— Der Inventing Room!

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?“

Lacking soli­da­rity

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.

Pater­na­lism

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.

Exter­nal perception

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.

In future

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:

Mein Mottovorschlag für den 30c3: Shooting the messenger.

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“.

Trans­la­ted by Nói­rín Plun­kett for Ada Initia­tive.
Ger­man ver­sion (inclu­ding links to others‘ blog posts and several comments)

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