Affect Conf 2017, Day 1
Affect Conf is a 2-day conference examining the work, culture, and design of social change.
Affect Conf. What a fantastic experience, with such incredible speakers and attendees! While I was only able to attend the first half of this conference, I know I’ve gained a bunch of great insight and a ton of new thinkers and doers to follow.
Organizing costs money, and so does admission. Although Affect Conf provided scholarships (yay!), there are still plenty of folks who couldn’t make it — or simply didn’t know about it in time. Let me bring a little bit of that experience to you here.
Affect Conf is in its second year now, after being started by the wonderful Elea Chang! She’s a sweet, energetic human, and was truckin’ around all day making sure everything was ship-shape.
So, who was this conference for? Pretty much anyone into social justice, intersectional feminism, and making space to listen to others. Talks ran the gamut from the personal, the tech-inclined, and tales of ongoing organizing.
Listen, y’all: this conference really cares about accessibility and inclusion — in a broad sense and not just as an afterthought. There were live captions, a sign language interpreter, a quiet room, childcare, the aforementioned scholarships, vegan and gluten-free foods, pronoun stickers, lanyards indicating photo consent, and a bunch more I’m sure I forgot or didn’t notice.
Personally, I was delighted by the huge collection of pillows in the quiet room, which I promptly made into a pillow throne on the floor to help make the sitting part a little easier on my body. This kind of stuff matters, and certainly lessened the inevitable chronic illness fallout after a busy day.
Anyhow, let’s get on to the meaty bits (or, the tempeh bits, for our vegetarian readers, wink)!
Before I dig in, just a heads-up that you can view the full transcripts and slides from the talks on the Affect Conf website (I’ve linked to the individual ones in the titles of each talk I cover).
There’s also a wealth of great insight and commentary under the #affectconf tag on Twitter. Between that and these summaries below, you should be able to get a good bit of the Affect Conf experience!
Talk #1 (Keynote): “So Do You Want To Fight or Nah?” — Identity Rage, Performance, and the Shaky Ground
CW: Sexism, racism, trauma, and corresponding discussion of lived experiences
Woof! What an incredible start to the conference. As the room quieted down and watched for her to walk to the podium, Sydette instead uncoiled herself from a corner of the room and performed a heartrending adaptation of Charles L. Mee’s Trojan Women: A Love Story.
This talk focused on the constant juggling act and tragedy of identity, trauma, and coping, all within the context of media and performance. It was intensely personal—recounting her own experience as a black woman, among other marginalized identities — while outlining a framework that could be understood and used by others. Here’s my livetweet, if you’d like a few little nuggets from what she had to say.
This really was one better experienced, though; Sydette used so much different media to express herself, which unfortunately can’t be easily reproduced in a couple of tweets. With that in mind, be sure to check out the video and this list of some of the elements that went into her talk.
Talk #2: What Do Second Chances Look Like?
As the lead designer and researcher for Code For America, Jazmyn took the podium to talk about the difficulties of employment after a criminal conviction, the failed implementation of legislation meant to ameliorate this, and her organization’s work to bridge that gap with Clear My Record. To make this app, the team worked with the folks going through the system, identifying where it was failing them, and meeting their needs with a mind to the ways in which they typically experienced marginalization in the bureaucracy.
Jazmyn’s talk was punctuated with personal statements — even voicemails left by folks trying to clear their record — which really brought her points home. The work she was a part of was really incredible, with great takeaways for developers and organizers of all kinds. Read some of the highlights in my livetweet here.
While Kendra has plenty on their lap as a technology lawyer, they keep pretty darned busy on their off-time, too! In this talk, they discussed their experience and takeaways from running the Trans Documentation Funding Project.
I was unfortunately not able to attend this talk; however, you can always pop over to the transcript and have a look at what they had to say!
Now that the TDFP has ended, Kendra recommends that folks donate to the cause via the #transcrowdfund hashtag on Twitter. I also recommend The Trans Assistance Project a great organization to throw your money at!
