What do you think of the minimal attendance (lack of diversity) of black people at Rising Tide? One organizer has stated that they do need to expand their outreach. Another said, “They know it’s happening. They choose not to come.” At least one attendee questioned the lack of diversity at RT and was treated rudely for tweeting about it. She says she will never go back.
I asked that question because one of the organizers suggested I ask Ashley Award winners what they thought. In my opinion, if the conference is truly about the future of New Orleans, as in the recovery of New Orleans after Katrina, then one would seek out including the 60% of the population of the city. That 60% of this city is African American. So it would seem that to not perform the outreach necessary for them to know about the existence of the conference so that they may choose to attend is to act as if they don’t exist/they don’t count/they are invisible.
I find that offensive and it reeks of exclusivity.
Further, the topics for their panel discussions should include issues that are relevant to New Orleans. Some examples would be the school to prison pipeline, the extreme incarceration of black males, the state of public education in NOLA, the effects of violence on youth growing up surrounded by violence as documented in the recent film Shell Shocked ( http://www.shellshockeddoc.com/), racial profiling, the gross inequalities that exist in NOLA, etc.
Smart-ass answer: Why are you asking me? Have you seen me at any organizing meetings? No. For a reason.
Smart-ass question: “At least one attendee questioned the lack of diversity at RT and was treated rudely for tweeting about it. She says she will never go back.” Was that you, Janiebt? I do not know what is meant by, and have not seen what is meant by, “questioned,” “lack,” “diversity,” “treated rudely,” “tweeting,” or “it.”
Disclosure statement: There are folks at and deep into and superficially in RT I feel good things for, folks I am indifferent to, and some folks I’d rather not deal with at all. So? Such goes life. I hold that against no one. We don’t all have to be friends. Trust that I am right when I say not everyone wants to be my friend, exactly.
Some are just afraid of me. Go figure.
Less smart-ass answer:
If you said to your Commanding Officer, “I just don’t know what to do,” you’d be scrubbing the latrine in short order. If you told your heart-broken significant other, “I just don’t know what to do,” it wouldn’t exactly foster the mojo or the trust. If the Opportunity Fairy fluttered your way and you told her, “I just don’t know,” then she’d be off to her next assignment. She might stick around if you showed some initiative, or asked for a night to sleep on it — anything to show your sincere interest in revelation.
RE-FRAME: Tough spot, painful circumstance….bloody seemingly impossible, grotesquely challenging, borderline hellish:
“I’ll figure this out.”
How’s that feel? Better, doesn’t it? More…possible. More upright. Wings ready to spread. Ears piqued to hear universal cues. Instincts at the helm. [emphasis in original]
from the “i don’t know” conspiracy, Danielle LaPorte.
What I can figure out as an answer right now: Sigh. This is stickier than honey on a hot sidewalk. But it’s on my sidewalk now, so here I am dealing with it, figuring it out.
As far as attendance of people of color, I wouldn’t expect a conference based on blogging and the Internet to draw a predominantly-of-color crowd, without being explicitly or exclusively for such. That said, the first year had the fewest people of color, and that has improved, but people-of-color attendance has not been and may never be 60+% like the population of Orleans parish. I didn’t think the move to Xavier would change that so much, and I haven’t been around enough, or at all, to take a count. Does RT count that kind of thing? There’s always the problem of eyeballing somebody’s race/ethnicity/sexual orientation. Is it time to take a count? And if a count is made, for what purpose? What will a count be used for? And though I’ve been very much on the outside of the innards of RT, I’ve never gotten the impression that the conference was exclusive/exclusionary or deliberately, blatantly “diverse” or “anti-diversity.”
Also, those groups we commonly or colloquially call “diversity” are spread thinly as it is. You can’t be in all places at all times to all people, and, to be effective, a wise person makes choices, yes to #9, no to #14 through 24. And with so many entrenched problems plus a backwards economy and being in the state of LA, a person of color or member of a “minority” group can’t be at everydamnthing that might need a non-white, non-heterosexual, etc. element, critique or helping hand.
Another point: At times, we have to take the hands of those who don’t know and lead them not just to the door but open it for them and point them to the right shelf. As I said to a university official last year, when you know the minority pool for __ is thissmall, you have to recruit, court, and seek out to get the diversity your organization may want and probably need.
