ally. Your behavior makes you an ally. So until you’ve had a chance to prove yourself, don’t blame marginalized people and/or communities for viewing your symbolic gesture with the same skepticism that’s been protecting them for centuries.

I foresee needing practice at this, as my natural inclination is to (again: firebrand) stomp my way into a situation of injustice with a loud verbal sword, which is exactly what they ask you NOT to do. Another reason Friday’s talks were so necessary. But, as a good friend pointed out on the same facebook post: “…a woman I’ve never met approached me and said, ‘thank you for being a safe place for me; I’m Muslim. My husband is black and disabled. Our son is gay and married to his perfect love, a black man who is deaf and also Muslim.’ So, I’ll wear the damned pin. She seemed to have as many people or more in her life as I do who are marginalized and living in fear right now.

The take-away here is do what is right for you. Not wearing the pin doesn’t make you against the idea, it just makes you a little less visible, and that’s okay. The pin is a commitment to constant vigilance, and is not for everyone. That being said, if you would like to share your plans, questions, or concerns about activism in the coming months, I would be happy to hear them. I belong to several groups that are focused on practical and effective advocacy right now and if I can offer feedback, I’d be happy to do so.

In all, I was desperately hoping that Skepticon would be a safe, healing place for me following the election, and it absolutely was. By Friday night I was feeling empowered, by Saturday – hopeful, and while saying goodbye to friends old and new on Sunday was bittersweet, ultimately it was an act of faith in my fellow humans. A reminder that endurance is a human trait, and every community has infinite variety.

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