What the Democrats Need to Win in 2020

I’m reading this morning’s post-election analysis from the US Midterms, and as a Canadian looking in from the outside, my general take is this: Trump sort of won. Democrats sort of won too… and the Republican Party lost big time, but they don’t know it yet.

A Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress would have been a defeat for Trump… but the US Electoral system is so jerrymandered against Democrats that this was extremely unlikely. The Democratic party went into this race with bricks tied to their ankles… and they still gained. If you look at the popular vote compared to the seat count, it’s clear the Democrats enjoy a support base that is both diverse and deep… and one which is being systematically disenfranchised. They made advances despite that, and are now more politically relevant than before. But it’s a long time to 2020, and they need to get their shit together. More on that later.

Trump… sort of won. He didn’t get drowned in the “Blue Wave” that never really materialized, but I don’t think he won as big as he’s claiming. With the Republicans losing control of the House of Representatives, he’s lost the ability to quash investigations against himself and, should he make the effort, there will be real, immediate consequences of any such attempt. Trump is now politically vulnerable in a way that he wasn’t before the midterms… and he’s too stupid or too arrogant, or both, to comprehend his vulnerability. That’s going to make the next couple of years noisier and more chaotic than the last two… which is an absolutely exhausting thought, but there we are.

The Republican Party… lost. Big time. Yes, they maintained control of the Senate, but in both House and Senate moderate Republicans were ousted in favour of right-wing extremists. The GOP, as a big tent party, as the “Party of Lincoln”, is dead. Period. It is now the Party of Trump. The moderates and undecided voters have been driven out. For a generation, at least, the face of the Republican Party will be one of populist white supremacy and nativist paranoia. In the short term they may remain strong, but the trend of history has always been towards liberalism, and young people are voting like never before. The GOP has doubled down on positions that will not — cannot! — win in the long-term.

Which brings us back to the Democratic Party. Long term, I believe that progressive ideas will win out. Short term, the Dems need to get their shit together. They need to come up with a progressive, inclusive platform for a popular, bridge-building leader for the 2020 presidential campaign. They have no shortage of potential candidates, so what they need is an open, respectful and positive primary campaign to present a candidate who can do for America what Obama did… provide hope.

Which might be difficult, considering that the same Old Boys Network of white, wealthy Democrats that put Clinton to the fore is still calling the shots. In fact, it’s been floated recently that Clinton might run again, which would be an even bigger disaster the second time around. During the last election the entrenched privilege structure within the Democratic party anointed Hilary Clinton as the next President and treated both the primaries and the election itself as irritating formalities. It was hugely disenchanting display of public arrogance and contempt for the electorate and I honestly believe that’s what cost them the election.

(Yes, Clinton would have done a better job than Trump. A small lump of green putty would do a better job than Trump. Who could do a better job wasn’t really the point: The Dems treated the 2016 election as a victory lap and they got beat. Hillary Clinton needs to accept that she’s not going to be President. Ever. It’s not fair. It’s not just. But it’s reality.)

What the Democrats need to do is find a young, fresh candidate, probably male and white(ish), pair him with a more radical female person of colour as a running mate, and then run them on an openly progressive platform with more depth than simply “Screw Trump.” Sure, Screw Trump should be a plank in the platform, but they need to be deeper than that. They need to offer the American electorate real, progressive choices. They need to address real, important issues. They need to be aggressive in shutting down GOP mud-slinging and insinuations and attacks. They need to shut down and call out GOP lies. And they need to be able to fight down in the gutter, which is where Trump and the new GOP will drag them.

Most of all, they need to humiliate Donald Trump.

And I mean humiliate him. Not only with investigations and committees and charges, but also in debates. Face to face. If I were GOP strategists, I’d be looking very hard at ways to keep Trump from having to talk to his opponents for the next election, because if the Dems are even half awake they’ll pick someone smart enough to run rings around Donald Trump in a debate. It’s not enough to beat him — Clinton won every debate, after all — you have to beat him in a way that emasculates him. He needs to be shown to the electorate and the world be petty and weak. And stupid. And incompetent. And a coward.

Donald J. Trump is all of these things, of course. He is a national embarrassment and a disgrace, utterly unsuited to be President of the United States, and he proves it every day. The next Democratic candidate for President has to be willing to take the gloves off and whip Trump like a rented mule on national television. Trump has to be beaten so badly as to be made a public spectacle of contempt. He needs to be shown as a worthless, stuttering wretch; to stand naked, blinking and blustering in the harsh light of his own corruption, dishonesty and failure; so glaringly exposed in his disgrace that he is not even worth pitying. Trump has lived his life creating a larger-than-life image of himself… almost a self-parody. That needs to be torn down and the real, lonely and pathetic loser at the heart of it exposed.

It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be harsh. It’s going to be one of the lowest points of the American Republic. And I genuinely wish it wasn’t necessary… but people are dying. People are dying. Children are being held in cages. The most powerful democracy in the world is gravely ill and the Trumpists are already dancing on its grave and scalping tickets for the funeral.

The midterms are over. The Democrats are in the fight in a way they haven’t been for two years. The Republicans have doubled down on the cancer that’s going to kill them. Trump… remains Trump. Everyone is predicting an ugly fight leading towards the next Presidential election.

The Democrats need a platform with the courage to offer hope and real change, and they need a Presidential candidate who can fight in the gutters if need be and not get too dirty doing it.

It’s going to be the Democrats’ election to win or lose… and the fight starts today.

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A Tragedy in the SCA

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Last night an announcement on our Kingdom Facebook page came to my attention.  Issued from the Society Marshal, it was shocking news:

On Saturday, October 6, a brother in arms to many of us lost his life in the pursuit of our game. The Society’s Equestrian Marshal, Master Terafan Greydragon, died while competing in an equestrian game at an SCA event in Kentucky. The Society is investigating the matter and is fully cooperating with the authorities. The Society Marshal is conducting an investigation to determine what might have led up to the accident, and what specific measures should be taken to ensure that this does not occur again. Upon the completion of our investigation, the SCA will make the results available to the public. We have reached out to Terafan’s family to express our support for them at this moment of loss. We ask that Terafan and his family be held in your hearts.
– Alan Gravesend, Society Marshal

I’ve received a couple of messages asking me if I had any details; apparently since I was the first to compile a cohesive story on the Trimaris Controversy, folks figured I might know what was going on.

I only know what everyone else knows:  There was a tragic accident during an equestrian demonstration at an SCA event in Williamstown Kentucky.  A local news website covered the story, but there are not many details available.  The local NBC affiliate posted a story stating that he was airlifted to Cincinnati and was declared dead on arrival.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, as well as the relevant authorities, is investigating the incident and will report on their findings at the appropriate time.

I’ve also gotten a second-hand statement from a Reddit post, and while I have not been able to verify it, it purports to be the statement of a family member and contains some more detail:

It comes with great sadness that my younger middle brother, Peter Barclay has died. 53 years old, raised in Las Cruces NM. He was at an equestrian/medieval event in Ohio, when his metal tipped lance, used for catching rings (not jousting), hit the ground and flipped. It impaled him under his sternum killing him. He was air lifted but died in route. He led a distinguished career as a retired Lt. Colonel in the US Army. He leaves behind his wife Deborah A. Barclay, and daughters Amy and Taryth. Survived by his father Jack Barclay, older brother John Barclay and younger brother Charles Barclay. He died doing what he loved, but will still be missed. 😥. RIP Peter aka: Terafan Greydragon

The SCA, as I’ve observed before, is not a large community.  And over the course of the day it’s become clear that, while I myself didn’t know the gentleman, Master Terafan and I have many mutual friends and acquaintances.  Some of them were even present on Saturday, witnesses to what appears to be a tragic accident.

I’m not going to speculate about this incident beyond the bare sharing of what facts are known.  Like everyone else in the Society, I’m shocked by this event and will attentively await the results of the investigation.  And while it sometimes seems almost rote and formulaic to say it, I genuinely extend my sympathies to Master Terafan’s family and friends.  If you need a shoulder or someone to talk to, just ask.

I was going to write this post earlier, but I spent this Thanksgiving Day with my mother and my aunt.  Several weeks ago, we lost my uncle, my mother’s elder brother, to a sudden cardiac arrest.  Today was the first day I’d seen my mum and aunt — his wife — since the funeral.  I had several hours alone in the car today, to and from, to contemplate the suddenness of loss and the effect of bereavement.  I wish I had some pearls of wisdom to dispense to ease that could ease the pain of suddenly losing someone, I really do.  I’d have spread them freely today if I had.