If that is the problem. Are diversity and attendance the same thing? Is this about voices and viewpoints or being able to see a face in the crowd that might be part of your group? Is this about louder voices pushing and pulling at a loose confederation with a volunteer-dependent center or “center”? Decentralization is not a solution that fits all problems, the hammer for everything that can be called a nail. Which also doesn’t make the opposite—centralization? monarchy?—the correct hammer.
When RT has had panels that didn’t interest me, I didn’t go. It does not and did not mean that those panels or guests or side events were worthless, dumb, backward, racist, sexist, heterosexist, or somehow harmful. Some good things have been discussed and brought up but that doesn’t mean I have to love, praise, or publicize what RT does or claim to like what I don’t. One or a few good turns do not absolve you or your group or clique from all error. [One year I got advance-price tickets, a few weeks or so before the panels were announced, and when I saw the panels, I felt ripped off---if given the choice, I wouldn't've bought tickets at all. The next year, I didn't make that mistake.] I never expected RT to cater to my ideas if I wasn’t putting a panel together. And I never have because I don’t have the connections, time, or patience to do such for free. Many others do. Is it “their” conference because those who volunteer enough actually put it together? In a sense, yes. I pay for this blog space so it’s mine and though I may have solicited questions, it doesn’t mean that the questions will be answered the way the asker wants or that this is a “group” blog with a group mentality or that commenters will tell me what to post on my own blog or how to think.
More answer: I understand that Janiebt has been to some organizing meetings, but that broke badly, so badly that Janiebt is no longer welcome at meetings, on email threads, etc. I also understand that Janiebt’s questions have been presented multiple times to multiple people who gave similar answers about the volunteer nature of the organization and the work it takes to pull together a panel that will actually show up on the day of the conference. RT is not a NGO or a business or an official voice for anyone in NOLA. Never was. I don’t think it will be either.
But now, some background from Cousin Pat, who’s been working with RT for much of, if not most of, its existence—this is long but a critical piece of the puzzle:
I’ve got dozens of emails from folks within RT trying to address her questions on all of this, and the questions she had before that. It became a futile conversation, that she then took to Twitter of her own accord. Not being on Twitter, I don’t know what went on there, but “ask other folks who’ve been involved” probably came up because she simply wasn’t responding to earnest answers to her concerns from the organizers. It became clear to me that she simply doesn’t care about the answers.
It simply didn’t matter to her that the RT organizers have always accepted that we needed to include more diverse voices in programming. The times we were successful were ignored. The times we weren’t successful were highlighted (publicly on Twitter). The actions we took to be more inclusive were ignored. The fact that we can’t control who shows up to participate in and/or attend the conference was ignored. And asking what she thought we could do to improve was met with nothing more than demands that we (the people “in charge”) do something about it. No matter what the response was, it was never enough, and it always somehow made it to Twitter.
I cut ties with her personally some time ago. Most of the other folks associated with the organization either abandoned the organization to limit their online exposure to her, or eventually blocked her. We had to cut ties with her as an organization. I authored what ended up being one of the final email responses to her on May 10, 2012. She was upset that panel ideas she proposed but did not work on were not discussed at a meeting she didn’t attend. It was 26 emails of her complaining about that, other organizers doing what they could to apologize (though they didn’t need to), address her panel ideas (that she hadn’t done anything about), encourage her to do something about them (which she never expressed any interest in doing), defending ourselves for our “cliquish high school” organizational structure, and being told that we were that way because the only people we listen to are the folks who show up at meetings and do things. (???) This came at the end of two years of this sort of thing. I replied:
This conversation has gone very far off the rails. Here’s what I’ll do to try and do to help things get back on track – when I get home from the office, I’m going to re-post the minutes, so anyone who wants to talk about programming can chime in, using the notes from last night to help facilitate the discussion. It would be nice to hear from people about individuals and organizations they have specific contacts with that would fit in with the ideas discussed. Additional or undiscussed programming ideas are welcome, but we’re trying to work past the brainstorming stage at this point, and are really looking for individuals who want to take on a panel or program and start making calls and checking on interest levels of potential panelists, moderators, and participants.
