Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
I Invite First-Timers To WisCon
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I have been to WisCon three times (2009, 2010, 2011) and I am going again this year, yay! If you enjoy my writing, you might like WisCon, and -- especially if you've never tried it before -- you should consider joining me in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, May 22-25 (Memorial Day weekend).
Smart, funny conversations. Some of my best WisCon memories are of really funny panels (I enjoyed serving on the "Must Pleasures Be Guilty?" and "Imaginary Book Club" panels, and watching "Not Another Race Panel"). Some are of friendly semistructured interaction like the clothing swap at the Gathering on Friday afternoon. And some some are of formal and informal discussions where incisive people tossed around ideas that gave me new thoughts for the rest of the year. I expect to get all of that this year, and if you decide to come, I'll happily tell you which panels/panelists/parties/workshops/etc. look promising to me!
Relevant sessions. You can create a free account to look at programming signups and indicate your interest in attending -- the deadline is March 29. The programming committee does take those numbers (how many people demonstrate interest in attending something) into account when rejecting or scheduling specific sessions. And there's an Overflow/Spontaneous Programming (a.k.a. unconference) room throughout the convention -- for topics people want to discuss that aren't on the schedule -- where we can hold impromptu sessions about vidding, open source, self-directed learning....
Great accessibility. I especially love the Quiet Space to regroup, the free-flowing traffic lanes marked in the hall with blue tape, and the rule that speakers use microphones so the audience can hear better. They all help me enjoy the con more, and they help other attendees, which means I can enjoy their company. And overall, I find WisCon participants care about being intersectionally feminist and inclusive (example: discussion and renaming in the Floomp dance party). Sometimes folks make mistakes, as we all do, but we apologize, and fix it, and (although I know other people have had different experiences*) I trust in WisCon in the long term and am happy to recommend it to others, including people who have never been to a scifi con before. It was my first!
First-timers welcome. The site gives you detailed directions to the venue. There's usually a first-timers' dinner (small group expeditions to local restaurants, I think), and orientation sessions, early in the con, to help first-time attendees and first-time panelists (tips) and first-time moderators (tips). If you feel better showing up someplace for the first time if you're being useful, check the checkbox to volunteer, e.g., for a couple of hours in the con suite stocking free food for everybody. And I would be happy to help you meet folks (my credentials from a shy previous WisCon first-timer).
Another world is possible. I cannot overstate how much it has influenced me to participate in WisCon, which asks everyone to influence programming, provides accessibility and childcare and a comprehensive program guide, and nurtures and amplifies feminist voices. And WisCon communicates thoroughly with its community via blog, Twitter, Facebook, an email newsletter and printed, mailed progress reports, and more. This includes talking about really difficult stuff like owning up to past mistakes in handling harassment reports and disinviting a Guest of Honor (if you've never been to a scifi convention, think "keynote speaker").
A gateway to more. I've made friends, started watching or reading new stuff, and joined Dreamwidth to keep in the feminist fannish conversation year-round.
I skipped WisCon for years basically because I had other travel commitments for work, and this year I'm so glad to be coming back. Feminists of all genders who enjoy science fiction, think about coming to Madison in May.
* Kameron Hurley posted "Burn it All Down: Wiscon’s Failure of Feminism" before the WisCon con committee permabanned a particular harasser. As this year's cochair said in criticizing the previous decision for a temporary ban, "WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci-fi con. And compared to some others that I have attended, it is definitely better at paying lip service to being feminist than any of them."