As I observed in the wake of a different tragedy our community suffered more than five years ago, bad things happen to good people.  It’s a truth about the world, and I wish I knew how to fix it.  At least… At least, unlike the murder of Melissa Richmond, the loss of Master Terafan is the result of terrible mischance, not an act of deliberate malice.  (I had opined at the time that I feared for our community in the wake of Melissa’s murder, although five years later I’m relieved to note that fear proved unfounded.)

I don’t have any fears for our community in the wake of  Master Terafan’s loss.  It’s been a tough summer for many of us in the Society and sometimes it feels that it’s all coming apart at the seams… but it is another truth of the world that, when tragedy comes suddenly, people pull together.  They support each other.  In facing this adversity together, the community grows stronger.

It’s a bittersweet strength, but it’s a strength nonetheless.  And it’s a strength that the Society for Creative Anachronism has always had to draw from, like a deep well.

I never had the chance to know him directly so I don’t want to cause offense with a stranger’s sympathy, and I don’t know if there’s any comfort in this for his friends and family… but it seems that Peter Barclay died doing something he loved, surrounded by friends.  He made an impact in the world and helped build a community and touched many lives.  His loss is a shock and a grief that is resounding through the reenactment world.

Give his family the space and support they need in this difficult time, and take care of each other, everyone.

 

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes
Kingdom of Ealdormere

As They Should Have Been

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It’s been more a week since I wrote my last post, A Statement of Equity and Justice in the SCA, and the response to Ealdormere’s equity and inclusivity statement, the Declaration of Virtues, has been… mixed.

We attended another SCA event this past weekend – Huntsmans’ Harvest, one of Ealdormere’s premier archery events – and the Declaration document was present. The list of signatures on the parchment has grown ever-longer. Online, many Ealdormereans are pledging to sign it as soon as they’re able to attend an event, and many people from across the Knowne World are praising its language and phrasing.

Some, unfortunately, are not. I’ve had a few – not many, but a few — online interactions where people condemned the Declaration and anything like it as rendering the SCA hostile to “people who disagree with diversity” or, in one memorably irritating dog-whistle phrase “traditionally-minded” players. Apparently asking players to treat each other with respect is so profoundly offensive to some people that they feel that it’s a first step to their being driven out of the SCA altogether… just for being “traditionally-minded.”

Stop being disingenuous.  No one of good intent wants to make someone unwelcome in the SCA for a legitimately-held political belief, whether it’s being a conservative, or a liberal, or even having no political opinion whatsoever. But we also don’t want to want to have people feel unwelcome because of their orientation or their race or religion or their disability or whatever else… and sadly, due to some ill-intentioned people among us that has been happening.

I want to make something clear – I’m happy that the Declaration of Virtues was written and declared. I’m happy that the BoD has been passing policies making it clear that everyone is welcome in the Society and bad behaviour will not be tolerated. I’m happy that the College of Heralds is clarifying and expanding its list of banned hate symbols. And I’m very happy that people who are bigots — racists, misogynists and homophobes — are uncomfortable with these positive changes and are beginning to fear that they won’t be welcome in the SCA.

I am not happy that any these things were necessary in the first place.

The SCA, as I’ve noted before, has some systemic flaws that certain bad actors have exploited. That needs to be corrected. It is currently being corrected, which is a difficult and uncomfortable process. It is also a necessary one: some of the people I’ve been dealing with – including the person who used the infuriating phrase “traditionally-minded” – are demonstrably bigoted (a quick dig through that person’s Reddit profile revealed blatant homophobia, as a specific example) so my sympathy for their discomfort is limited, even at its most generous.

What it boils down to, for me, is that if you read something as judicious and polite as the Declaration of Virtues and think it’s aimed at you… then guess what? It’s probably aimed at you.

(Frankly, the Declaration is a much milder statement than I’d have preferred — if it had been entirely up to me, the Declaration would have been a lot less Kumbaya and a lot more Ride of the Valkyries. Of course, it wasn’t up to me, and I’m honest enough to admit that was probably a good thing.)

But those kinds of confrontational complaints, as I noted above, are not the majority. The majority of posts are from people praising the Declaration. A tiny minority is from people who oppose it as “political correctness gone out of control.” (I hate the term “political correctness”, by the way; I once had a friend who used a Chrome browser extension to change “political correctness” into “treating people fairly” and right-wing websites got a lot more honest.) Those responses piss me off, true, but at least I can get a good fight out of them.

But it’s the third category of responses that irritate the hell out of me: People saying things like “I don’t see why this is necessary,” or “Why can’t we just get along?” or “I just want to go back to having fun in the SCA and not have to deal with this.”  They are a minority, true, but not nearly a small enough one.  I’ve taken to calling these “blind eye posts”, because as far as I’m concerned what they’re really saying is “I’ve spent X number of years turning a blind eye, so why are you making me look at this now?

And I cannot respect that reaction.

We’re making you look at it because turning a blind eye is part of the problem. The reason that bad actors have been able to take advantage of the flaws in the system is that other people – otherwise good people – have turned a blind eye to bad behaviour for too long. It’s taken a couple of seriously egregious incidents in the past year – the Caid Swastika Incident and the Trimaris Controversy among them – for the flaws in the system to be laid bare in a way that many SCAdians aren’t willing to tolerate any further.

I’ve repeatedly stated on this blog that the SCA’s biggest flaw is now and has always been that SCAdians will tolerate any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby. Complaints that you just want to go back “to when the SCA was fun”… that’s a blind eye post. The SCA hasn’t always been fun for some people. We turned a blind eye to things we should have seen. We’ve accepted things we shouldn’t have accepted.

And we’re still doing it.

Actions like diversity statements are a small, first step towards fixing the problems. When we take these steps I expect pushback from racists and homophobes and other problem players because frankly, these steps are aimed at them. But when people complain because their goddamn comfort zone is being effected? No. Just, no.

The SCA, some will claim, is “just a game” and they want to go to events to relax. But the SCA isn’t just a game, it’s a community. And yeah, I guess I am a bit sorry that things are uncomfortable in your community right now. It’s my community too, and it is uncomfortable when you’re made to confront injustices… especially if part of confronting those injustices is being made to realize that you’ve been complicit in them. I know: I’ve had to do it myself in my own life, more than once.

But what we’re doing in our community, right now, is important. The bigots and the bastards and the bad actors, they’re going to fight it because they’re the problem. I’m ready to cope with that. But I’m really getting tired of seeing these distress of the privileged posts by people who just wish it would all go away.

It’s not going away. It can’t go away because if it does, this community dies. In the long run, it dies.

It’s a point I’ve made again and again over the course of this summer, and it’s a point I’m going to keep making: The SCA, fifty-plus years along, is at a critical juncture. We have to decide whether the Society becomes a larger, more inclusive and welcoming community where people are safe, or whether we want it to become a smaller, more insular organization where only certain people are made to feel welcome.

I’ve decided to fight for larger and more inclusive Society for Creative Anachronism. Partly because as a progressive I genuinely care about inclusion, diversity and equity in our community and – let’s be honest – partly because I’m a stubborn bastard who doesn’t want a hobby of fifteen years to go down the tubes due to stupidly self-inflicted barriers to growth. (That’s a real concern, by the way – look at the decline of Civil War reenactment in the USA. They built in barriers – racial barriers, gendered barriers, financial barriers and so forth — and their hobby has declined into such a small niche that it’s in danger of becoming nonexistent.)

Here’s the thing, though: The fight doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Most people in the SCA want the Society to be inclusive and accepting. They want new people to join. They want to retain members and have long-term friendships and have many years of special memories. They want to work together, to belong to something bigger than themselves, to do something important. They want the Dream.

Don’t say “I didn’t see a problem and I just want things to go back to the way they were.” Say “I see how it is and I want things to be the way they always should have been.”

I honestly don’t think saying that is too big a stretch for SCAdians.

 

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes

A Statement of Equity and Justice in the SCA

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In and around everything that’s happening right now, I feel it’s important to bring up a quick blog post regarding a recent event in the SCA Kingdom of Ealdormere.

This past weekend, at their Coronation and as the first act of their reign, Evander MacLachlan and Marion Golightly, Rex et Regina Ealdormeris, directed Ealdormere’s Lawspeaker, Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton, to read out the statement of equity and inclusivity that they had asked her to compose.

These are the virtues of the Kingdom of Ealdormere to which we aspire and strive in thought, word, and deed:

Honour: In all our acts, we strive to be true to the ideals that are the foundation of our Society and to keep our word.

Inclusiveness: We welcome those of all backgrounds, regardless of ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, or abilities, and will endeavour to make all spaces open and safe for all.

Kindness: We strive to be generous and considerate, breaking down barriers, drawing strength from our community, rejecting bigotry, combating hate.

Above all, Equity and Justice, respecting the rights of others, giving each person their due in keeping with the laws and customs of Society and Kingdom.