Talila “TL” Lewis
Talila pulled absolutely no punches in this provocative presentation, wowing the audience with a string of incredibly quotable statements. This one really distilled a bunch of intersections into a tight, coherent narrative.
Talila spoke through the lens of working as an attorney and advocate for disabled and incarcerated folks (deaf and wrongfully convicted in particular), but extrapolated into some really bombastic thoughts on trauma, poverty, race, and disability. I’m not a very loud audience member, so my whoops were internal — but very enthusiastic nonetheless.
Don’t take my word for it, though; check out my livetweet for the highlights.
As a participant in the #DisabledAndCute hashtag on Twitter, I was pretty excited to hear Keah’s story. Her talk brought us through her life as a kid with cerebral palsey, the development of her self-image as a disabled black woman who didn’t see herself represented in media, and how it impacted and was impacted by her relationships with others. And, of course, how all of this led to the creation of her popular hashtag.
Keah ended her talk with enthusiastic self-affirmations and affirmations of the folks in the audience. She encouraged us all to look at ourselves in the mirror, to take selfies, and to find the beauty in ourselves — a really important part of everyone’s emotional health and relationship with themselves.
CW: Discussion of suicidal ideation
Where do previous or currently suicidal folks fit into suicide prevention efforts? Frances gave us great insight into this question, discussing her trouble disclosing her suicidality to prevention organizations (a place one might consider to be “safest”), and to others in her life. While lived experiences of suicidality are vital to suicide prevention, this concept is still taking its time to propagate among the relevant organizations.
Her talk was a fantastically nuanced, frank, and intersectional take on suicide — and full of good thoughts and resources to boot. Check out some of the best moments in my livetweet!
Although dating apps are a part of 21st-century life many of us can take for granted, Morgen reminded us that these dating platforms aren’t always safe for or welcoming to trans and non-binary folks. Even developers with the best of intentions can marginalize their users or create a distinctly unsafe space.
Enter Thurst, “a dating app for queer folks of all genders,” which they founded in 2015. Morgen discussed why and how they created this much-needed dating community, ending with 5 absolutely vital tips for centering trans and nonbinary folks in your development (seriously, folks in tech: read the hell out of this).
Bonus: Attendee Spotlight
One of the things I deeply appreciated at Affect Conf was their invitation for attendees to get up on stage and talk about the things they were working on. Not everyone gets asked to speak at conferences, and a conference can easily create a bit of a barrier between speakers and attendees — so this was such a nice way to create connection and encourage networking!
From this segment:
- Nabil Hassein on how the introduction of diversity and inclusion cannot change an inherently toxic system. Be sure to check out his article, Against Black Inclusion in Facial Recognition. This is really good stuff, so don’t miss it.
- Diane Murray (hey, that’s me!) with a call for collaborators an ongoing chronic illness and disability resource blog, Spoonie Living, and a couple of planned projects: a gender 101 educational website, and a DIY medicine blog. Please do get in touch if you're interested in any of this!
- [CW: suicide] Jason Rison with a heartfelt invitation and desire to start discussions about mental health, grief, and suicide, after a really difficult experience of his own. Consider this an invitation to you, as well.
- Some lovely folks from The US Digital Service on how their tech startup works not just for, but with users in government services. Definitely an organization worth following!
- Margaret Staples on working with YouthCare in Seattle, as well as the Twilio Voices program, which pays folks to write coding tutorials. Unrelated, but both awesome.
- Ben Charbonneau on his book, We The People Are Powerful, a guide to the U.S. government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens, He has a lot of plans for the future (including a Spanish version), so keep an eye out!
That just about covers Day 1! I wasn’t able to attend Day 2, but you can find all of the transcripts on the Affect Conf website.
And hey, don’t forget to tip your writer and livetweeter, if you’re able 😉
I’m not the only one talking about Affect Conf!