On hosting events

Reposting this for context - was originally published in January but since then Posterous has closed down and I haven't transferred anything over. Or blogged much...


Last night marked our fifth Soho Skeptics event since a bunch of us impetuously agreed in a pub that yes - lets do this! Why? Why not? London is huge, it could probably hold more skeptics groups than we currently have. I think it is because we want to see the stuff that we are putting on and want to challenge skepticism to the utter limits. You can be skeptical about ANYTHING so lets do that. Let's have some skeptic heroes like Ben Goldacre but then let's talk about women in tech and the Leveson Inquiry.

The Leveson debate came out of a nerdy obsession for watching everything that came out of the inquiry. James had pitched the idea and slowly but surely it came together. Which is why the last week has been so immensely frustrating. We managed to put on two events with a total of 9 speakers in two different venues in two weeks. With a group of people who have lives and 9-5's and all that sort of thing. Hell, James and I already have the Pod Delusion to deal with on a weekly basis as well. On top of that I have a part-time PhD to attend to. WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES? It isn't for the love and affection that is for sure.

To put into perspective - we had to source a venue and find a time that all speakers could attent within about a month and half. To get five busy people to find time in their diaries that coincide for a debate AND want them to do a debate isn't a terrible easy task. To actually give a fuck about gender balance? Is that ever done?

So here we are, a ragg-ed tagg-ed little group of people who already have heaped their plates overfull and who want to make talks and debates that are interesting and relevant. We've managed the apparently miraculous (because event the Spectator couldn't even manage to make the effort to have one token woman on their panel) gender balanced panel, within a month in a half, with a massive holiday in the middle.

And then Suzanne Moore says something that some people think incredibly offensive and some other people not so much a week before our event. Then we have another columnist wade in who is incredibly offensive and yet the pressure still seems to be on Suzanne Moore. I wonder why no one picketed the Telegraph Offices for reprinting Burchill's article. What are we supposed to do? We have sold 300+ tickets - it is a few days before the event. Basically continue on - we have neither the time nor the energy to placate a Twitter mob. One that we normally would sympathise with 100%. Out of most groups we might actually have clue about Trans* issues. But even then, I don't think I understand much and just see lots of anger and no attempt to reason or be rational. It seemed from my perspective, someone who tries to understand and engage and sympathise but who doesn't have the time to read the entire history and bibliography of these issues, that it is a lot of people who don't even try to figure out who we as a group are. Many make assumptions and probably don't even bother looking at our website.

If they did the slightest bit of digging they might that two of the committee members of Soho Skeptics (me and @psythor) have made an effort to cover loads of things that never get any press. Disability rights abortion rights and yes, Trans* issues. For evidence that I'm not making this shit up see here and here). We try. We try really hard to make everyone feel welcome. We tried to find an accessible pub but unfortunately failed (but are still looking). We try to be gender balanced and promote women and feminism. Literally the week before we had a panel with four women talking about women, tech and geek stereotypes. It seems incredibly lazy of people hurling abuse at us not to even look at what happened literally the week before.

It makes me see why some people don't bother with organising stuff at all. It's a lot of work. And when it's not your job, you take all the most minute and unthought-out comments to the very core of your being. This is hard work, it is a labour of love, it is a desperate want of stimulating and accessible talks about interesting things.

It is also rather terrifying. We're geeks, we're probably the more forthright type of geeks but we are not the type of people to be belligerent and know how to handle a protest or deal with incensed members of the audience. We all have been to things but could anyone say they'd be up for getting between one of your speakers and someone who is out to shout at them? We had to rapidly think of how to make the best of a potentially disastrous situation. We could have a protest and 300+ people to refund, speakers to protect and a venue to apologise to for the hassle. Luckily all our pre-thought out disaster scenarios never materialised. The hatred and invective remained in 140 character bursts. Lucky for us.

I hope the same people throw equal invective at the Spectator because if you look up their line up - I'm pretty sure you'll find it a lot less friendly than us. But I imagine that's wasted breath - it is the Spectator after all.

So why pick on us? Why not work with us - when your views are challenged by us being open and friendly and want to engage - don't talk about 'not a safe space' there is no friendlier space. Seriously. We want all views heard we want our views challenged - do you? We will only do better and get panels and people you might be interested if you come and talk to us. Stop shouting at us, join us for a pint, tell us what you'd like to see. Believe me, we are more receptive than any group you might encounter.

I've left off commenting on the entire fiasco this week because I genuinely do not understand it, I've been buried in finishing off literature review land. I think there's been a lot of stupid things said on all sides, a lot of wilful misunderstanding and more than enough entrenchment of positions. I'm no closer to understanding it but a lot closer to just ignoring all of it. I'm pretty sure that is the opposite of what activists on all these issues want us to do.