There shall be no place within our halls for those who by their words or actions reject these laws and customs, regardless of rank or status. We who here witness this document hold ourselves to this pledge.

This document shall not be sealed and is not complete. This strength of unity shall ever increase in perpetuity.”

King Evander and Queen Marion removed their crowns to sign the document, stating that they believed they needed to sign it as people and members of the Kingdom, not just as the Crown. They and urged all the people of Ealdormere to follow their example and do likewise – no titles, no ranks, just signatures. The document will be carried to various events throughout Their Majesty’s reign so that all who support this pledge can sign it.

I, of course, signed it as soon as I was able. I’m still about a third of the way down the page.

I’m proud that my Kingdom has adopted this statement. I’m proud that our new King and Queen made it the very first act of their very first reign. I’m very proud of my friend, Magistra Nicolaa, who wrote it and I’m proud that she contacted me (among others) for feedback and suggestions while she wrote it. I’m proud that the vast majority of the people of Ealdormere have taken it to heart.

After a summer of upheaval, I think a lot of progressive people in the Society are starting to feel fatigue around the changes that have been made and still need to be made (and I’ve no doubt the the constant shit-blizzard of real-world craziness flooding the media is not helping that sense of fatigue.) But – and I think we all need to remind ourselves of this occasionally – we are winning. We are making the changes that need to be made, and we’re reinventing the SCA as an inclusive and welcoming space.  However small the gains feel sometimes, however tiring it is to keep working for them, we are winning, I truly believe it.

Adopting a statement of inclusivity like this is an important step for our Kingdom, and one which I hope serves as an example to other Kingdoms in our Society. Yes, it’s only a single step, but it’s an important one and the SCA as a whole has been making more and more of these steps recently. The key now is to continue our momentum; the next step must be to ensure that the SCA is not only a welcoming space, but a safe one for all players, especially women and minorities.

The work’s not over, friends, but we’re making progress.
Lord Fulk Beauxarmes
Kingdom of Ealdormere

On Cookies

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This has been building up for a while and after a flurry of messages this morning I need to say it: First, I understand that my writing over the course of the summer has upset some people in the SCA. Yes, I understand that many of those people are in my own Kingdom. And yes, I even understand that a few of our local folks are extremely upset. It has been brought to my attention by a number of people that things are being said about me behind my back.

Look: If someone is saying something about me (or anybody) that causes you concern about harassment or safety, take it to your Seneschal or the Kingdom Lawspeaker (if you’re in Ealdormere) with proof if possible. If it’s not at the level where you feel you can do that, then it’s just talk and it says a great deal more about the person doing the talking than the person they’re talking about.

Either way, I wish people would stop passing this stuff along to me. If people are being nasty about me I honestly can’t do anything about it and frankly I’d rather not know. While I appreciate that folks want to give me the heads-up, when stuff comes back to me second- or third-hand there’s very little I can do but get stressed-out about it. I’ve known for a while that my writing might have consequences for me within the Society; I keep writing anyway. You may draw your own conclusions regarding the number of fucks that I’ve chosen to give.

Second, one of the things that keeps being passed along to me is that, due to the enmity I have apparently amassed, certain people are planning to block me from being elevated to a peerage or a polling order from here on. My response to that notion is simple: Yeah, right.

Not that I disbelieve the intent… I just don’t believe that it can be carried out. Nobody has enough power to override an entire polling order or peerage except the Crown… and since a reign only lasts half a year they are by definition transitory. The opposition of a single – or even a handful – of members of an Order isn’t sufficient to indefinitely prevent the elevation of a worthy individual. It can delay it, certainly, but not forever; You’d need a very large number of people determined to keep someone out. And frankly, if I’d managed to aggravate the majority of an Order, then I doubt I’d be comfortable taking a place in their ranks anyway.

And even more frankly – if the majority of an Order thinks you’re not worthy… then maybe it’s time to take a hard look at yourself and ask whether it’s the Order that’s the problem.

Third, this is all sort of theoretical anyway. I’m not on anybody’s radar for acceptance into a polling order, much less a Peerage, for a very simple reason: I haven’t earned it. I’m not going to be getting any award anytime soon and that’s simply not due to anyone’s hostility, it’s because I took a 30-month hiatus from the SCA and I’m just getting back into it this summer. Sure, I’ve written some stuff that’s gotten traction, but nobody’s ever been Pelicanned for blog posting. My crafting skills are journeyman-competent but definitely insufficient for an A&S award and I haven’t picked up a sword for anything other than practice in four years. I’ve already got an AoA and a Maiden’s Heart (Ealdormere’s award-level service recognition) and that’s fair, but I haven’t contributed enough recently to deserve anything new.

So the notion that I’d somehow be prevented from receiving future awards… doesn’t really matter to me. I honestly haven’t earned anything lately, and by the time I do earn something, I’m sure the fuss will have died down. If it hasn’t, or if people are holding grudges of sufficient weight that they’d act dishonourably… once again, that’s on them, not me.

There’s a whole mentality in the SCA regarding awards that I’ve thought a lot about. I call it “Cookies.” Do a thing, get a cookie. Awards and ranks and titles and so on… they’re fun, sure, and it’s nice to be appreciated but if you’re only doing something to get the cookie, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’ll be the first to admit that I used to care deeply about the cookies. I was in the SCA for almost a decade before I got my Award of Arms, and it used to upset me like you wouldn’t believe when newer people would be called up in court and get their AoA before me.

My being upset, I have to clarify, wasn’t so much that I wasn’t receiving awards, it was because I felt my contributions weren’t being recognized, especially when other people who hadn’t necessarily contributed at the same level were receiving recognition that I hadn’t. I felt like I wasn’t being seen. That’s frustrating, not just for me, but for anyone.

But of course I eventually received my AoA and a number of people commented that they couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten it before that. The issue wasn’t that people didn’t think I deserved it, it’s that they’d assumed I already had it.  Of course, a friend of mine had the exact opposite problem – over the course of about fifteen years he received an Award of Arms three or four separate times. I suspect that says more about the early SCA’s lack of record-keeping as much as anything else. (For the record, my friend is a Laurel now, and rightly so.)

As a quick aside – the solution to people not getting the awards they deserve is simply to be active in recommending people for awards, regardless of who you are or what rank you’ve achieved in the Society. All Kingdoms have an online form for submitting award recommendations. Find yours, bookmark it, and use it often. There’s never any end to the deserving people in our ranks, so do your bit to address the backlog.

I’ve been in the SCA for fifteen years now. I’ve been active, I’ve served in several officer positions, I’ve helped organize events, I’ve learned to fight and helped teach others, helped newcomers get oriented, and run armouring workshops in my own home. I’ve done demos and promotions, I’ve organized and helped run deeds of arms, I’ve written and published a number of articles, and obviously I write this blog.

In fifteen years of since I joined the SCA, I’ve gotten two Kingdom level awards and a Baronial recognition. If I were doing things for the cookies, then it could be argued that I’m not doing it right.

I’m not doing it for the cookies.

Or rather, I’m not doing it for those cookies. The cookies I value don’t come with a scroll suitable for framing and a title I can use at Court. They don’t have a coronet or a medallion. They don’t appear the Order of Precedence. They’re far, far more precious than that.

In fifteen years, I’ve made more friendships than I can count. I’ve made memories. I’ve done amazing things. I’ve eaten amazing food. I’ve brewed terrible mead. I’ve dug holes and erected tents and fired pottery and loosed siege weapons. I’ve fought alongside and against and on one notable occasion up-and-over some of the great legends of the SCA’s list field. I’ve had astonishing experiences and read countless books and oh, by the way, I met and married an absolutely amazing person and I’ve carried her favour proudly on the list field for almost a decade.

And since I started this summer’s crazy ride by publishing Confronting Racism In The SCA (lo those many weeks ago in mid-August) I’ve made dozens of new friends. I’ve received numerous invitations to camp with various groups at Pennsic next year. I’ve had complete strangers send me messages telling me how much my writing has touched them. I’ve had people all over the world tell me that if I’m ever in their neck of the woods they’d love to host me at an event, give me crash space, and hang out. I’ve had a Laurel offer to take me on as their apprentice (which we still need to sit down and talk about.) I’ve had Kingdom officers from around the world solicit my opinions on changes to laws and policies. I’ve literally lost track of the number of free drinks people have offered to buy me… and anyone who knows me knows that’s got to be a lot of drinks; my alcohol-tracking ability is keenly developed.  I’ve had people whom I profoundly respect go out of their way to let me know how much they respect and care about me. I have helped make change.

People know who I am. They read my writing. Complete strangers recognize my arms. I have word-fame in my chosen Society and the respect of fine people. Against all that, what weight shall we place on a scroll and a title?