Janie, if you would like to start a new thread to address your concerns, that would be very helpful. Everyone involved in Rising Tide tries their best with their limited free time to be as inclusive, welcoming, and supportive as possible, and you’ve obviously had some concerns with the way that may not be working. As a matter of fact, that goes for anyone who’s been running into this kind of problem. What would be very helpful is for people to think about the following:
1. What you have attempted to contribute.
2. How you have been prevented from contributing.
3. Suggestions you have for doing something about it.
Additionally, there has to be understanding that Rising Tide is not a professional organization. This is an all volunteer effort, with people dedicating hours and hours of their free time and effort because they feel strongly about something and want to make positive contributions. But we don’t have a structured leadership hierarchy, we don’t have a process for filing grievances, and most of the decision making is handled with a combination of consensus at meetings and individuals taking responsibility for certain tasks and seeing them through to implementation.
For example: I’m the secretary because several years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to start taking notes at meetings. No one asked me to do this, but no one asked me to stop. The majority of these notes are completely ignored, but some people find them helpful. Having agendas was more helpful, which we sometimes have and sometimes don’t. To date, no one else has expressed any interest in taking over this job, so it is still something I do. If I stop doing it, maybe someone takes notes, maybe someone doesn’t.
[Names omitted by GB] _ is coordinating programming this year because he has experience coordinating panels and he expressed the most interest (or the least disinterest) in taking on this responsibility after _ decided to take a well deserved break after doing it for several years. _ has indicated the most interest in “second stage” programming, so she appears to be the de facto lead on that. _ handled that last year, but would rather just handle vendors this year, so that’s what she’s probably going to end up coordinating. I hope _ will volunteer to haggle with a hotel in town to get us a good rate, but we don’t know if he’s going to do that, or if someone else has an idea. _ coordinates between the event and Xavier. I hope _ gets to emcee the event again, because he’s great at that sort of thing. I’m hoping _ will stage manage the event again, because she’s great at keeping us on time. _ and _ and _ and _ know everyone in New Orleans, so they’re very useful in contacting people about being on panels. _ helped _ with the video and was a jack of all trades at the last event. _ is a godless atheist, so we made him the treasurer. _ talks to computers, so she handles the registration stuff; her son and my brother showed up and helped out a bit with that. _ designed the graphics for the event, and offered to coordinate the communications. _ designed our t-shirts free of charge for five years. _ was able to figure out how to get us some beer, so she can do whatever she wants.
This is just a short list of some of the things people involved in this organization have contributed, and that’s just from the last few years. I’m missing an awful lot of folks in that list. But the theme of it is that folks involved in RT show up and say “I’m interested in doing [this specific thing], which I think will make the conference better,” or “I have a great idea for a panel, and I know three people to call who might be interested in doing it. Let me call them.” Sometimes the conference can do those things and host those panels, and sometimes the conference cannot. We always try, though, and when people take it upon themselves to get those things done, we generally can make it happen. That’s how this organization works.
That’s a far cry from “Here’s a panel idea, I think the people ‘in charge’ should do something about it.” Or showing up and waiting for someone ‘in charge’ to give you something to do. Because if you’re waiting for the people ‘in charge’ of this thing to do something about your ideas, you’re going to be waiting a long time. There is no one ‘in charge’ as it relates to that sort of thing. That’s just not how this organization works. If that’s not a good fit for you, then I’m really sorry about that because that’s something we’re just not very good at accommodating. But that’s something, along with your level of involvement, that you have to decide for yourself.
PS: We also ignored Sports as a programming idea entirely, and Politics only made it into the meeting notes because we said “we don’t have time to talk about this, but it is an election year.” Subtitles to read: “Mark and Peter aren’t here, so we’re going to ignore this.” Sometimes that’s just how meeting dynamics work, no matter how strict the agenda. Again, if that’s not a good fit for you, then continued participation with Rising Tide may be very frustrating from a structural point of view.
To which she replied:
Once again you have misunderstood me.
That’s what it is like with her. There are only complaints, and more concerns, and “so and so said this, what do you think of that,” and demands to change something – anything – as long as it requires no work on her part. It doesn’t matter what the organization’s response to her on any question is – she’s not about answers, she’s about complaints.
