Garwulf’s Corner #54: Punishing the Innocent
Originally published August 31, 2017
One of my oldest friends in the writing profession is John-Allen Price, an American from New York State. I met John at a Toronto-area science fiction convention a year or two before landing my first book contract, and we’ve been good friends ever since. He’s a colourful fellow — at an East/West friendship conference during the Cold War, his sense of humour led him to try to convince a KGB agent that the United States had developed an earthquake weapon. In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming one of his publishers as well, and his magnum opus, Caesar Americanus (a two-volume epic adapting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to an alternate history rise of fascism in the United States in the 1930s), was published under my banner. However, we have diverged in one major way over the years — unlike me, every year he still tries to get to as many science fiction conventions as he can.
Or, at least, he would — if there were enough conventions this year to go to.
It’s one of the stranger pieces of fallout from the election of Donald Trump. Since Trump’s inauguration, numerous Canadian authors and fans have decided not to travel across the border to attend American conventions. This in turn caused a loss of revenue that created a tipping point for a number of smaller American conventions, such as EerieCon in Grand Island, NY, making them no longer financially viable. As a result, they folded, leaving John (and a number of other fans/authors like him) with a handful of possible conventions to attend, all of them spread out geographically, very large and not conducive for running into old friends in the hallway.
To be fair, this decision by Canadian convention-goers is made for a number of different reasons. For most people, it’s not so much an act of political protest as a fear of what they may encounter while crossing the border — and to that, I have nothing to offer but understanding and sympathy. Caution born from uncertainty is always understandable. But, there are some non-American creators and fans who are indeed boycotting American conventions as a protest — and that is problematic.
As a centrist, much of my political philosophy revolves around removing ideology from the equation and focusing on what works in practice. As a result, I have little use for acts of protest that are ideologically sound while incapable of making a difference. I had no respect whatsoever for the Canadians who marched in the streets of Toronto to protest the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War — after all, what would President George W. Bush care about a protest march by bunch of non-Americans in a Canadian city when Canada had already declined to participate in the invasion? I had overwhelming respect and awe for those Canadians who protested in the streets of New York City, risking imprisonment in a foreign country in order to be heard in a way that would matter.
So, is boycotting science fiction conventions as a form of protest against Donald Trump something that would matter or be effective? I think the answer is “no.”
To understand why, we have to look at the election itself. The voter turnout was 60.2%. Of those who did vote, only 46.4% voted for Donald Trump. This means that if a given convention has an attendance that is representative of the general population of the United States, only 27.9% of attendees would be Trump voters (and, for that matter, with neither candidate breaking 50% of the popular vote, only 29.2% would be Clinton voters). Because the divide between the left and right is so entrenched and bitter, the Trump voters at this hypothetical convention are very unlikely to feel chastised by a boycott — instead, they’d probably consider it yet another case of high handedness from the political left, and dig in even further.
This leaves the only accomplishment of such a boycott to be penalizing fans for a political outcome that most either did not support or had no involvement with in the first place, while also politicizing something that might not have otherwise been political — and which, in most cases, is organized by people on the political left in the first place. And in this all-too combative time, with an entrenched American political left and right both, by all appearances, attempting to hate their way to victory, this is the last thing we need. We need places and venues that are free of the culture wars, and where politics do not matter.
As I said earlier, however, in most cases, the lack of attendance comes from uncertainty instead of any deliberate political statement. People are worried about what they will encounter when they try to cross the border, and would rather stay home than take their chances.
Put these two factors together, and the loss of the small American conventions along the border becomes all the more heartbreaking. I’d like to tell my fellow Canadians that they should have faith, and not let the current state of upheaval in American politics prevent them from crossing the border to join their American brethren in SF fandom…but sadly, I don’t know how much good that would do either.
After all, one of the other side-effects of our current political state is that faith is in short supply, at least for the time being. And while, as Babylon 5 once so powerfully pointed out, faith manages, the faith has to be there in the first place.