Changes To IndieWeb Organizing, Brief Words At IndieWebCamp West

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A week ago Saturday morning co-organizer Chris Aldrich opened IndieWebCamp West and introduced the keynote speakers. After their inspiring talks he asked me to say a few words about changes we’re making in the IndieWeb community around organizing. This is an edited version of those words, rewritten for clarity and context. — Tantek

Chris mentioned that one of his favorite parts of our code of conduct is that we prioritize marginalized people’s safety above privileged folks’s comfort.

That was a change we deliberately made last year, announced at last year’s summit. It was well received, but it’s only one minor change.

Those of us that have organized and have been organizing our all-volunteer IndieWebCamps and other IndieWeb events have been thinking a lot about the events of the past few months, especially in the United States. We met the day before IndieWebCamp West and discussed our roles in the IndieWeb community and what can we do to to examine the structural barriers and systemic racism and or sexism that exists even in our own community. We have been asking, what can we do to explicitly dismantle those?

We have done a bunch of things. Rather, we as a community have improved things organically, in a distributed way, sharing with each other, rather than any explicit top-down directives. Some improvements are smaller, such as renaming things like whitelist & blacklist to allowlist & blocklist (though we had documented blocklist since 2016, allowlist since this past January, and only added whitelist/blacklist as redirects afterwards).

Many of these changes have been part of larger quieter waves already happening in the technology and specifically open source and standards communities for quite some time. Waves of changes that are now much more glaringly obviously important to many more people than before. Choosing and changing terms to reinforce our intentions, not legacy systemic white supremacy.

Part of our role & responsibility as organizers (as anyone who has any power or authority, implied or explicit, in any organization or community), is to work to dismantle any aspect or institution or anything that contributes to white supremacy or to patriarchy, even in our own volunteer-based community.

We’re not going to get everything right. We’re going to make mistakes. An important part of the process is acknowledging when that happens, making corrections, and moving forward; keep listening and keep learning.

The most recent change we’ve made has to do with Organizers Meetups that we have been doing for several years, usually a half day logistics & community issues meeting the day before an IndieWebCamp. Or Organizers Summits a half day before our annual IndieWeb Summits; in 2019 that’s when we made that aforementioned update to our Code of Conduct to prioritize marginalized people’s safety.

Typically we have asked people to have some experience with organizing in order to participate in organizers meetups. Since the community actively helps anyone who wants to put in the work to become an organizer, and provides instructions, guidelines, and tips for successfully doing so, this seemed like a reasonable requirement. It also kept organizers meetups very focused on both pragmatic logistics, and dedicated time for continuous community improvement, learning from other events and our own IndieWebCamps, and improving future IndieWebCamps accordingly.

However, we must acknowledge that our community, like a lot of online, open communities, volunteer communities, unfortunately reflects a very privileged demographic. If you look at the photos from Homebrew Website Clubs, they’re mostly white individuals, mostly male, mostly apparently cis. Mostly white cis males. This does not represent the users of the Web. For that matter, it does not represent the demographics of the society we're in.

One of our ideals, I believe, is to better reflect in the IndieWeb community, both the demographic of everyone that uses the Web, and ideally, everyone in society. While we don't expect to solve all the problems of the Web (or society) by ourselves, we believe we can take steps towards dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy where we encounter them.

One step we are taking, effective immediately, is making all of our organizers meetups forward-looking for those who want to organize a Homebrew Website Club or IndieWebCamp. We still suggest people have experience organizing. We also explicitly recognize that any kind of requirement of experience may serve to reinforce existing systemic biases that we have no interest in reinforcing.

We have updated our Organizers page with a new statement of who should participate, our recognition of broader systemic inequalities, and an explicit:

… welcome to Organizers Meetups all individuals who identify as BIPOC, non-male, non-cis, or any marginalized identity, independent of any organizing experience.

This is one step. As organizers, we’re all open to listening, learning, and doing more work. That's something that we encourage everyone to adopt. We think this is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy community and frankly, just being the positive force that that we want the IndieWeb to be on the Web and hopefully for society as a whole.

If folks have questions, I or any other organizers are happy to answer them, either in chat or privately, however anyone feels comfortable discussing these changes.

Thanks. — Tantek