So don’t bother to tell me that so-and-so said this, or what that-guy thinks, or even what those-people threatened.  Report the threats for everyone’s safety, sure, but where I’m at and where I want to be… I’m getting the cookies that matter to me. And not to brag, but I’m getting a lot of them these days. And nobody can ever take those cookies away from me or threaten to blacklist me from receiving more of them in the future.

The rewards of the Society for Creative Anachronism that I’ve decided to value… well, I’ve already got them.

Fulk Beauxarmes

For Which People, Doug?

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Today I’m going to stepping away from SCA politics and address real-world politics for a bit. As astute readers of this blog know, I live in the Canadian province of Ontario. Recently, we had a provincial election. The Liberal Party (which isn’t) was ousted from power after fifteen years and the Progressive Conservative Party (they aren’t) took a majority of the seats, and despite looking like they had a chance to form a minority government, the New Democratic Party (founded 57 years ago) became the Loyal Opposition. Sounds like a normal election in a parliamentary democracy, right?

Wrong. A few months before the election, Patrick Brown, the leader of the Ontario PC party, got wrapped up in a sudden sex scandal and abruptly resigned (the cynical might point out that he only resigned because it was made clear that he would be ignominiously turfed out of his position otherwise) and the Ontario PCs had a snap leadership convention. Out of that epic shitstorm Doug Ford emerged as party leader, largely elected on a platform of saying whatever the he thought the voters wanted to hear at any given moment and making backroom deals with the alt-right, evangelical fundamentalist and anti-environmental factions within the party. He ran the election campaign in the same vein, including dogwhistle racism, misogyny and homophobia, nonsensical fiscal policies, the shameless populist pandering (“a-buck-a-beer”, anyone?) and the promise to overturn the provincial health and fitness curriculum because religious conservatives hated they way it taught children the correct names for their own anatomy, introduced the radical concept of “informed consent” and mentioned that LGBTQ people exist without including the words “may God will smite the filthy sinners.”

Mix say-anything demagoguery with voter apathy and an antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, and voilà, Doug Ford became premier of Ontario with a strong majority government despite having only 40% of the popular vote (and less than 25% of the potential vote, although I find that a much less compelling complaint – if you can’t be bothered to vote, fuck you if you don’t like the results.)

You guys remember Doug Ford? He’s the brother of the late Rob Ford, the infamous “crack-smoking mayor” of Toronto.   Doug is the colder, crueller, less likable brother. The ambitious, scheming, ruthless brother. The “spent the 80s dealing hash but thinks Trudeau can’t be trusted because he smoked weed in college” brother.  The “steal from Rob’s widow and children while using his name to garner sympathy” brother.  You know, the “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards Etobicoke to be born?” brother.

That guy.

And now, he’s proven himself the “Do as I say or else” brother, too. Ontario’s municipal election date is coming up fast, and on the very day – almost the very hour – that the registration period was to close, Doug Ford announced that he was introducing Bill 5 to cut the number of wards in Toronto – and therefore the number of city council seats – from 47 to 25. Chaos ensued. People didn’t know if they were registered to run. People didn’t know what the ward boundaries would be. People didn’t know if Bill 5 would even be passed before the election date.

Bill 5 — or the possibility of something like it — had never even been mentioned during the election, and it certainly hadn’t been discussed with Toronto city council. (Several other municipalities, including the Niagara region where I live, were effected, too.) Ford claimed it was being done to “save money” which is bullshit – the combined billing of all the lawyers now involved have probably already soaked up the estimated $25 million in theoretical savings – but his real purpose was blatantly clear: He wanted to gut representation in the progressive centre of Toronto, especially the downtown, as revenge for perceived slights against the Fords while Rob was mayor. (It’s also worth noting that through shameless jerrymandering, the re-drawn ward boundaries disproportionately favour suburban Ford allies on Toronto council.)

This is revenge, ladies and gentlemen. Crude, petty revenge. And Ford’s not even bothering to hide it.

So, of course, Toronto city council took the province to court. And the court, looking objectively at all the facts, condemned Ford’s move as spiteful and petty revenge, stated that it violated the free speech and voting rights of Torontonians, and overturned it. Bill 5 was declared unconstitutional and invalid. Go back to the chalkboard, Dougie, and do it right next time.

And mere hours later, Doug Ford announced that he wouldn’t tolerate the interference of an “activist judge” and would use the Notwithstanding Clause to overturn the court’s decision and pass the unconstitutional bill anyway.

For non-Canadians, the Notwithstanding Clause is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 33, specifically) which states “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15.” Or in plain English: “The Charter guarantees everyone’s rights, but sometimes the government might decide to override those rights anyway, so here’s a legal backdoor that lets you do that.

It’s the ultimate loophole in Canadian politics. And it is worth noting that in the Canadian system, using Section 33 to enforce unconstitutional legislation is not a small matter. It’s the political equivalent of dropping a nuclear weapon on the law. It’s never done lightly or as a matter of course and it’s universally seen as a huge deal. Politicians have watched dearly-held legislation and pet projects and their own careers go down in flames rather than invoke the Notwithstanding Clause. Even if you get what you want, it’s basically political suicide at the next election because if there’s one things Canadians have traditionally hated, it’s someone who doesn’t play by the rules. I cannot overstate how incredibly reluctant politicians are to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause… in fact, since the Charter was ratified in 1981, this is the first time that it’s been invoked in Ontario.

For Doug Ford to invoke it over a petty revenge plot is mind-boggling.

This has gone way beyond the number of Toronto city councillors, or $25 million in savings, or even jerrymandering the largest municipality in the country for the benefit of the conservative party. $25 million in savings for a city of three million people is a joke. The city of Toronto — not the GTHA, the city of Toronto, that area bordered by the 427, the 407 and Pickering Townline Road — spends more than that removing snow from the roads in any given month in any given winter. The entire Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area can spend that much on snow removal for a single snowstorm. $25 million is a trivial amount of money when measured against Toronto’s $11.12 billion (with a B!) annual budget. This is not about money. This has never been about the money. This is about Doug Ford using the office of Premier to punish people he thinks have wronged him.

And now, it’s increasingly clear, it’s about Doug Ford’s control of the Ontario PC party. This is a loyalty test. He’s trying to determine whether his control of the notoriously fractious PC party is strong enough, and whether his base will support such extreme moves. And I’m sorry to say it looks like Doug Ford is winning on both those fronts. Despite his public assurances that it was a “free vote”, not a single Conservative MPP opposed invoking the Notwithstanding Clause in the vote on Wednesday. Not one. Judging by the online glee and gloating from the Ford Nation types, Ford’s base loves the way he’s sticking it to the “downtown liberal elites.”

(As near as I can tell, “downtown liberal elites” is coded conservative language for “homos, hippies, brown people, immigrants, anyone with a better education than us, people who know what kombucha is and other progressive scum who disagree with our agenda of funneling public money into the pockets of the rich.”)

Doug Ford is riding high right now. He’s got what he wanted, which is revenge on Toronto city council. He’s got a party either too weak or too afraid to stand up to him. He’s got a base of enthusiastic supporters who’re queuing up with ideas for the next nuclear strike on Canadian law.

Because Doug Ford has already announced planning on using Section 33 again whenever he feels its necessary. Fuck law, fuck tradition, fuck the constitution. He’s going to do what he wants, when he wants it and how he wants it, and nobody can stop him.

And if you’re a progressive in this province, if you’re an LGBTQ person or even if you just like having breathable air, then that’s a very frightening thing.  Ford himself clearly has no morality or conscience and he owes favours to people who don’t particularly care about fair play. The religious fundamentalists who support Ford are already demanding he start ponying up “religious freedom” legislation (aka “anti-LGBTQ” laws) that will absolutely require Section 33 in order to be passed; the alt-right are pushing for anti-immigration legislation (read “keep the brown people out” laws) that will require overriding the Charter; there’s a lot of real estate developers in the GTA that want those pesky greenbelt laws overturned so they can harvest the timber and pave over the fields and charge everyone for clean drinking water trucked in from less polluted municipalities; and of course Ford is already careening toward a showdown with the big unions that will require so-called “right to work” legislation (aka “union busting” laws) to win, which are unconstitutional… and now Ford sees a way around that problem.

Doug Ford promised a government “for the People.”  That was his campaign slogan:  FORD For The People.   It was one of the many lies he told during his campaign.  Doug Ford is a very nasty politician beholden to some very nasty interests – and he doesn’t care. And why would he? Paying his political debts will only require hurting queers and immigrants and environmentalists and unions… people who don’t vote for him anyway. People who actively oppose him.

People – it’s becoming increasingly clear – who aren’t really people to him.

Let’s hope there’s enough of us to resist Ford’s anti-People agenda for the next four years… and let’s hope we all show up and vote during the next election.

