Categories: Events

How Skepchick Got Booted from DragonCon Today

It was the best of cons, it was the worst of cons. The highlights as of this morning included hanging out with many Skepchick Network contributors, hosting an epic Quiz-o-Tron panel with Lucky Yates, Paul and Storm, Bill Corbett, Drew Curtis, Scott Sigler, Phil Plait, Molly Lewis, Ken Plume, and Joseph Scrimshaw, cosplaying as Wolverine (with several friends also gender bending Avengers), meeting loads of Skepchick readers and commenters, and meeting up with other awesome longtime and new friends like Adam Savage, Len Peralta, Mike Phirman, and Phil Lamarr.

As we have for the past several years, Surly Amy and I staffed a Skepchick fan table, selling (as always) our t-shirts, buttons, and jewellery. We talked a lot with a very nice man in charge of overseeing fan tables in our area (unfortunately I don’t recall his name), who helped us find a good spot for our table.

On Saturday, he came around and said he’d had a complaint from someone that we were selling buttons that were against the rules for fan tables. He explained the relevant rule, which on DragonCon’s site reads:

In deference to our dealers and exhibitors, who purchase a table or sponsor the convention, no general merchandise sales are permitted at concourse tables. You can sell logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your club, band or organization. Dragon*Con does not charge a percentage of these merchandise sales.

(We hadn’t read (edit for clarity: were not aware of the existence of) that rule because Skeptrack admin Derek Colanduno arranges all the skeptic tables and we have no contact with DragonCon.)

I explained to the man that I personally make every button with my printer and buttonmaker, so by that rule they should be fine. However, I pointed out that I was selling Bigfoot air fresheners (like last year), which I don’t make and are not exclusive to Skepchick. I just think they’re funny and relevant. But, I acknowledged that that could be against the rule and if so, I was happy to take it off the table. The man thanked me for being flexible and told me to leave everything as is for now and that he’d run it past his higher ups and let us know if Bigfoot had to go. We thanked him for being fair and understanding, and Amy gave him a Surly necklace he had been eyeing. We didn’t hear back from him by the end of the day.

This morning, we set up the table and were having our coffee when Derek Colanduno came over and pulled Amy aside as I was helping a customer. Amy came back and told me, “We’re being shut down.” Derek had told her that according to his boss, there had been another complaint that we were in violation of the fan table rules. She asked to speak with the boss, who Derek went to fetch.

A few minutes later we were approached by David Cody, who is apparently Senior Director and co-chair of the gaming division. (He didn’t identify himself but Derek gave me that name after our conversation.)

(EDIT: A few people have suggested this person was actually Robert Dennis. Because Colanduno hadn’t sounded sure when he gave me Cody’s name, I told him to get bak to me immediately if it was in fact someone else. When I heard nothing for six hours, I went ahead with the name he gave me.)

Cody pointed at Amy’s jewellery and said we could not sell anything on the table that did not carry the Skepchick logo. While we do have a few logo shirts and buttons and jewelry, most of our handmade stuff is related to science and skepticism but without garish branding.

We first tried to figure out why the rule changed from “logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your organization” to “logo merchandise only,” but Cody did not acknowledge that the rule had ever allowed for non-logo merch. Then we wondered how we’d been able to sell everything in the past but not now, but Cody(/Dennis) simply insisted we were flouting the rules. When we kept asking questions, he told us, “If you don’t like it, I can call my boss, and believe me, you do not want that to happen.”

We were confused. Was his boss a vampire? Cthulhu? We asked him if he was threatening us and if so, could he explain what the actual threat entailed. He told us we had been warned twice already by convention staff that our merchandise was in violation of the rules. We said that did not happen and as I tried to tell him about our positive interactions with his staff, he talked over me and insisted we were lying about having been warned. I told him that it didn’t even matter because I was going to pack up the table no matter what, but at this point all I wanted was for him to stop treating us like garbage and attempting to intimidate us.

After I repeated several times that I was packing up and leaving, he finally left us alone. Amy immediately changed her flight to leave today. I packed up, got some lunch, and then went to the literature track where I spoke about women in Game of Thrones before a packed and engaged crowd that lined the walls of the room and filled all the floor space right up to the lectern.

Now I’m back in my hotel room wondering if I should go to my final panel at 7pm in the Skeptrack room. On the one hand, I do these talks and panels for the DragonCon audience, who are consistently wonderful and enthusiastic. But on the other hand, I’m exhausted and frustrated from the stress of dealing with all this.

