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.