The Price of the Dream

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Despite my best intentions, I slowed down my writing schedule this past week due to a death in the family and the accompanying duties and responsibilities which stem from that… a sad reality that I’m sure everyone understands. That’s been my week. I’ve been coping with the family stuff as it comes. The usual silver linings of funerals apply, of course – reconnecting with family and friends that have drifted apart and a renewed commitment to strengthening those bonds, and so forth – but it’s emotionally exhausting work, which hasn’t left me much space for non-family thinking or reflection.

The timing of the funeral, unfortunately, coincided with Ealdormere’s Feast of the Bear event, which I was very much hoping to attend this year. It’s an event with some happy memories for me: Ten years ago I messed up my back spending the afternoon bent over a too-low sink doing dishes and used the resulting muscle pain to cajole a back-rub out of a young lady from our canton; not only was my back fixed, but some ice was broken which I’d wanted broken for more than a year and that led to coffee, then to dinner, and then a movie, and then… well, eventually a wedding proposal and, in a couple of weeks, five years of marriage.

Still, even with the emotional stuff I’ve been keeping physically busy in the shop, such as putting a lot of work into getting my armour-refurbishing project finished and doing a number of other small jobs (including repainting my shield), and I’m finally working my way back into a headspace where writing can happen. But the other reason I haven’t posted is that I can’t seem to get a post together on the subject I wanted to write about.

I’ve been involved in a number of online discussions about the current state of the SCA and the need for Kingdoms and Baronies to make a public statements of inclusivity. Part of that involvement has been responding to discussions around my previous post Words and Deeds, in which I frankly tried to skew positive. (No, seriously.) In that post I’d rebutted a number of phrases that I’ve been hearing during the various discussions reverberating throughout the SCA. But I deliberately didn’t rebut one statement I’ve seen again and again, during discussions online about inclusivity and equity in the SCA, and particularly the question of whether or not people in racist and homophobic organizations should be allowed to participate. I figured it needed it’s own rebuttal, which I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to write.

Before we can address this particular statement, though, I think I need to define the operative word so that we’re all on the same page. And that word is “bigot.” Let’s define bigot.

I’ve always gone with the definition that blogger Doug Muder gave in his excellent article You Don’t Have to Hate Anbody to Be A Bigot: “Bigotry is not the same as hate. Bigotry just means believing that certain groups of people do not deserve the same kind of consideration you want for yourself. Their suffering and distress doesn’t count, or they must have brought it on themselves in some obscure way. You don’t have to hate those people any more than you hate your dog when you keep him penned in your yard, or hate your children when you make them eat something they hate.

(Seriously, read Doug Muder’s article. The specific examples he cites are a few years old, but the whole thing has a timeless relevance that really does apply.)

So that’s the definition that we’ll be using: A bigot is someone who believes that certain groups of people do not deserve the same kind of consideration as themselves. Bigotry exists, in my opinion, when it’s directed at groups who have no control over whether they’re in a group, whether it’s by virtue of their ethnicity, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability or… well anything you can’t control. (For example, being prejudiced against Detroit Pistons fans isn’t great but it’s not bigotry: You can choose not to be a Pistons fan; you can’t choose not to be black, or gay, or disabled, and so on.)

And that’s relevant to the statement I keep seeing in online discussions about bigotry in the Society. That statement is “I don’t care if they’re a bigot, as long as they keep it out of the SCA.”

Let’s unpack that. First, there’s an incredible, shocking amount of privilege in the words “I don’t care if they’re a bigot…”

Really? They don’t care? How can they not care?

I’ve done some serious thinking about this and I’ve come to the dismaying conclusion that they don’t care because the bigots aren’t being bigots to them. And that horrifies me. It’s an implicit acknowledgement that someone has decided they can afford not to care unless they’re the victim… and so by extension they simply refuse to care if other people are victimized as long as it isn’t them.

That’s a stunning failure of empathy and an appalling abdication of responsibility. And it is contrary to every principle and ideal that the Society for Creative Anachronism should stand for. We’re supposed to be about chivalry and courtesy and the Middle Ages As They Should Have Been. We’re supposed to be standing up to defend the weak and vulnerable. We’re supposed to live up to the ideals of chivalry, no matter what colour our belts are now or will be or even what colour they never will be. From the bottom to the top, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

That’s the Dream. That the SCA is be a place that accepts everyone and holds them to a higher, more romantic standard than that of our tawdry everyday existence and rewards them for it. That’s what brings people into the SCA and what keeps them here and what will keep this community alive long into the future.

I honestly don’t understand anyone who can come out to the SCA and wear the clothes and sing the songs and not understand that’s what we’re supposed to be aiming for, whether they’re the bigots themselves or merely making excuses for them.

Which brings us to the second part of that statement: “…as long as they keep it out of the SCA.” So… they’d be comfortable associating with KKK members, provided the white hoods are left at home? You’re fine if someone spends every other weekend wearing swastika armbands as long as they’re not putting it on the trim of their garb? As long as their Tudor-era ruff covers up the SS-rune tattoos?

Okay, those are extreme examples I’m using to make my rhetorical point. Of course no compassionate person would tolerate those things… but when it’s less egregious than that, they do tolerate these things. We seem to tolerate people in the Society whose Facebook profiles are full of racist anti-immigrant memes, or who make sexist and misogynistic jokes, or who’ve disowned their own kids for being gay. I’ve watched all these things happen. I’ve seen it. And otherwise good people are arguing we should give these appalling people a pass because “they’re not doing it in the SCA.” And we should let it happen because unless we tolerate it we’re being Thought Police, and being “just as bad as them.”

Fuck. That. Noise.

Let’s leave aside the moral cowardice of turning a blind eye to racism, homophobia and misogyny and look at the hard reality: They’re not keeping it out of the SCA.

In a thousand tiny ways, a bigot is going to bring their bigotry into our hobby. They’ll shun non-whites. They’ll make LGBTQ people feel uncomfortable. They’ll passively push people out of the hobby by not speaking in support of someone who’s earned an award, or withholding their knowledge and experience from minorities, or simply by declining to offer help and support because they don’t trust certain groups of people. They’ll argue against minority players in a peerage or polling order meeting in the guise of being the devil’s advocate. On the list field they’ll ramp up hit calibration for opponents with a Bluefeather badge or a woman in armour. They’ll trash-talk queer people behind their backs whether there’s any truth to it or not. They’ll display dog-whistle symbols and use coded language to make sure that people like them — and only people like them — are included. And so on and so on and so on.

The notion that they’ll “keep it out of the SCA” is so absurdly credulous that I can’t even take it seriously. There’s no such thing as a part-time bigot.

When someone says “I don’t care if they’re a bigot as long as they keep it out of the SCA” you know what they’re really saying? They’re really saying “I don’t care if they’re a bigot as long as they keep it low-key enough for me to conveniently ignore it.”

And right now I can’t encounter that level of apathy, hyprocrisy and cowardice and without going into a serious rage. How do we respond to someone who says that? How do we get through to them? I’m genuinely asking. I genuinely need to know. This is what I’ve had trouble writing about: How do we address the fallacy that bigots are welcome as long as they’re not actively being bigots in our hobby?

I’m writing this knowing that I’m emotionally raw and fragile, and knowing that certain people – people whom I know – will see it as being called out. And let’s face it – if they feel that way then it’s because that’s the case. I wanted to end this piece with constructive criticism and some useful advice on how to shake people out of this attitude and I can’t seem to come up with anything — I just froth and foam at the keyboard and write scornful invective. (I’ve actually gone over this piece a couple of times and toned down the invective, by the way. The rough draft is pretty sweary, even by my standards.)  And so I’m calling people out instead of being constructive.

Fortunately, when I raised this point in a forum I’m involved with, another member made a valid point that I can adapt to wrap this post up. They said something along the lines that the only way we can combat bigotry in the Society – whether the overt and open bigotry of a tiny minority or the more covert bigotry of a sadly not as tiny minority is this: All well-meaning people in the SCA must stand up against it. We cannot depend on the entity which is the 501-3(c) Corporation of The Society for Creative Anachronism Inc to be able to do something about it, because frankly it can’t. It’s simply outside the ability of an organization to legislate morality.

But the SCA isn’t just a corporation. And, in fact, I would argue – as I have been these many weeks – that the SCA isn’t even primarily an incorporation. It’s a community. And we have to make it clear that bigotry – however overt or covert it might be – has no place in our community. We have to start applying that pressure… and some people might have to begin by applying it internally. It might be tough… but it’s a worthy effort. People can change.

