2016-Jul-06, Wednesday

chebe: (Default)
This post is going to be a little out of character for this blog. For one, it's an actual update (yes I'm still around), but two, it's autobiographical. This friends is the story of how I came to leave the hackerspace.

It started just over a year ago. And by started I mean it all fell off the edge of the cliff it had been tottering on and the end had begun. And by just over a year ago I mean 12th May 2015. (I know this date because I have the emails, all the emails.)

Ireland was having itself a little vote. One of the things up for public decision was a referendum to remove the distinction as to gender/sex from the articles for marriage. Basically, it was a marriage equality referendum, to allow any two people to marry, irrespective of their gender/sex. A short time previously we had gained 'civil partnership' for same-sex couples (as distinct and not equal to different-sex couples) and the sky hadn't fallen in. So it was time to push for full equality.

This was a very emotive issue. The No campaign were making a lot of noise, using scare tactics, threatening all kinds of irrelevant outcomes. Crowds of volunteers organised to travel the country advocating for marriage equality. Thousands of people told their intimate stories again and again to strangers. Essentially pleading, even begging, to be treated equally. Some well received, others not.

In order to get volunteers around the country, and to get brochures, leaflets, posters made up the Yes campaign were fundraising. Part of this was selling Yes/Tá badges, tshirts, etc. These items actually became quite coveted. Seeing a stranger wearing one in the street made you smile, feel comfortable, accepted.

I bought a big bunch of badges. I brought them to Craft Night in the hackerspace to give them away to whomever wanted one. They were eagerly snapped up, but I had many so there were some left over. I said I'd leave the extra in the Swag box (full of badges, stickers, pencils, etc from random companies and projects) for people who I knew wanted some but weren't able to make it in. And I was told that if I did they would be thrown out. I'm sorry, what? Apparently the hackerspace was to remain completely apolitical. Rather stunned and taken aback I saved my badges and redistributed them manually.

Another woman at that Craft Night later on that evening emailed the fullmembers mailing list to have a discussion that sometimes, on an individual case-by-case basis, we should take a stance.
"In particular, I'd like to see TOG as a group being pro-Yes for the upcoming marriage equality referendum. I'd like to see YES badges and leaflets available in the common room, and for NO leaflets to be unwelcome."


If you are familiar with mailing lists you'll know what happened. The ensuing shitstorm resulted in the majority of the membership saying "we don't want to be unwelcoming to No voters", or, saying nothing at all. Several members, did as the volunteers did, and opened their private lives, their soft quishy insides, to the scrutiny of the group. They asked to be seen.

It's at this point that several people will want me to point out that any group, especially a hackerspace, is not a homogeneous whole. That some peoples' opinions do not represent the group. Except, thing is, we work by Consensus. So when we decided that we'd rather protect the feelings of hypothetical potential members (who don't see their fellow human beings as equal) rather than support a significant chunk of the existing membership, it did actually speak volumes about the group as a whole. It told us that we were not welcome. That the realities of our lives were disruptive (in the bad way), and something not to be talked about in polite company. We were rejected.

On Friday 22nd May 2015 the country voted. On Saturday 23rd May 2015 the country partied. The result was 62% Yes. (Only one constituency had a majority No vote, and even that was by a tiny margin.) Nearly a 2:1 ratio. We became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality by popular vote. We were ecstatic. We were deeply, deeply relieved.

The hackerspace went on saying nothing.

Things continued on as usual. Our lease was being terminated, we had to find a new space. Then we had to do up the new space. We were also changing legal structure from a club to an actual company (one of the 16 new definitions that had just become law that Summer) with limited liability. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing, lots of discussion about direction, ethos, and internal wall layouts.

The landlord was putting in new toilets. In the old space we had two separate toilets, gender neutral. We asked one to be made wheelchair accessible. (In the end he didn't make the door wide enough.) The other he put urinals in. So now we had a Mens toilet, and an Other toilet. This did not sit well with many of the membership. But it wasn't seen as a real issue by many others. We were pushed out again.

Around this time I started being harassed by another member. (For reasons as yet unknown.) Counter to some stereotypes, and playing into others, this other member was/is female. Verbal harassment, accusations, following me, making me leave rooms, not leaving me alone as I repeatedly asked. Which several months later escalated to her trying to get me thrown out of the building for simply showing up.

You probably have guessed the pattern already. The hackerspace did nothing but bury their heads in the sand. When it escalated many months later, it made the rest of the membership uncomfortable enough that the new Board of Directors decided we should seek independent arbitration. This is a fair idea, except that in the meantime I was so scared of this person that I self-selected out of physically attending the space, expect when I knew there would be many other people there as well.

I'll never know how the arbitration would have worked out as the first session would have been next week. But that all seems a bit redundant now. Also, at time of writing, they are still discussing whether or not they need a Code of Conduct, what should go into it, if it needs to be enforceable, and how. A discussion which has been going on for over a year. They (baring a few trying to push it to happen) just don't see the need.

To wrap up this long tale, yesterday a Consensus Proposal arrived on the mailing list. Two of the Board were supporting a new member's request to have their probationary period shortened (the usual period is three months) to less than a month. I asked why. I wasn't told. I said that it wasn't fair, it looked like favouritism, and that more justification needed to be given. Mailing listness happened, and I was forced into an official objection. To many I suppose I won the battle. But that's only if you completely miss the point.

I received the most condescending email I have ever received (and there's been a few) privately from one of the Board. I realised that I couldn't deny it anymore. Despite the best efforts of a great many people over the years, despite blood, sweat, and tears, my beloved hackerspace had abandoned their own ideals and become just another boys' club. Which broke my heart in ways I didn't think possible. So I quit, with barely a peep. And the (near) silence I got in return is proof enough that I did the right thing.

I truly, deeply, desperately, hope they can turn it around, that they can make it better. But I've no energy left to fight for something it appears nobody wants.
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