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.
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.
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.