And as for being called out… one of the people who made that statement “I don’t care if they’re bigots as long as they keep it out of the SCA” was the same person who, a few days later, came up with the point I used above regarding the inability of an organization to legislate morality and the necessity of all well-meaning people in the SCA standing against bigotry. They were able to look at the statement they’d made, realize that it was wrong and badly expressed and in bad form.   They learned from their mistake and admitted to it and continued to contribute constructively.  I respect that.  I respect it profoundly.

I do care if someone’s a bigot. And I care even if it’s happening where I can’t easily see it, even if it’s happening outside the Society itself. And we need, as a community, to send the message that everyone is welcome in the Society for Creative Anachronism… as long as they choose to welcome everybody. That’s the price for sharing the Dream: To earn your place, you have to share it with everyone; refuse and you default on your seat at the table.

I extend that consideration to all and expect to be given the same consideration in return. No more, no less.

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes

 

Shield Painting project

“In good faith,” said Sir Launcelot, “that knight is my fellow, and him I shall rescue, or else I shall lose my life for him.”

–Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, Chap XLVII

Words and Deeds

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In the wake of the Society for Creative Anachronism’s Revised Mission Statement — published last week with a shift in the language to a much broader focus than merely concentrating on “Western Europe and its cultural contacts” — there has been a fair amount of discussion online about the meaning and intent of the shift, and what it will mean for the Society, and of course a fair bit of resistance to the change from some people.

When the changed language was announced, I made my opinion clear on this blog: Expanding the Society to have a broader focus and be more inclusive of non-white players is a triumph. There is no good reason to artificially limit a broad-based reenactment organization like the SCA to an ill-defined era and region which serves – however unintentionally — to exclude non-whites from participating.

The SCA has a diversity problem. Part of that problem stems from the fact that, frankly, for the last fifty years the SCA has been focused on a relatively narrow vision of history; one which appeals to people of white European descent and somewhat less so to people of colour. In its most extreme form there is a real concern that the SCA’s European focus (like that of other medievalist organizations) can be and has been co-opted by white supremacists and other bad actors to support a racist political agenda. But for the most part, and judging from many of the reactions I’ve seen over the past few days, the vast majority of SCAdians don’t intend to exclude anybody and are shocked and hurt when it’s suggested that we have.

But… we built a system that excludes certain people. Unintentionally. Unthinkingly. But we did.  It’s there.

As an example, when I lived in the Canton of Petrea Thule we deliberately had our summer fight practices in city parks in order to encourage recruitment. And it worked: we had a couple of new members join specifically because they were out for a walk and saw a bunch of guys in armour in the park on a Wednesday night (when I was canton seneschal one of those people was my exchequer – these weren’t just casual players.)

But imagine you’re a person of colour, an African- or Asian-Canadian or a member of the First Nations, or a new immigrant; the guys in armour would still be interesting and catch your attention and when you asked about it you’d be told “We’re an organization that recreates the skills and culture of Medieval Europe.” Cool. That’s cool. But… what’s there for you? It’s white people doing white people things. And you’d walk on. No one has told you you can’t join and there’s certainly no reason you couldn’t… but why would you? There’s just not a whole lot for you to connect with.

I’ve seen a few people online lament that the change in the mission statement will “ruin” the SCA’s “medieval European character” or destroy their enjoyment of “the medieval ambience” of SCA events. My response to that is one word: Tuchuxs. We already tolerate massively ahistorical personas in our midst, why would having historical but non-European personas be a problem? Hell, here in Ealdormere we have a very active household of people who simply identify as “The Barbarians” who have no apparent interest in historicity at all; they rivet bits of steel to leather and fur, spray-paint their “sigil” on all their gear, drink heartily, fight enthusiastically and generally have a rip-roaring good time. If their completely ahistoric presentation doesn’t harsh anyone’s medieval vibe, why should households of medieval Indian or Cambodian or Tibetan reenactors? Why would medieval Chinese personas? Why would medieval African or Native American personas?

As a bit of an aside, a more broadly-inclusive Society doesn’t mean that we can’t hold specific events that have a tight focus. A few years ago at Late Winter Shoot, Ealdormere’s annual archery event, we adopted a Japanese theme encouraging people to make medieval Japanese garb and presenting an amazing Japanese feast which is still being talked about. Ealdormere also has an event every two years called “Icelandic Althing” which is specifically Norse – all players are encouraged to garb and armour as Norse for this late-autumn camping event, and it’s always fun and interesting… as well a teaching moment as to why wool was such an important medieval textile (sleeping outdoors on the last weekend in October is cold.) Likewise, there are a number of specifically 14th-century Deeds of Arms (most notably the Combat of the Thirty at Pennsic) where participants are required to present a very high standard of 14th century kit and garb. I’d love to see more such focused events from an even wider range of medieval periods and cultures, including African or Asian or Native American ones. The more diverse we become, the more likely that will happen.

In changing the language of our mission statement, the SCA has removed a major roadblock to addressing our diversity problem. But it’s important to recognize that our diversity problem remains.

One of the things that’s happened repeatedly over the last few months, partly as a result of the Trimaris Controversy, is that a number of SCA branches have issued statements of inclusion lately, including most recently a public statement from the united Peerages of An Tir reaffirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

One of the Facebook groups I belong to is a discussion forum on SCA Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. Several members have noted they’ve seen a number of such statements published recently but that they’ve also seen pushback from people in the Peerage Orders, with phrases like “words not deeds”, “let’s focus on the good stuff”, “no modern politics in my game” or “no one will really care if we make a statement.” I’ve seen a lot of similar statements myself and to be frank I’ve got little patience for those doing the pushing-back.

By all means, let’s focus on the good stuff. I’ve recently done that myself on this blog as a response to the all controversy and as a way to remind myself what we’re fighting for. But focusing on the good doesn’t mean we can ignore the bad: the first step in fixing problems is acknowledging they exist; the mere existence of problems doesn’t invalidate the things we love.

As for the often-expressed opinion that there should be no modern politics in our game, I have the same response to that sentiment that I have to the notion that we shouldn’t be discussing things on social media: Good fucking luck. It’s there. It’s going to be there. Wishing it were otherwise is just that – wishing. And if you wrap yourself up in wishful thinking you’re ignoring the reality that modern politics does impact this organization simply because we live in the world. Our hobby as an escape from the modern world is all well and good but there’s no honour in self-delusion… especially while people are getting hurt.

No one will care if we make a statement? That’s just false. People do care. I care. If you’re in a position where you don’t care or actively resent that we need to make that statement then it’s time to take a hard look at yourself and your privilege. The SCA as a whole, every Kingdom, and every Barony and Shire and Canton within them ought to be making public statements supporting diversity and equity in our Society. We need to send a message to our own membership as well as to the world at large that the SCA is an organization where everyone is welcome, and where bigotry, homophobia and racism aren’t tolerated. I can barely understand – and certainly can’t respect — why this is a problem for some people: It’s an easy step in the right direction. It costs us nothing.

And if a public statement supporting inclusion and diversity and rejecting bigotry outrages some SCAdians to the point that they’ll quit the organization in protest… well, good. We’ve apparently discovered a cheap source of asshole-repellent.

Words not deeds? Words are deeds. We’ve built imaginary Kingdoms were we fight and play and research and labour. Ultimately, all we have are words. I don’t dispute that we need to practice what we preach, to put action to ideals, but the first step is articulating the ideal. We have rejected words that turned people away, let us now adopt words what will welcome people – in all their diversity and uniqueness – to a bigger, more inclusive Society for Creative Anachronism.

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes

A Victory for the SCA

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Last night with a couple of friends I popped across the border to the Rhydderich Hael fight practice; while I wasn’t in armour (my armouring project will, I hope, be finished this long weekend) I had an excellent time finding the site, meeting new people, and generally hanging out. They had more than a dozen heavy fighters in harness and almost as many fencers; clearly this is a practice that I should be making an effort to get to as often as possible.

Not that it was much of an effort – the practice site is less than an hour’s drive from my place, and in fact closer to me than the Ben Dunfirth fight practice here in Ealdormere, which is the next-closest practice at the moment. Crossing the border was relatively hassle-free as well, we had more delays due to construction at the Peace Bridge than at the border itself. All in all, it was a good experience and a great night.

And when I got home shortly before midnight, it got even better. I’d turned off my data roaming when I crossed the border because I don’t have an international roaming plan (it still seems weird sometimes that “thirty kilometres” equals “international” now that we live in the Niagara) so I didn’t get the news until I got home, but the Society for Creative Anachronism published a Revised Mission Statement yesterday evening.

In July, the Board of Directors published an updated Mission Statement with the language “The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, and culture, focused on Western Europe and its cultural contacts, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.

Sounds good, right? Well, no.

The wording “focused on Western Europe and its cultural contacts” is problematic; explicitly placing the focus on Western Europe implies the exclusion of non-European cultures, or at least the requirement that we only view them through a European lens. While I doubt very much that the Board of Directors intended to exclude or disenfranchise anyone, it inadvertently did just that: People of colour, non-Europeans of all backgrounds and even those who were simply interested in more than European medievalism were all left out of the big picture.

