Why We in the Science Fiction Community Should Reject Washington DC in 2021.

I’ve been a lifelong member of the science fiction community.  My first event was the 1984 Eastercon in Birmingham, my first Worldcon was Brighton in 1987.  In the 80’s and 90’s, I paid my volunteering dues in spades, projecting 16mm for the punters at all hours of the day and night.  When the technology moved on, I never found another niche I felt comfortable in, and so I became just another attendee and occasional programme participant, giving talks on the International Space Station, parts of which I designed. Since moving to Ireland in the late 1990’s, I’ve been a regular participant in the science fiction scene here.

But I’ve never been the activist type – it just doesn’t suit my temperament.  Goodness, I tried when I was young, knocking on doors for Labour in south London in the 1980’s, but the emotional investment just took too much out of me.  I’m much more useful in a back room, making tea for those resilient enough to hustle the sharp end.  Nowadays, it takes a lot to make me stick my nose over the parapet.

But it strikes me that the science fiction community that I love is about to sleepwalk over a cliff, and I’m not hearing any other voices of alarm.  So needs must.

In a little over five weeks a group of people in Dublin – some hailing from Ireland, the rest from many other countries – are going to be making a decision: they’re going to be voting on the location for the 79th Worldcon, to be held in 2021.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound difficult, but there’s a complicating factor: at present, there’s only one bid on the table, and it’s from Washington DC.

Let me put it another way.  Our community, which in general has an excellent record of embracing all kinds of diversity and inclusivity, is going to be asked to rubber stamp a location in a country, the current immigration policies of which will ensure that some science fiction fans who would like to attend are going to be prevented from doing so, because of their religion, homeland or ethnicity.  More still will run the risk of intrusive personal inconvenience or other unacceptable disruption to their travel plans, during the immigration process.

You think I’m overreacting?  It was these exact same policies that prevented Star Wars: Rogue One star Riz Ahmed from attending an event in the US in April.  If a public figure like him can have problems, what hope is there for the ordinary fans?

In all honesty, I don’t understand why the Washington DC bid organisers haven’t looked at the current situation in the US and said, “Y’know what, this won’t do, so we’re just going to put plans on hold for a few years, until the open, welcoming America we once knew and loved, has come back again.”

But maybe I’m doing them an injustice.  Maybe they have examined all this already.  Maybe they plan to offer pre-travel support to fans who want to get a G-28 form in place, just in case.  Maybe they plan to have teams of immigration lawyers working pro-bono, ready to deploy at east coast airports in the run up to the con.  Maybe they are going to provide a free pool of burner smartphones and tablets for attendees to use while in the US, so they don’t have to risk bringing their own devices through immigration.  But on the other hand, maybe once they realised that they ought to do all that if they went ahead, the other option should have been a no-brainer.

Or maybe they’re just hoping that the problem will go away in 2020.  From where I’m sitting that doesn’t seem so likely and in any case, wouldn’t it have been more prudent to wait and see?

For these reasons I believe the science-fiction community has a duty to reject Washington DC as the venue for the 2021 Worldcon. It would be grossly delinquent of us to act in any other way.  And if we do sleepwalk over that cliff in Dublin in a month’s time, then the virtual red caps that will appear on our heads and the virtual red armbands materialising on our shirts will ensure that from that moment forth, we can never represent our community as a champion of diversity and inclusiveness again.

UPDATE 16/07/2019

Yesterday I sent an email to the address provided for the Dublin Worldcon Business Meeting, enquiring how I should proceed.  I have so far heard nothing back.  But others have kindly informed me online that the Business Meeting has no control over the voting process.  I have now looked at the relevant ballot paper.  It seems that if a majority of voters select the None of the Above option for the 2021 Worldcon location, then the Business Meeting is supposed to decide where it should be located.  On this basis, I’ll be voting None of the Above in Dublin.

