For a panel focused on activism there initially seemed to be a real dearth of activists, to hear the panelists tell it.
When asked by moderator Keith Chow (Nerds of Color) if the speakers considered themselves “activists,” the panelists tried to place a bit of daylight between themselves and the term.
Jamie Broadnax, Editor in Chief of Black Girl Nerds replied, “I don’t see it that way,” eventually acknowledging of her work “if [it’s] a form of activism, so be it.”
Vishavjit Singh, the creator of sikhtoons.com (who drew attention and acclaim for appearing in public as the Sikh Captain America), “I’ve never seen myself as an activist…although a lot of people will use that label for me.”
Panelist William Evans (poet and founder of Black Nerd Problems), after noting the term “means different things to different people,” was able to identify the collective trepidation around the term.
“Activism is almost like beauty… you don’t get to call yourself that. It’s how people recognize you.”
On the other hand, audience members made it quite clear that they saw each of the speakers as activists.
All the panel participants entered into their own “activism” out of a desire to see more representation for traditionally marginalized populations in geek culture. Desiree Rodriguez (Lion Forge) noted that the ultimate goal of such efforts was to nourish a sense of empathy — not simply from the dominant culture, but between marginalized groups that don’t always understand each others’ perspectives.
“We can empathize, and if we can empathize, we can become better allies,” Rodriguez observed, adding that “sit down, shut up, and listen” is the way to be a good ally.
Rodriguez and Chow both found success in organizing by way of Twitter, and the two espoused the power of the platform to mobilize and raise awareness, while each going to some pains not to overstate the medium’s limits. In terms of more traditional activism, Chow deferred to Podcast Host and Columnist member Elana Levin who was in the audience.
Levin, who holds training for nonprofits observed that “the kind of skills in this room; live streaming, social media, drawing, writing,” are skill sets key to the “resistance.” These are “specific abilities that folks can use.”
While the panel recounted successes (and frustrations) in their own work to effect change in media, as well as their strategies for dealing with online harassment, probably no question illuminated the nexus of the personal and the political more that Chow’s opener, where he teasingly asked “why are Social Justice Warriors ruining comics?”
Panelists’ answers were arguably the highlight of the evening. As Rodriguez replied, “‘Social Justice Warrior’ is kind of an awesome name. I mean, I want to be a warrior!”
The crowd concurred.