This, of course, generated some pushback, especially #OperationAvalanche, organized by Lord Stelios Amenophis Onuris (who gained some notoriety this summer as the SCA Black Panther for his amazing functional fighting kit inspired by the Marvel movie) and I’m pleased to report that, thanks largely to the efforts of Lord Stelios and those who supported him, the new Revised Mission Statement now omits the problematic phrase and simply states “The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, culture, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.

I know there are some who were dismissive of this effort as unnecessary or pointless or merely symbolic, but frankly I think it was very necessary. Words matter. Symbolism matters. Representation matters. By focusing on Western Europe there was the implication that non-Europeans don’t matter.

Once again, let me be clear: I’d be extremely shocked if anyone on the BoD ever intended to exclude non-Europeans. But that exclusion has occurred in the SCA, however unintentionally. If you’re focused on Western Europe, you’re simply going to get a lot of people of European ancestry interested in the group and you’re not going to get a lot of people with African ancestry, or Asian ancestry, or Native American ancestry or so on. And why would you? People do historical reenactment because it’s interesting and it makes them feel a link to the past. And very often, that link is a profoundly personal one – you’re doing what your ancestors would have done.

I know that’s a big part of the appeal for me.

This morning in the SCA, with that restriction removed, we’re casting a far wider net for reenactment and recruitment. If a SCAdian wants to explore the medieval-era cultures of central- and southern-Africa, there’s no reason they can’t, or shouldn’t: the Shilluk, the Sao, the Kanem-Bornu… how many European-focused re-enactors have even heard of these civilizations? (Not me – I had to Google them in order to write that paragraph… and now will be spending my afternoon reading up on them because I’m just that kind of nerd.) What if you’re interested in China during the Five Dynasties period, or the myriad brawling kingdoms and empires of medieval India? Or maybe you want to research the people who built Angkor Wat? Or want to learn about the Cahokia civilization here in North America, which reached its peak at the same time as Europeans were fighting the Crusades? And so on and so on; by placing an arbitrary limitation on where we recreate history, vast and fascinating swathes of human culture were being excluded.

But no more.

I applaud the BoD for realizing that they had inadvertently placed a limitation on how we play and who we play with, and for removing that restriction as quickly as they have done. I also salute Lord Stelios and all those who worked to bring this problem to the Board’s attention.

This is a win-win-win situation as far as I’m concerned: People saw a problem and brought it to the BoD in a respectful manner; the BoD addressed the problem with celerity; and the SCA is stronger and more inclusive than ever because of it. With the removal of a eight simple words, a completely arbitrary – and frankly artificial — restriction has been lifted from the Society has made the SCA a much bigger playground.

It’s been a rough summer for a lot of people in the SCA. There’s more work to be done, but this is a victory. Let’s acknowledge that, and celebrate it.

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes

Finding A Way Forward for the SCA

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After a couple of weeks of controversy, of the fallout from my writing going viral, of debate both on- and off-line, I want to shift gears a little on my criticisms of the Society for Creative Anachronism. More than one person has written me and asked how we can effect the change we want to see in the Society and I’m starting to feel like that’s what I need to focus on now. That the SCA has problems is, frankly, self-evident. That it’s worth fighting for is, despite some pessimistic “nuke it from orbit” comments by disaffected former SCAdians, also self-evident.

What needs to be done to move forward has been – and continues to be – the subject of considerable discussion across the Society’s social media sphere. There are sub-categories of discussion: the recently updated Mission Statement and whether the language used unintentionally disenfranchises non-European players; the ongoing controversy in Trimaris and the #IStandWithDavius response; the growing threat of white supremacist subversion of historical reenactment groups; to name a few. There are other concerns, of course, and they are serious, but it’s my belief that the essential foundation at the base all of these issues is a serious problem that I identified in an earlier post: The SCA’s processes of justice are broken and therefore the Society doesn’t provide a safe space for all it’s participants.

The SCA isn’t perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. But if there’s one thing the current moment shows, it’s that the mechanisms in place to correct existing errors aren’t working. They are ineffective, hopelessly complicated and opaque to the point of inaccessibility. And because of that people are leaving the SCA, or simply not getting involved in the first place. That’s a slow death sentence for any organization.

So… how do we fix the processes of justice? How do we provide a safe space?

There are, essentially, three layers to this:

At the very top is the whole of the Society as administered by the Board of Directors. The BoD is a big damn gun, and its not suitable to cope with the little stuff.  For one thing, they don’t have time.  But the BoD is also the only structure which can boot problem players out of the SCA.  And for whatever reason, they’re reluctant to do that, which means that there’s little to no incentive for problematic behaviour to stop.

The BoD needs to review the current procedures in place to see why they aren’t functioning as intended. Where necessary, policies need to be modernized and brought into conformity with current applications of civil law and criminal liability. Hell, the SCA may need to hire in outside legal consultants to whip our policies and bylaws into shape. And yes, I know I just called for an expensive and multi-year systemic review of the very foundations of our organization. I believe that review is not only necessary but critical. Without such a review we’re in a position of astonishing legal liability; without a smoothly functioning system of complaint and redress it’s only a matter of time before the SCA is found complicit in someone bad actor’s illegal activity for failing to do enough to prevent it. Or rather, found complicit again: The SCA recently survived a hideously expensive legal settlement by the merest skin of our teeth. We simply cannot afford another such situation, financially or morally.

I am not, let me be clear, claiming the BoD is unaware of this need. In fact, the recent series of updates to various SCA policies, especially the policy on harassment and bullying, are no doubt a reaction to the present shortcomings of our organization’s framework. What I’m saying is that half-measures aren’t going to be enough and I hope that the BoD recognizes that real, fundamental structural reform is going to be required. It’s going to suck and I’m sorry about that. But it needs doing.

In the short term, I personally think that Board of Directors also has to make a strong public statement of inclusivity and zero-tolerance for white supremacy and hate speech (similar to a recent statement made by SCA Ltd. Australia, which is a separate legal entity from SCA Inc.) Such a statement is as much symbolic as practical, but I think that even a symbolic statement is important. People need to know where the BoD and the Society as a whole stands… and we need it to stand on the side of equality, inclusiveness, and diversity, especially in the current climate of crisis triggered by the Trimaris Controversy.

The next level down, and where a lot of the real work is going to need to be done, is by the twenty individual Kingdoms of the Society. As has been observed, it’s at the Kingdom level that problems should be resolved before they go up to the Board of Directors. At least in most cases. So I’m proposing that Kingdom procedures ought to be reviewed and clarified by Kingdom officers and, as necessary, brought into compliance with civil law and liability. Moreover, each Kingdom’s complaint and grievance procedures need to be reworked for efficiency and transparency and — most importantly — to give them some teeth that doesn’t require BoD intervention.

As a specific example, I made a point of looking up the laws of the Kingdom of Ealdormere, which are available in the “Library” of our Kingdom’s Webpage. (Although, In some ways using Ealdormere as an example is problematic, since because we have the office of Lawspeaker, we’re an atypical Kingdom in how we enforce our laws.) In Ealdormere is no clearly marked “grievance policy” or “conflict resolution” document, either in the library or elsewhere on the website. It took a bit of digging, but the Kingdom’s conflict resolution policy is found on the Laws of the Kingdom of Ealdormere PDF under General Operating Procedures, Section 4 Courts of Justice; Paragraph 4.2.1: “According to section IX-702 of the Laws of the Kingdom of Ealdormere “The Lawspeaker shall investigate concerns brought before him/her and mediate disputes as required”. This investigation and mediation are the first steps in the formal process of complaint and reconciliation in Ealdormere.”

Talk to the Lawspeaker and she’ll sort it out. That’s Ealdormere’s policy, unless something is obviously criminal in which case it goes to the civil law enforcement, or the Society’s own policy takes over (SCA Organizational Handbook Section X Grievances and Sanctions, which boot things back up to the top tier and is handled through the Senechal’s office, not the Lawspeaker.)

Look, Ealdormere’s Lawspeaker position is a good idea, and it’s all very hands-on and holistic and of course there’s a bunch of procedures in Section 4 about how the Lawspeaker should attempt to mediate disputes and the process for escalating to a Court of Inquiry with an eventual SCA-level “sanctions” option (booting it back up to the BoD again) but frankly as a non-lawyer I have to say that this doesn’t look like a timely method of addressing anything but an argument between equals who are willing to sit down at a table.