Email birdies have told me that one point of dispute seemed to center around Sandra Hester Wheeler. Really? I’ve never thought she was the official voice for people of color in NO. She is also not the definition of, or standard for, diversity. She’s one person. I never watched her show or enjoyed her antics. But that’s me…….
The Rising Tide answer: Part of RT’s shortcomings stem from the volunteer nature of it. Panels depend on someone [or someones] volunteering many hours to contact, cajole, coax people to show up on their own dime and in their free time to make pretty public statements in front of a bunch of bloggers and Internetheads and Facebook addicts, and that is narrowed by who that someone or those someones know personally or professionally or from __ or want to be in the same room with __. No one “knows everyone” in the NO area or a neighborhood. If, for example, C.D. is not on __’s, __’s, or__’s radar, a voice that could contribute is untapped and possibly lost. No one gets paid, or tipped, or bumped—hm, I could be totally wrong about this one. There has always been more than a tinge of excitement to hobnob with certain minor [or not] celebrities or reporters or who-have-you, and I pay so little attention to such things I’m surprised when I feel the opposite in the air, which I have. And with these conditions, you get what you get. And with these conditions, it’s easy to over-, under- or misinterpret what is produced and simplistically conclude that it’s a “clique” or “ignoring” “your” particular voice. I didn’t put together the panels I was on light-years ago, and I turned down an invitation to be on a recent education panel because I just did not want to deal with it. [I feel like I was right on a lot of things early on and everyone else is finally reaching where I was from the get-go. Which is why I am still baffled that anyone cares who I told to go fuck themfuckingselves.] Some panels last year seemed over-packed for 75 minutes. Panels have loosely centered around large subjects/themes, still dependent on who will do what when and how much or long, and I’m not sure what the “new media” thing is about. I also haven’t felt motivated to find out. A part of the RT crowd is committed to showing up regardless of panels, for multiple reasons. I’m not part of that crowd. I didn’t see multiple panels recently I was all that jazzed about so:
1) I didn’t go.
2) I didn’t bitch on my blog or somebody else’s blog or an email thread or Twitter or Tumblr or Wikileaks about it.
Probably because 3) I was not and am not that concerned.
RT is not the beginning or end of NOLA or voices in NOLA or what’s important in NOLA no matter how it is presented or worn by a group or groups or individuals. It’s a slice. It’s not, like I said, a NGO or professional society. It was never intended to be. My understanding of its genesis was that in the chaos of crises that were life in post-flood NO and national almost-immediate “compassion fatigue” [which is total bullshit---compassion isn't fatigued if it is genuine; it's fucking compassion], bloggers and folks on the ground felt united in trauma, loss, shock, and needed to cling together. Desperately, in some cases. We were all linked by loss then. But you can’t hold onto loss like that, that long, that tightly, because your muscles wear out and you are left emptier than you were after the initial trauma. It can’t be done. And not everyone gets back to a new normal at the same time, for systemic and social, rather than individual, reasons. Some people get to move on faster or sooner or more easily and some don’t. Or do in one area or all areas except that one. And RT should and has, I think, moved on from those first few years. The crises aren’t over and the trauma isn’t healed but we are out of the acute phase and in the long-term, chronic stage, which takes a different expenditure of energy and focus.
Are there “a lot” of black or Latino or trans or Vietnamese voices in the RT organizing groups and conferences? No. Have there been some blacks, etc. with voices at RT? Yes. I haven’t been counting, for reasons stated above. And I do not believe, as stated above, that counting is the problem or solution or point.
My impression of the folks I know have been involved in the past and may be today? Flawed. Like me. Like everybody else. Well-intentioned. But we all know that well intentions aren’t enough and can fall flatter than no effort at all. I think this is an inherent weakness in a volunteer- and who-knows-who-and-wants-to-meet-who-driven conference.
If RT is not what you want it to be, go make what you want. Get some folks together. Make calls, show up at offices, ask for favors and referrals and help and phone numbers and and and. When the national talk about NO wasn’t what we wanted, we got loud, we used the word “fuck” a gabillion times, got drunk together, gutted some houses, ranted, read, went to bed, got up the next day and did it all again.
So? Figure. It. Out.
Final smart-ass answer: I should’ve known it was some fucked-up bullshit if somebody wanted my fucking opinion.