I’m an “attending professional” at DragonCon, meaning that I get a free pass to perform on panels but I’m expected to pay for my own airfare and hotel, costs that add up to be nearly $1,000. I expect to take a loss, but selling some Skepchick merchandise at least helps off-set that loss. This year, I have hardly even made a dent in my expenses.

I have essentially paid hundreds of dollars to perform for free for a for-profit organization, whose representative berated me.

That’s a big deal, especially for someone like me who lives on a blogger’s salary. It’s such a big deal that in a way it undoes all the good that was done by every other hard-working and accommodating DragonCon employee and volunteer I interacted with this weekend. It means that if things are the same next year, I won’t be able to attend DragonCon again despite the requests of the many people who apparently enjoy my contributions each year. And this is all thanks to one DragonCon employee on a power trip.

Apparently, it isn’t the first time Cody has behaved this way. Small comfort. (Same edit: crossed out in case this is actually Dennis.)

Regardless, I do want to clearly thank everyone at DragonCon who made this an amazing weekend up til now, and to all my friends on Twitter and Facebook who have my back. I truly hope that next year DragonCon officials decide my contributions are worth keeping. If not, I’ll see you all elsewhere.

Rebecca Watson: Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

View Comments

  • Sorry I've been traveling & I'm very tired. But I feel I have some pretty relevant info I'd like to put out there. My boyfriend and I were at Dragoncon and went directly to Dragoncon management to find out what happened with the Skepchick table. We spoke with Sara McKorkendale, Information Services & Tables and Robert "Bobby" Dennis, Senior Director. We believe Bobby was the same person who had told Rebecca & Amy they were breaking the rules because he used the same wording with us regarding his partner/boss Chairman Pat Henry as the person who we "DO NOT WANT TO HAVE GET INVOLVED" So to be clear, it was not David Cody.
    Anyway Bobby told us specifically they broke the rules because their merch wasn't logoed. He also claimed all merch profits must go to a nonprofit org.
    We politely pointed out the rules do not state that absolutely everything must be logoed and we quoted the rule. "You can sell logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for & by your club, band or organization"
    Right from the start Bobby was unnecessarily defensive, belligerent and rude to us. However, Sara did acknowledge the error on their part as far as the wording and they would be more clear on their wording next year.
    We then took a look around and noticed other tables in that area that were selling non-logoed items and books whose proceeds were not going to any non profit (unless you count the author's pocket as a non profit). So the crux of the issue was the arbitrary interpretation of their policy and very unprofessional manner handling the situation. I don't blame Amy or Rebecca at all for leaving after talking to this asshole. I would too.

    • Interesting.

      I wish there were some pictures floating around of the fan booths that could demonstrate how arbitrarily this rule was applied.

      • @Will
        "I wish there were some pictures floating around of the fan booths that could demonstrate how arbitrarily this rule was applied."
        I wish I had thought to take some. I spent an embarrassing amount of time (that is, more than a tenth of a second) sitting behind a Skeptic Society table taking people's money for back issues of Skeptic magazine and a whole bunch of Michael Shermer's books. The magazine was probably okay, but AFAIK those books weren't created/printed/published/distributed by the Skeptic Society. The edition of "Why People Believe Weird Things," for example, was printed by Holt Paperbacks. Michael Shermer may in large part BE the Skeptic Society, but that's not the same thing.

  • And clearly, for the sake of transparency and fairness they could not have given the Skepchicks a clear written warning detailed with exact complaints like "remove items XYZ or face being kicked out". That's called "being professional".

    • Or you could adopt the FtB model of dealing with unwanted situations at 'your party': mob aggression and banning. That appears to be an acceptable model, no? In fact Maybe DragonCon could have roving monitors sending alerts to head office of any unlogoed jewellery. Or is that a standard that doesn't apply here?

      • .....

        What does FtB have to do with this?

        Christ. You people really love bringing up things that don't belong just so you can further your agenda. It's really, really sad. And lazy as hell.

        • What DOESN'T FtB have to do with this?

          We can't get "David Cody"'s real name, because it was actually PZ in disguise. This entire thing was organized in the FtB back channels as a way to get sympathy for Rebecca and the Skepchicks. They're planning with their feminazi allies to steal ALL of the ice cream.

          (Deja vu. The last time I made a post like this, I was making fun of a 9/11 Truther)

      • Non sequitur. I notice you don't have any decent argument why that wouldn't have been a professional way to handle the situation indeed, so you just throw in some words.
        Tell me, in which way is a blog the same as aconvention?
        Did you have to put up a few hundred bucks to participate at Pharyngula which you lost when your ass was kicked? If no I thin we can just conclude that you're simply lashing out because your fee-fees were hurt at a completely different place

        • No. I find it hugely ironic to read demands for civility, written warnings and transparency from this community. Blog, convention, it's all human interaction and your standards spin like a ballarina.

