I’ve been planning to write some version of this post since I made the decision to attend CCCC 2018 in Kansas City, knowing full well that I have friends/colleagues/comrades who can’t because it’s not safe for them or won’t in solidarity with people who can’t. [Note: this is not a space to debate the accuracy of their decision. You want to write your own blog post, have at it.]
Late last week, Thomas Passwater wrote an excellent blog post called I Don’t Need CCCC, in which he articulates not only his reasons for not attending the conference this year, but his larger (and in my estimation quite correct) concerns with the emphasis we senior folks put on participation in this particular conference. I can’t do his arguments justice, so let me say loud and clear: GO READ THE WHOLE POST. AND UNDERSTAND IT. AND FEEL IT.
Yet, I’m still going. And I think he (and everybody else who isn’t going) deserves an explanation. Some of this is about acknowledging some privilege–I can expect to be safe, so I’m going, and on that level it’s the “business as usual” that some people are unable or refusing to participate in. I’m going to see friends and eat food my wife doesn’t like. I’ll probably go running a couple of times and post some pictures.
I decided against withdrawing from the conference this year for two reasons, one pretty navel-gazing.
When the Research Network Forum leadership asked Amy Lynch-Biniek and me to do plenaries about labor research, I understood that I would likely never again have the opportunity to address that peculiar combination of audiences to say some things that are at the heart of everything I’ve worked on or thought about for my entire professional life. I hope it’s not the culminating experience of my career (at age 49 that would leave a slow denouement), but if I believe anything else I’ve done or said in the last twenty years, I need to do this.
Of course, I could have decided to attend for that one day and come home, but I didn’t. I would have joined a boycott had it been called by the NCTE Joint Caucuses, by the way, and I was pretty public about that.
In the absence of that call, the decision came down to a question of what I could do via boycott that I couldn’t do by attending and vice versa. And put simply, I accomplish little by sitting out, even if I sit it out loudly. I don’t make unsafe people safer. I don’t make CCCC more responsive to the needs of marginalized members by withholding my registration and participation. Maybe had we done it en masse, but once it seemed clear that wasn’t going to happen, my individual ability to make such demands disappeared.
I can do something by being there that I can’t do from home, and this is a sworn promise to everyone who can’t: serve as a constant reminder that you aren’t there, and it’s bullshit that you can’t be. It’s not just sad. It’s not something that even well-attended “activism sessions” will fix (I’m all in favor of those, by the way; we need to do that every year). This CCCC will suck worse than any other in the 20 years I’ve been attending them, no matter how it goes, and I hope witnessing, documenting, and emphasizing that on the ground helps earn some trust back from people who entirely understandably may wonder how I can stand to be there when you can’t.