UPDATE 17/07/2019

I’m very grateful to all the online correspondents who have helped to clarify things for me.  It does seem that under the current rules, if there were a None of the Above vote, then the Business Meeting would have little option other than just overruling it and going back to the bids on the table.  Since there is just one, from Washington DC, then its success is effectively ring-fenced, whatever the outcome of the popular vote.  I suppose it would be possible to try and change the rules, to give the Business Meeting the option of deciding  ‘no award’ as an alternative.  However, since the deadline for motions is today, and since the Business Meeting has not, so far, engaged with me (even though I asked for advice in my email, and even though the Dublin 2019 website invites people to contact us at that address in advance if you need help crafting your proposal into the correct format), I don’t see that there is enough time left now for a motion to be formulated, (even assuming that such a motion would be admissible and not out of scope).

It’s a good thing that some debate occurred.  It makes me feel a bit less dispirited knowing that we’ll at least be deciding what we decide with our eyes open. I’ll still be voting None of the Above in Dublin, as a point of principle. Other than that, I don’t see what more I can do.

10 comments

  1. There are US fans who have, for those exact same reasons, legitimate fears about leaving the US under the current regime because they may be denied entry when they return. I share your concerns but not holding a US-based Worldcon isn’t going to help them.

    1. Your point is well made, and I feel for those fans affected. But is it right to equate the lot of fans inconvenienced by the policies of their own democratically elected government, with the lot of fans from other countries who are the powerless victims of those policies? Personally, I think not.

      1. I’m not even sure how to make that calculus — somebody who currently is a resident (but non-citizen) in the US is arguably a person at greatest risk from the current US regime (aside from asylum seekers at the southern border). I’m genuinely in fear for people I know in the US at the moment and Trump’s recent comments and the recent ICE raids all point towards a policy of fear towards ethnic minorities in the US.

        I hope that doesn’t sound dismissive of your concerns. Personally, I wouldn’t want to travel into the US at the moment given my politics and I have much less to fear than somebody from the Middle East or South Asia.

        The US border is particularly hostile towards Muslims, people from Latin America and LGBTQI+ people. There are many fans who to various degrees participate in Worldcon (or who would like to) on either side of that border.

  2. I at least somewhat share your concerns (and am a USA citizen, FWIW). I hear that some of my fellow fans and conrunners have filled you on on the voting mechanics that are possible at this point: Certainly a first-place win for None of the Above followed by a decision at the WSFS Business Meeting would be one route, and (less feasible) a write-in vote for a last-minute bid able to file qualifying paperwork by deadline in Dublin would be the other.

    Short of that, all I personally have been able to do is promote & encourage international bids (which my wife and I do), and try (again, still) to make the USA a better and saner country.

    There was once a US Senator named Carl Christian Schurz (1829-1906), who fled the Kingdom of Prussia after being involved in the revolutions of 1848, emigrated to the US, and in due course became a respected reformer, Senator for the state of Missouri, and Cabinet member. One of his many good deeds was to slightly amend Commodore Stephen Decatur’s famous patriotic toast to fix it: “My country right or wrong — when right to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right.” That’s the USA I always aspire to live in, and, like Sen. Schurz, I’m determined to help bring it about or die trying.

      1. You are entirely welcome, Nick. (And I hope my wife Deirdre and I will encounter you in Dublin.)

        To expand on what I said earlier, as WSFS parliamentary experts have pointed out to you, the WSFS Business Meeting is by design sovereign over WSFS but constrained in particular areas by the WSFS Constitution and by the Business Meeting’s standing rules. Section 4 of the Constitution makes the rank-choice voting selection of the year’s voters final. The only case where the Business Meeting has absolutely free rein is if None of the Above wins the election. (I attempted to suggest that yesterday, but was not very detailed.) Among their possible choices would of course be the DC in 2021 bid, which has the strong present advantage of being the only feasible one that actually exists. (Putting together a successful 2021 Worldcon starting with a bid launched at this late date would be extremely difficult and probably impossible.)