          From what I have read they were told to remove specific items including the general merchandise SurleyRamics. Loss of this cash cow was the deal beaker. The narrative is also one of unilateral harassment. I don't find it plausible that RW was a pliant victim and there was no push back. But I am prepared to be corrected.

          Moreover I didn't realise RW's participation at DragonCon was predicated on it being a zero sum outlay. That would be a nice world to live in. I only saw her name on two skeptic panels (a quiz and a new media session). Just how much did she feel she was owed? I assume she extracted value from the rest of the 4 days.

          • From what I have read they were told to remove specific items including the general merchandise SurleyRamics.

            From what you've read, on Sara Mayhew's blog, who "sent out a few texts and emails" because she "wanted to hear from people who were actually there" (implying that she disbelieved Rebecca and Amy) without including any of those texts or e-mails.
            You believe Sara's version of the story (second hand) but insist that it is more accurate than Rebecca and Amy's account (first hand). You are welcome to disbelieve Rebecca and Amy's version of the story but please stop pretending it some sort of skeptical epiphany, it makes you look ridiculous.

  • My take.. both parties were wrong.

    The DragonCon reps seem to have realised that the SkepChick table was going against the spirit of the rules, but didn't have an exact rule that the table was breaking in order to shut it down. Instead of admitting that and deciding to work out a compromise they started inventing rules on the fly. This is not on. You need to recognise at that stage that your rules are badly written. You certainly shouldn't start getting annoyed and aggressive because someone is arguing the rules when your own rules are badly written.

    Saying that Rebecca and Amy were clearly going against the spirit of the rules for this area, and I don't think they had any right to start getting in the show-me-the-exact-rule-I'm-breaking nonsense. Rebecca even states she was planning on covering some of her travelling costs with this money. That is not what these tables are for. They are not to make money for anything, travelling costs or not (if Rebecca's travelling costs had already been covered she would have just have had this large amount of money from the table). If you want to sell stuff in order to make money, for what ever reason, you need to get a proper commercial table. You would hope that anyone coming to something like DragonCon comes in good faith and is willing to work with the organisers within the spirit of the convention, even if the organisers messed up with the exact phrasing of a rule. Not doing that is very bad form.

    DragonCon should have said we messed up with the exact wording of this rule but your table violates the spirit of this rule, please work with us in good faith and close it down. And Rebecca and Amy should have realised that they were violating the spirit of this law, realised that their table is not what this space is about, frankly not put it up there in the first place, but when they did have it up not start arguing the letter of the law and trying to get out of the issue on technical interpretations of the rule.

    • When an organization sends a representative to a conference for the purpose of promoting the organization, all travel costs are promotional costs. The person staffing the table is necessary to promoting the organization. This idea that they knowingly violated the spirit of the rules is clearly not true from the OP. If they knowingly did this, Rebecca would not have even mentioned that she hopes to recoup some of her travel costs. So I don't know if your accusation is malicious or obtuse, but I do know it is flat-out untrue.

      And your implication that this spirit is somehow an obvious given is also clearly not true considering how many fan tables were also apparently breaking this rule and have been for years. That you think this spirit should be obvious is understandable. But that doesn't make it so.

    • "That is not what these tables are for. They are not to make money for anything, travelling costs or not (if Rebecca’s travelling costs had already been covered she would have just have had this large amount of money from the table)."

      Except if you're travelling to a convention in order to promote Skepchick, in which case, using money made at a convention table for the purposes of promoting Skepchick would be an acceptable use of... money made at a convention intended for the promotion of Skepchick. A free table provides good exposure to the group and content to the convention/attendees, but what does that have to do with how that group pays to attend for that exposure? That's not against the spirit of the rules at all. It's really damn common for organizations to pay for their volunteers or employees to attend promotional functions.

      It sounds like Dragon*Con was looking for a reason to boot Skepchick for reasons unrelated to what Skepchick was selling, and so they used a loophole in their own rules to do so. Even if Rebecca or Amy or anyone in charge at the Skepchick table was reacting poorly to the interactions -- which would be understandable, given the actual wording of the rule in question -- how does that at all excuse the convention's response to these supposed complaints?