I’m not saying this to disparage the Kingdom Lawspeaker, who is a friend and who’s been working diligently and compassionately within the framework provided, but… this is not a grievance policy, this is a mediation policy.  It assumes that everyone wants to work together. It does not assume disparities levels of power nor does it accommodate the existence of vengeful trolls who just want to watch the world burn. And while it’ll probably function well for sorting out “Hey! You took over our canton’s traditional camping space at Trillium War” I have the sinking feeling it breaks down pretty damned quickly in the face of “Five years ago I was raped at an SCA event.

This is not a trivial concern, or a frivolous statement, or even a theoretical situation. I’m not saying this for the shock value, okay? These are the issues of safety that we have to address. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that for weeks now people have been sending me their personal horror stories of racism and homophobia and sexual harassment and even rape in the SCA. Some are from decades ago. Some are more recent. We can’t change the past, but we need to set up sustainable systems where, should these incidents occur in the future, they can be dealt with in the confidence that they won’t be repeated.

I can’t speak for other Kingdoms (and how do they address problems at a Kingdom level without a Lawspeaker?) but as an Ealdormerean I’d like to see Ealdormere take up a leadership role in developing a robust grievance and complaint procedure that both protects victims and addresses issues for positive change.  It needs to function at the Kingdom level to fill the gap before having to call in the BoD.  It needs to carry the authority to boot out bad actors, at least pending appeal to the BoD.  It needs to accommodate the fact that all people involved may not be working for an equitable resolution. It needs to address and codify how to respond to problem behaviour in a way that promotes the safety and security of all who participate in the SCA. And unfortunately, it’s going to need a very clearly defined section on how to address historical abuses.

And again, this is much easier said than done, but it needs doing.

There are other things I think we can do in this Kingdom on a more short-term basis. Right off the bat, and just like the Society as a whole, I think the Kingdom ought to publish an official statement of inclusivity. Just so people know where we stand. Next I think we need to put together a document – immediately — clarifying the current procedure on how to bring a complaint to the Lawspeaker and what the process will be. We write it in plain, concise and specific language and then we put it up on the Kingdom website with a great big link directing people to it. And when we fix the procedures, we update it.

One of the better suggestions that was made by a non-SCA friend of mine on Facebook was that all people stepping up to hold SCA offices should be required to take a workshop on diversity and anti-oppression. I think that’s an excellent idea and there are any number of organizations who can do it. That’s not to say that people who step up to offices are deliberately oppressing people but I took one of these workshops through OPIRG years ago when I was a student activist in Peterborough, and it helped me understand the myriad unintentional ways we disempower others, especially those in vulnerable sections of society (and as a white cis male, there were a lot of things that I didn’t even realize I was doing; it was a humbling experience to put it mildly.) There are OPIRG chapters at pretty much every university in this province, so we ought to be able to organize something pretty easily. Formal training in conflict resolution, both generally and in an SCA-specific context, would also be a good idea… and might serve to head off drama in the future.

And finally, the bottom, baseline, foundational level that we need to look at is the personal one. This is in some ways the easiest, and in other ways the hardest, level to address because this is all about taking personal responsibility.

First, get yourself educated on your rights and responsibilities as a member of the SCA and as a citizen of your mundane country. As I noted above, it’s not necessarily easy to do that and as an organization we ought be making it easier for our members, but easy or hard, you have to educate yourself. Period. We can write a new policy on complaints and how to access the process, but you as a participant need to take the time and read it and be informed before something happens.

Second, you need to become educated on problem behaviour. If someone makes an online post that is objectionable, or makes a racist joke at an event, or throws out a homophobic epithet, then you have to understand and to recognize what is happening. As an example, I was told about (but haven’t been able to verify) an alleged incident in the States where someone put a sonnenrad on their SCA shield and it was several weeks or months before people correctly identified it as a neo-Nazi symbol; apparently one of the statements the person in question as his defense was “well, nobody’s complained about it until now.” Understanding problem behaviour also includes understanding how trolling, gaslighting and dog-whistling work, and how these are deliberately employed tactics used by some pretty nasty people.

Third, look at yourself honestly. We’re all products of our environment, and speaking for myself until I was nineteen my environment was monochromatic, very catholic, and deeply rural. I literally did not know half the stupid shit I was doing until I was called out on it, and sometimes more than once… and I still do stupid, problematic shit sometimes. It sucks to have someone tell you “excuse me” and then explain why you’re a being an asshole, even when they do it politely. Your job is to listen when someone says that to you, and then do them the courtesy of considering whether they’re right. And if you find that yes, they are, that you’ve committed a problematic act however unintentionally… then you need to stop, you need to apologize and you need to consciously decide not to do that again.

Fourth – and this is the scary one – you have to commit, personally commit, to confronting racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and other problem behaviours wherever and whenever you see it in the SCA. Not every incident is going to be best resolved through some formal process, but neither should they be let go. So if you see something, you need to have the courage to step up and address it. Politely. Respectfully. But firmly and without apology. There are lots of resources online on how best to do this. We also have to acknowledge that there are people of good intention who are simply ignorant of bad behaviours, whether their their own or others. This is why approaching any problematic situation with initial courtesy and politeness is so important. We want, for those of good intent, to create teachable moments. If you’re at an event and someone disparages something as “gay”, then speak to the person – in the moment – and say “Excuse me, I’m not sure you meant it that way, but using gay as a pejorative term is actually homophobic; we have LGBTQ people in our group and how do you think that would make them feel?” Chances are pretty good that they’ll be embarrassed, not realizing that what they said was objectionable. (And of course if they’re not, there’s always the option to escalate to impolite as necessary.) Handled correctly, these will be small incidents – and they’ll stay small incidents – but eventually they’ll build up and lead to real change. We need a groundswell of people doing this.

Also, if you see someone else stepping up to confront these situations, back them up. Way too may people in the SCA assume that “someone else” will handle it. There isn’t anyone else. There’s just us.

And again, I’m going to admit… there have been times when I’ve let stuff slide that I knew I shouldn’t have, because it was easier to let it go. Or because I was afraid of the consequences if I confronted someone, especially if that someone had a belt or a title or a household backing them up. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it over the past few weeks. I understand that it’s difficult. I understand that it’s frightening. I even understand that there are people and issues that some folks can’t address because of their fear and discomfort… and because that fear and discomfort is entirely warranted.

I’m writing from a position of extreme privilege – I’m a big, scary, straight-looking white guy who hits people with swords; I fully acknowledge that a person of colour, or a woman, or an LGBTQ person (especially a trans person), or a rape survivor, or any number of other folks for any number of reasons are not going to be able to stand up in every circumstance. Nor should we expect them to – among other things this is a safety issue, and for many people safety is a real and overriding concern.

But those of us who can stand up, must stand up. This is “Active Activism” and it is necessary in the SCA as never before. There are, without a doubt, people of bad intention among us; they cannot be allowed to subvert the SCA to a bad end. We need to make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable and unwelcome. Sometimes this is really straightforward: “If you joined the SCA because you want to play in an imaginary time when Original Aryan Sovereigns were in charge and you can kill all the Jews and Muslims because white supremacy/racial holy war/something-something neo-Nazi gazpacho, then there’s the fucking door. We don’t want you here. Don’t come back.”  And yeah, that’s scary to say to someone, especially someone who’s unlikely to respond calmly when you tell them to take their swastikas for a hike. Active activism is a scary thing to do. I’ve been doing it for my entire adult life, and it still scares me sometimes.

But the other thing I’ve learned in a lifetime of activism is that activism rarely (but sadly, not never) involves openly confronting Nazis. What it usually entails is confronting ignorance, complacency and a certain “who cares, I’ve got mine” attitude.

Like all activism, the bulk of the work is going to be in education. I genuinely believe that the majority of people in the SCA – probably the vast majority – are good people who are horrified at the notion that awful things are happening and that bad actors are among us and that people are feeling unsafe as a consequence. I think that many people simply assume that the SCA has a reasonable structure in place for dealing with problems and therefore they don’t need to worry about it… and that because that structure is in place no news is good news.

Well, unfortunately, that’s not the case.  The structure is built around either glad-handling or an orbital strike by the BoD.  There really is no middle ground, and because of that there’s an active disincentive to bump problems up the chain. When there’s no news, that means things either aren’t being addressed at all, or they’re being buried.

No news isn’t good news. No news is people quitting the SCA in frustration because there’s been no movement on important issues. No news is a person of colour drifting away from the group because no one called out a racist remark or an LGBTQ person who’s had to swallow their anger and shame over being called a homophobic slur. No news is a sexual assault victim afraid to come forward because the “process in place” is to either file charges or sit down with the person who assaulted them and talk it out.

We need to fix the structures that are broken. We need to put functional structures in place. And we need, above all, to work together to fill the gaps in the structure on all levels.  We need to make a Society where everyone is safe.  Let’s turn the conversation towards that.