The 29C3 was my 9th Congress in a row. I found it, on different levels, both pretty good and pretty bad. I have never felt so uncomfortable on a Congress, at the same time I’ve never met so many new people. The organization, the technology, the location, the talks, the assemblies, were all super nice, and the criticisms that I still have to level affect that not at all.
The question for me is, what significance the incidents actually occurring have for various attendees: incidents like sexist moderation, the reduction of women to headless bodies, or the hacking of Asher Wolf’s blog.
For the majority (I would guess) such events are little things, if they are noticed at all. Even if you find them ugly, they don’t tarnish the entire event. They have the significance of a broken plate in a commercial kitchen: it happens, but it’s not significant. It’s just a blip.
For many other people, and I include myself here, these events carry a different weight. They are individual cases of cholera on a cruise ship, or dog poop on the hem of the wedding dress: the ugly blips makes the overall situation dangerous or intolerable.
People I cherish stayed away from 29C3 from the beginning, felt very uncomfortable there, and/or left earlier than expected. (And it doesn’t help to point out that it was much worse 10 years ago.) It’s clear to me: this is not a situation I want. I feel connected to the Congress, and therefore could not help but push for strategy and planning to happen while I was still at the event. About 100 people showing up at these so-called #policccy meetings proved that there was a real need for action here.
I hope that out of the bickering and the fury of the last few days, a constructive situation has emerged for the planning and execution of 30C3. In any case, I’m prepared to contribute more, in both time and ideas. The CCC is not a homogenous entity: I have experienced several ugly actions by „senior“ members, but at the same time I’ve also talked with organization members of many years‘ experience who generally share my concerns. These are the positions we must strengthen.
Just two sentences on the Creeper Move Cards: The intended point was missed, and I am now no longer convinced that action in this form was a good idea. I hope that in the ongoing and upcoming discussions, the card campaign and the larger concerns (namely, that the Congress has a problem with sexism) are treated separately. The necessary discussion is now underway, and I don’t really mind whether the campaign that brought it about was successful or not.
What pained me during and after the 29C3 can be roughly divided as follows:
Cliques and exclusion
Many never tired of constructing a „us“ vs. „them“ mentality: „You come here to us and do […]“ one organization member accused the Flauscheria. The silent appropriation of the majority for individual opinions seems wrong to me, especially in light of the strong and highly-prized sense of individuality in hacker culture.
The Congress consists of people. Without them, it would just be an empty building with colorful spotlights. All we have here is a „base“, from which volunteers sign up to get involved in different ways, not a hierarchy. All of us can probably largely identify with the goals and the self-perception of the club, but we do not always choose the same methods of implementation. No one should be presumed excluded based on whether they feel this group of hackers are „us“ or „them“.
At the end of the aforementioned discussion, fasel asked an astute question of the organization member involved: „Who will throw you out if you behave in that way yourself?“
During the Congress, there were several statements from female hackers, on Twitter and in longer texts, that they had (always) felt comfortable at the Congress, and had not experienced or noticed any discrimination. We should be happy about that, and not doubt it.
What’s missing here, however, is the lack of solidarity with people who have not been so lucky. To me this sounds too much like „It’s your fault,“ one of the most insidious mechanisms of invisibility of social problems. „I am a woman and I was not bothered, therefore such incidents must have causes that are personal to you“ is a fatal fallacy.
This is not a rare phenomenon: There are plenty of successful women who claim that feminism is unnecessary and everyone has to accomplish life on her own — as they did themselves.
It should also be clear that statements like „I feel 100% safe here“ get applause from the wrong people. In particular, these words keep being given as evidence that the victims of discrimination must be mistaken.
I would like to see female hackers who feel comfortable at the Congress collaborating to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do the same.
Members of the CCC don’t like to be told: Trust us, we’re already on it. It makes them suspicious, and when they see this in society and politics, they bring up important criticisms. Blindly trusting an authority or controlling body is not an option.
So it looks very strange for Frank Rieger to say exactly that about awareness, during the final event: We care, we’re working on it. The people who left Hacker Jeopardy because of sexist moderation surely don’t trust the organization. And if you don’t trust an authority, you’ll take things in your own hands (if only out of self-protection). If that’s not hacktivism, what is?
At the same time it is clearly impossible to stand at a public podium in the role of a CCC representative and make a private statement. Frank had said of the Creeper cards, that in his personal opinion, „we do not need such a thing.“ The summary on (German IT news site) heise online runs this as the official position of the CCC. I’m relatively sure that Frank will not correct them on this.
I had problems with the argument during the Policccy meeting that a public discussion of incidents, for example on Twitter, could have negative effects on the Congress, that the event could come across as worse than it is and therefore even keep people from attending.
That pisses me off. If I’m feeling down, I really don’t care about something as abstract as perception. It comes far too close to things like self-censorship, „keep calm“, and lack of transparency. The CCC is always right up there, in the fray, ready to laugh at media fails and leaks of other organizations.
It is certainly not an easy task for the Congress organization, in parallel with an event, to deal with the perception of that event and independently respond to complaints and disputes. But to ask for restraint just for the sake of the oh so nice event won’t work.
Owning up to our own mistakes
Things I’ve heard: We have no problem. It’s already gotten a lot better, what about it? We’re on it. When you go to a hacker conference, you have to expect this stuff. We have a policy.
Things I’d like to hear more often: We have a problem, and we want to solve it. It’s gotten better, but still not good enough. We would like to take care of it, please help us do that. These things should not happen at a hacker conference. We need to enforce our policy better.
I’d love to see a debate about all this. In hackerspaces, in the Club, in the media and between all of us. And I would be happy if the result were not only a better Congress in terms of a safe 30C3, but also a discussion at the event itself. What does this self-perception of hackers mean? Where do we begin if we want to make spaces safe? How do we deal with people who want to work against these goals?
As a side note, I learned that the queer folk at one meeting discussed forming an Assembly (or several) in order to be more visible and to have a safe haven in 2013. This is great. I also hope to have success with my goal of making the awareness team more clearly visible at 30C3.
One of the best tweets during 29C3 came from Lotte, who suggested this theme for the 30C3:
My suggested motto for 30c3: Shooting the messenger #29c3
This, of course, refers to the feeling that many have had during the Congresses: It’s not the sexist incidents that are the problem, it’s those who point them out.
Sarcasm aside, I think this is a very good idea for signaling, and is exactly in line with the conference topics: Wikileaks will be on the table in 2013, whistleblowing as a topic is still important. Also, the CCC and the hacker community was and is often criticized for its stance in favor of the disclosure of secret ploys, even though the outrage should be directed at the actual perpetrator. As a follow-up to „Not my department“ (oh the irony), I could imagine no better motto than „shoot the messenger“.