      Vendors (and panelists) are treated like absolute crap by a lot of conventions "they're such assholes, acting like entitled divas!" -- at least the ones around here. Usually, the problem comes from a failure on the part of the convention to actually communicate to the rest of staff (up and down the chain of command) and participants *any* clarification or changes made before a convention even starts, much less during the event itself. There is also breakdown in communication between staff heads and the people who manage tables for specialty tracks, and those managers of specialty track frequently make exceptions without making sure it's okay or even passing those along the relevant information to whoever needs it. And yet, the people who head up the vendors' hall act like vendors and other participants there are completely in the wrong for getting upset at how they're treated when convention staff shunt all responsibility onto them.

      @Christopher Becker: this isn't a court of law, and we're certainly not talking moral or safety laws. Vendors are "responsible for knowing and abiding by the rules" does not hold legal weight except where contractual obligation applies; conventions are responsible for conveying and enforcing their own rules, though they still cannot violate discrimination laws in the process. Conventions can make exceptions to their own rules if they choose to do so (at their own expense), and apparently, they have either done so for Skepchick in the past or simply changed their own rule this year in order to selectively apply it to Skepchick. It is the convention's responsibility to rectify their mistakes, not the participant's responsibility to know when an unclear rule (hah!) has been violated or an exception has been suspended without warning.

      • @moonglaive Making money at the convention is not my issue. Rebecca or Amy can use the money they make any way they want, that is no ones business. The point is that making money is not the purpose of the fan tables, and goes against the spirit of the fan tables. The fan tables are not for making money, to cover travel expenses or any other running costs of an organisation. The fan tables are there to give a group a chance to promote themselves to those attending the conference, and are given by DragonCon to organisations for free in order to do that. If you are there to sell to make money you should have a vendor table. What you do with that money is none of DragonCon's business.

        • "The point is that making money is not the purpose of the fan tables, and goes against the spirit of the fan tables."

          Says who? And why? What "spirit" of attending a convention also stipulates that no funds can be raised by an organization through providing related goods for that organization? How is that at all against "the spirit of the rules"? The "spirit of the rules" has to do with keeping specialty track tables from competing with vendors. That does not mean that specialty track tables can't sell anything, but that they cannot sell the same items that would be sold by vendors, like general merchandise. Hand-made goods are not general merchandise, and this is why some conventions also provide cheaper space explicitly for artists or fan groups to promote and sell their work as well.

          • @moonglaive This is the way most conferences are run. The fan tables are provided for free and without DragonCon expecting any payment for being there. In return the conference expects that organisations do not abuse this offer by setting up to make money out of being there. Contrast this with the vendors, who have to pay for the space they use, precisely because they are there to make money. No one said you cannot sell anything at these fan tables, I already gave example of where I sold at a fan table. The point is not to be there to be making money, but to be promoting your organisation or club.

            @punchdrunk I agree the rules are badly written. But I also think it would be very difficult to write a T&C to cover every circumstance without getting into the territory of an Apple document. What would be great is if organisations could go to events like this without the need for pages long iron glad T&C and just follow the spirit of why things like fan tables exist.

          • I think they were following the spirit of the agreement. You can sell your group's merch to promote and benefit your non-profit enterprise. No commercial, for profit, or mass produced items. That's the spirit I'm seeing. The spirit of DIY geeky nonprofits.

        • If the fan tables were there solely for promotion and making money were against the spirit of their purpose, then all of the merch on those tables would have to be given away. Free promotional material, nothing for sale. But sales are allowed by the rules, so your interpretation makes no sense to me.

          • She said she wanted to recoup SOME of her costs, NOT ALL. And if you're selling things, you are making money. You can't sell things and not make money.

          • "If the fan tables were there solely for promotion and making money were against the spirit of their purpose, then all of the merch on those tables would have to be given away."

            Why? It is perfectly possible to sell merch at a fan table without being there to making money. For example, my gaming clan often sells badges at cost at events like this (never been to DragonCon, but the concept of fan tables is universal). We want people wearing our badges, we weren't trying to make money for our hotels or our plane tickets, so why make money from the merch.

            To clarify I don't have any issue at all if Rebecca wants to be making money to cover her travel expenses, or make money for Skepchick. But that is what the vendor tables are for, making money.

          • But but but! The spiriti of the rules! You must interpert the spirit of the rules when the rules are already poorly written.

            They keep repeating "spirit" as if it actually means something in this context. It really just means "I interpreted it this way, why didn't you?!"

        • Except, according their own rules you can sell logos merchandise or those made by or for the group as long as the profits go to a non-profit. (which they did)
          What you seem to be implying (correct me if I'm wrong) is that organizations that have free fan tables can only give away things, which is contrary to what the rules actually say.
          The rules are poorly written and I see no reason that the interpretation that Rebecca and Amy had of the rules could not be correct, especially when they were allowed in previous years. The rules could be interpreted either way and appear to have been by Dragon*Con itself.