        By contrast, the Business Meeting is denied by Section 4 the power to overrule a valid site-selection vote by the members, and, e.g., in the event of a tie vote may give the nod to only one of the qualifying bids, and may not vote to hold no Worldcon at all during the year in question.

        Another constraint on the WSFS Business Meeting is that, certainly it can amend or suspend its rules, and can amend as attendees desire the Constitution, but the latter process takes effect only if two successive WSFS Business Meetings (those of two Worldcons) approve the amendment. This is so that the Business Meeting cannot be taken over and suddenly make permanent organisational changes at the hands of a sizeable interest group buying attending memberships and ‘brigading’ the meeting.

        As fair disclosure (but in no way intended as comment on your position), my wife and I pre-supported the DC in 2021 bid from early in its history. The convention committee have IMO been doing a very credible job and have an excellent facility reserved for their bid.

        I just now noticed that our friend Kevin Standlee has addressed all these matters on File770, and he has the right of it. BTW, when the 2011 Westercon site-selection he mentions was thrown to the Westercon Business Meeting in San Jose, my wife Deirdre was the head of programming, and she indeed had to scramble to move the Business Meeting to the largest possible room, where the resulting meeting was epically weird, but eventually after about three hours of commotion, successful (with able assistance from Kevin) in picking a site after members’ site-selection voting had turned down the only qualified bid.

        Anyway, thank you for (in your own way) helping the good work of keeping the world in Worldcon.

  3. @camestrosfelapton Again your point is impressively well made. The perspective of the non-citizen US resident returning from a foreign con is not one I had considered. This group does not have the same agency to effect change within the US as its citizens do. For what it’s worth, my calculus would be founded on the idea that going in one direction affects some residents of many of the world’s 190-odd countries, but in the other direction affects some residents of just one. In a perfect world no-one should be affected and I could understand it if some thought my measure falls short of ideal.

  4. I share your concerns as well and won’t be travelling to the US, including to any US WorldCon, while the current administration is in power.

    However, as Camestros has said, there are also many US-based fans who have legitimate concerns that they may not be allowed to reenter the country, if they travel abroad, and these fans should also have the ability to attend a WorldCon.

    Furthermore, two years is too short a lead-in to put a viable WorldCon together from scratch. So the choice for 2021 would effectively be: DC or no WorldCon at all or rather DC or a minimum viable WorldCon constisting of site selection, the business meeting (with a handful of attendants, for who bothers to attend a WorldCon only for the business meeting) and the Hugo Awards, most likely without a ceremony or even trophies. So do we really want to punish the entire community for the current crapshow of a US government that the vast majority of US fans did not vote for?

    The best course of action would be to let the 2021 WorldCon proceed as planned and try to put together a viable counterbid for 2022, which is currently another uncontested US bid, Chicago, This could be done either as a write-in campaign or an official counterbid. And this year’s WorldCon in Dublin would be the perfect opportunity to talk to people and see if it is possible to organise a viable non-US bid for 2022.

    For 2023, we have at least two non-US bids to back, if Trump is still in office by then.

  5. @rickmoen That’s great – I’ll look out for you and Deirdre! I don’t want to add too much more, other than to say that I have had correspondence with Mr. Standlee and his advice has been very helpful to me. He did initially have one misunderstanding of my intentions. He had picked up the idea from somewhere (I suppose an ill-advised remark from someone else on File 770) that I was going to propose a motion which had the aim of overturning the will of the voters. This was never my intention and nowhere was this idea mooted in anything I wrote. If I had been able to file a motion (the deadline has passed now and the Business Meeting declined to engage with me, in direct contradiction of their offer to help with motions, as posted on the Dublin 2019 website), it would have been formulated in terms to protect the will of the voters by giving the Business Meeting more options in the event of a “None of the Above” vote. But look, this is no criticism of Mr. Standlee, misunderstandings often happen in anything complicated like this and I’m sure I was able to put him right. He is a fount of knowledge and I hope I will cross his path in Dublin too (if he’s attending), so I can thank him personally.

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