          • @Penny.Jenny
            If they were there simply there to make money I would agree, but they were there representing Skepchick (i.e. promoting a non-profit). These organizations are allowed to sell promotional materials, yet the definition of promotional material is so poorly defined that anything without a great big Skepchick stamp could be interpreted as violating the rules, even though non-branded merch is allowed per the same ill-defined rules. What the orgs do with that money should not be Dragon*Con's business (it would be the business of the IRS if it violates non-profit rules, but not the con) and even if it were, paying for your representatives to be live at the con in no way violates the "spirit" of the rules as far as I can see.

            The truth is the con got a complaint and sent a rep over to talk to Skepchick about it, at which point it seemed to be addressed. Later the con said they had another complaint and started rules-lawyering one table while ignoring other tables that had similar items (according to others accounts).
            They broke the rules and the con was within its rights to ask them to shut it down, it's just that the way they went about it was not conducive to further participation from Skepchick.
            But then maybe that was the idea, who knows.

          • So the rules aren't clear and are hard to understand, but you expect people to spychically pick up the "spirit of the rules" from a really poorly written set of rules?

            That's ASKING for trouble, because people may interpret the "spirit" of the rules differently.

            Rules should be clearly written. The "spirit' of the rules would be irrelevant if the RULES HAD BEEN CLEARLY WRITTEN FROM THE GET GO.

          • "Except, according their own rules you can sell logos merchandise or those made by or for the group as long as the profits go to a non-profit. (which they did)"

            Which is because their own rules are badly written. Which is why I was saying that Rebecca and Amy (and anyone else attending a conference like this) should consider the spirit of the rules, not just the technical language. They certainly shouldn't try and circumvent the spirit of the rules simply because they are poorly written. Unless people want to be reading a T&C as long as one from Apple any conference is going to rules that leave open loopholes. People should go along to a conference like DragonCon in good faith, particularly when it comes to facilities like the fan tables which are designed for the promotion of clubs and societies, with a division between that promotion and commercial activities. The fan table section clearly is not for money making, and any organisation in the fan table section should be mindful of that.

            "What you seem to be implying (correct me if I’m wrong) is that organizations that have free fan tables can only give away things, which is contrary to what the rules actually say."

            What I'm saying is that organisations that have free fan tables should be there to promote their organisation, not make money to cover the cost of being there or for anything else. The rules allow for the selling of mechanising to promote the organisation and again the spirit is to do this as part of promoting the organisation, not to make money for the organisation from the selling of mechanise.

            "The rules are poorly written and I see no reason that the interpretation that Rebecca and Amy had of the rules could not be correct, especially when they were allowed in previous years. The rules could be interpreted either way and appear to have been by Dragon*Con itself."

            I agree with you entirely that the rules are poorly written, but the spirit of the rules is clearly not to allow tables in the fan section set up for money making. That is why they have a vendor section. If you want to make money from DragonCon you should get a vendor table.

  • I purchase vendor booths and tables for my art all the time. I also get free tables at conventions very often due to my participation. I am happy to do whatever is required of me depending on the situation. I am not out to break any rules. IN THIS CASE, I had participated and had my art available for sale on the Skepchick Fan table at Dragon Con for 4 years in a row. I also participated in the Skeptrack during that time both on stage and off. I helped with vaccine clinics and other promotional events tied to the Skeptic Track and the con. There was no reason for me to assume this year would be any different. I was there to promote the Skepchick Blog Network and to encourage critical thinking and to help promote Cosmo Quest. BUT, however you want to slice it up, this year we were treated very, very rudely, unnecessarily. If I had thought I had to be in the vendor room ALL OF A SUDDEN after four years of participating in the EXACT same way, I would have certainly considered doing that, or simply not attended or attended and not lugged all my art with me. At least I would have been given an opportunity to make a decision .

    I find it so disheartening that so many self-proclaimed "skeptics" are happy to ignore or invent their own facts just so they can hate us and assume that we have the worst intentions, regardless of the situation, no matter what we do. You people are awful (you know who you are) and your unbridled hate and cynicism, if left unchecked will ruin what is left of the skeptic community. Skeptics should want to HELP other people and help make the world a kinder, more just place otherwise the movement is nothing more then self-congratulatory I-figured-out psychics-aren't-real BS. And if THAT is what it is going to be about, then I can certainly find better things to do with my time and other things to promote with my art.

    • "I find it so disheartening that so many self-proclaimed “skeptics” are happy to ignore or invent their own facts just so they can hate us and assume that we have the worst intentions, regardless of the situation, no matter what we do."

      The facts:

      - The people at the Skepchick table did not know the rules.
      - The people at the Skepchick table broke the rules.
      - In writing about it, Watson left out several relevant details.
      - Watson named the wrong person.

      The skeptic community is not here to act as your shoulder to cry on, Amy. The only thing skeptics have any obligation to do is BE SKEPTICAL. Even the laziest critical eye aimed at this story can see the holes in it, and can see the obvious attempt of Watson to play the part of the victim while quietly sweeping any details that point to her responsibility in this debacle under the rug.

      Skepticism is not about blindly following the leaders because they're yelling super loud right now and they really really need some support. Skepticism is about questioning everyone, and everything. You and Watson are not exempt from this.

      • Why are you still fucking arguing about this?

        You've so conveniently ignored other people in this thread who have said that the rules were applied arbitrarily as other tables were selling stuff that was "agains the rules." Further, no one--not even Rebecca--has denied that they were selling things that were not allowed by the rules. THAT. IS. NOT. THE. ISSUE. The issue is the way that Rebecca and Amy were treated by a staff member and the arbitrary application of the rules to Skepchick's table and not to others.

        So cut the "I'M A SKEPTIC I CHALLENGE EVERYTHING" bullshit, because the only thing you're challenging is people's patience.

        • He's still arguing because he clearly believes that when women (or just Skepchicks) are mistreated, that they must have it drilled into them that they were asking for it, that unless they were perfect, they deserve any abuse they get. And if they are not perfect and have the gall to point out the mistreatment publicly, that they are then asking for more mistreatment, from people like him, who want to belittle them and make sure they understand that their imperfection is far more important than the targeting and verbal abuse they received.

          Really, guys, all he's asking for is that Rebecca and Amy acknowledge that they deserve verbal abuse and then STFU. Is that too much to ask?

  • @marilove I didn't say she was trying to recoup her entire costs. She says in the blog post that she expected to make a loss, but hoped that the merch could help off set the loss. Her entire costs were reported to be $1,000, if she is making any dent in that bill from the merch we are talking about a not insignificant amount of money. The fan tables were not set up and given to organisations so they can make hundreds of dollars from being at DragonCon. Some of the vendors would probably think that making that much money was a good day, and would wonder why they are paying DragonCon for the privilege of being there if the fan tables can make that much money.

    • You're also not addressing the fact that they've been doing this for FOUR YEARS, and it's been fine up until now.

      IF the rules had changed, shouldn't DragonCon have let people know? The smaller conventions I'm part of in the PNW do. If there is a change to vendor/fan table policy, then they mention it in the newsletter, as well as the vendor/fan table reps telling people in person, via email when they get their applications, face to face... Seriously, by the time the con rolls around you're sick to death of hearing about how the vendor policy changed, or something else.

      So what we have here is Rebecca and Amy behaving in a manner with a four year precedent, with no notice that the situation may have changed, and no indication from anyone at DragonCon that this is a NEW rule. And suddenly, they're in violation, while behaving the exact same way they've behaved for the PAST FOUR YEARS. And that doesn't merit even an acknowledgement from you?

      • "And that doesn’t merit even an acknowledgement from you?"

        I acknowledged that in my original post. Like I said in that post DragonCon's handling of the situation has been particularly poor, and they had no technical grounds for shutting down Rebecca and Amy's table. I assume they didn't have any technical grounds for the last 4 years either and no one noticed the issue until someone (probably a vendor) complained to the staff.

    • Making a few hundred dollars over the course of 4 days for a table that cost them $1000 just to rent (let alone their travel and hotel) would not in fact be considered a great (four) days for a dealer room merchant, especially if in addition to staffing their table all day they also had to spend three to five hours performing on stage while at the event.

      Nice try, though.

      • Yes that was the point. Vendors pay a lot for the privilege of selling at DragonCon. They pay for the space, even down the electricity as far as I can tell. If after all that they walked away with a few hundred dollars I think some of the smaller vendors would think "success". On the other hand the fan tables don't have any of those costs, if you make 300 bucks selling merch you keep all that yourself, no money has to be paid to DragonCon for access to the space to sell merch. For the privilege of having space to promote to attendees for free you are expected not to be using that space to make money. If you want to make money from being at a conference you should be in the vendor area and going through all the same costs everyone else who is there to make money goes through.

        • PennyJenny, this was a significant logic fail.

          Vendors walk in with hotel, travel and table fees as their costs. They want to recoup all of that, PLUS make a profit--that's why they are there. So they need far, far more than 'a few hundred' over the cost of the table alone to consider themselves to have had a good business reason to be there.

          Amy and Rebecca were using the fan-table sales to offset the cost of their hotel and travel, as representatives of Skepchick. The funds were thus being used directly to support their organization--which is the 'spirit of the rules'. They were not expecting to make a profit above those costs, merely to, in essence, give their organization an effective discount (or, more accurately, a rebate of variable value).

          • Can you please stop with this "spirit of the rules" bullshit? Rules by their very nature should be objective, not vague and easy to manipulate the meaning of. HOLY CRAP.

            Can you at least define "spirit of the rules" for us -- and perhaps start by defining "spirit". What do you MEAN by that?

            Stop with this vague bullshit. Rules should be clearly written, and consistently applied.

            Are you sure you're a skeptic? Because using the word SPIRIT over and over and over and over again is a decidedly UN-skeptical thing to do.

            You just keep repeating that phrase over and over and over again as if it has some sort of specific meaning, when it does not.

          • Sigh. I've already dealt with all these points. The spirit of the rules is not to make money to support your organisation. The spirit of the rules is to allow you to promote your organisation to attendees. That is why you get the table for free. All the vendors are trying to cover their costs as well, but DragonCon don't say we will just take some of your profits.

            Anyway, as posts below say all this discussion over the rules is a bit academic given that the real issue is that Rebecca and Amy were verbally attacked by a DragonCon volunteer. What I'm interested in now is what is happening to this volunteer, what action DragonCon are taking.

        • A lot of this rhetoric in support of DragonCon seems to be based on the idea that Rebecca and Amy are complaining about not being allowed to sell their stuff. It seems to me that when a rep asked them to remove an item they did so willfully. It seems to me that the issue here is DragonCon acting inconsistently, making up a third warning and treating them like garbage. I don't see how the whole discussion about paid vendors needing every dollar justifies any of that. It would only justify having rules about what you can sell in the fan tables*, but it doesn't justify having organization issues that make the enforcement of those rules inconsistent to the point it causes confusion nor it would justify treating people terribly about it unless the people were actively making an effort to break those rules.

          *I would speculate that DragonCon has the fan tables for a good reason. They want to use them as a benefit and motivation to make people have less trouble participating in the convention. And in the case of Skepchick, it worked fine for 4 years.

          • To clarify I'm not supporting DragonCon. Reading Rebecca's blog post I didn't think much of their mishandling of this situation and reading Melaine's post I think even less. A staff member verbally assaulting Rebecca and Amy is absolutely disgraceful behaviour that DragonCon board need to deal with very promptly and harshly. That staff member should be kicked out of the organisation and barred from attending future conferences.

  • Much of this comment thread has been a massive derail from the actual point of this post, and I have participated in that derailing, so I'm done with talking about the completely irrelevant to the point discussion of the rules and whether they broke them and if so how much and when they'll post bail.

    The point is this: They were targeted and verbally abused. That is a serious issue. That is THE issue here. They aren't playing the victim. They were targeted. There isn't a line to cross in regard to the rules that puts them at fault for being targeted and verbally abused. That is solely the fault of the people targeting and verbally abusing them. Period. They don't deserve to be targeted and abused for breaking rules.

    If the rules were really the issue here, they would have had a problem with the first guy who spoke to them about it. They didn't. Just the opposite.

    They have a problem with being targeted and verbally abused. So do I. If you don't, please go work out your sorry ethical priorities elsewhere. Trying to find some way to put part or all of the blame on them for being verbally abused is fucked up. Stop it.

    • Damn straight! And they were not just verbally abused by some random stranger. They were verbally abused by the staff at an event they've helped promote for years! Staff that should've thought of them as being on the same side. This ENTIRE interaction could've ended positively with a response as simple as, "I'm really sorry. Officially, everything has to have a logo. I know the rules are confusing written, but that really is the policy. I know you feel singled out, but we have to enforce the rules whenever there's a report."

      • Well, if anything bad happens to Rebecca or another Skepchick, ever, no matter what, it is incumbent upon the dudebros and chill girls of the internet to find SOME way in which it is their fault. Especially Rebecca, of course.

        At least, that seems to be the prevailing opinion among the sort of people who think "make me a sandwich" is the height of comedy...

  • If I may...
    "WisCon is the first and foremost feminist science fiction convention in the world. WisCon encourages discussion, debate and extrapolation of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class. WisCon honors writers, editors and artists whose work explores these themes and whose voices have opened new dimensions and territory in these issues. And, oh yes, we also like to have fun while we're at it."

  • @marilove This is hardly the time or place to educate you as to what the common term "spirit of the rules/law" means (hint, nothing to do with spirituality). If by chance you are genuinely interested start here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_and_spirit_of_the_law

    And I'm not interested in continuing to debate what I said. If you think this was following the spirit of the rules fine, I have already explained why I don't and frankly I don't care to keep repeating the same points, particularly given the far more serious issue of the verbal abuse. So if you want to just shout at someone pick someone else please.

  • Coming to this very late, and not having read every comment, I'll just toss in some DragonCon observations from a slightly different point of view.

    Years ago, it became clear to the dealers and exhibitors that unless you were paying the con lots of money (as in, a lot more than just nominal booth or table fees), your opinions and needs were pretty much irrelevant. Spaces in the old dealer room downstairs at the Marriott Marquis had always suffered from a lack of adequate aisle space to permit the fans to safely browse (and be able to safely exit the room in an emergency, according to the standards posted online by the fire marshalls), and dealers who had the misfortune to be positioned in the far back reaches of the room were inevitably doomed to a nonprofit weekend. Upstairs, in the exhibit hall, things were more professional for a long time - until someone in a high place decided that they needed to add more booths, at which point some pinch points developed that caused illegally dense crowding which the con staff refused to recognize or make accommodations for without threatening to throw out the dealer who was complaining.

    By 2007, the response to ANY complaint devolved to "If you don't like it, leave. We don't need you, and we can fill your space instantly because there are 400 people on the waiting list." But things didn't get truly abysmal until 2013, when the dealer and exhibitor spaces were moved to a different building, across Peachtree Street, in a location that could only be reached from street level and required a walk of a minimum of two blocks from any of the Marquis function spaces. In that new space, it became clear that their attitude toward the dealers and exhibitors was essentially one of utter contempt. The layout of the space was rife with pinch points in the traffic flow, had woefully inadequate exits, and lacked a great deal of needed signage to inform the attendees of where things were (and dealer-made signage was immediately torn down if outside the dealer's own space). To make matters worse, the facility had no cellular access capability, which meant that the vendors couldn't run debit cards in debit mode at all, and couldn't run credit card transactions in realtime - a bonanza for anyone intent on credit card fraud. But the problems didn't even *start* there. The access to that facility for bringing in the dealers' and exhibitors' equipment and merchandise was so limited that some were not able to get theirs in via the loading dock at all, and ended up parking in a nearby garage and hauling in their material on hand carts from as much as a block and a half away. Loading out was even worse; some were not able to get access to the loading-out area due to the congestion spawned by the lack of capacity, and ended up having to pay Freeman to carry their stuff out of the building when they were unable to effect their exit before Noon of the day following the end of the con - despite having been packed up and ready to load since as early as 7PM of the day before.

    Did DragonCon make any statements giving any indication that they would be addressing this problem? Not to my knowledge, however they *did* announce that they would *increasing* the number of vendor booths for 2014 by expanding up to the *third* floor of that facility. I cannot see how they expect *even more* dealers and exhibitors to get in and out of that location when they were already past the maximum that could be accommodated via the existing portals, and I have no confidence whatsoever that they care about or intend to address that situation or any of the other issues that have been dogging the vendors. From what I have heard from those who were selling at DragonCon in 2013, the typical sales drop (attributed to a variety of reasons which all amount to "the customers weren't coming by in the kind of numbers you expect for DragonCon") was between 40 and 60% from the year before. If they're expanding the number of vendors for 2014, then the same number of customer dollars will get spread even more thinly.

    DragonCon's price for booth space was high by comparison to the value available to the typical dealer all along. When you take a sharp drop in customer access into account, it's really hard to justify the expense at all. Some of the dealers will doubtless tough it out and hope that the meager or absent profits of the four years that DC has contracted for this location will be repaid when they - hopefully! - move to a "better" location afterwards. But will they? If DragonCon actually valued the presence of their dealers and exhibitors, they wouldn't be shafting them so brazenly now; I see no reason to think that their attitude in the future will be any more appreciative. And, perhaps more importantly, i don't see any reason why anyone should be surprised when the same kind of attitude is in evidence in other parts of the organization. They're become insensitive to all criticism, and appear focused entirely on one thing: This year's bottom line. They seem to think that anything that does not make money for them is irrelevant, and all assets are replaceable. It's classic Big Business methodology in action; even the customers seem to be regarded as an inexhaustible pool of maximally-fleeceable and disposable warm bodies.

    Frankly, I, for one, will not be a vendor there in the future unless things change drastically. (I haven't been one under my own name in more than a decade, but I've been working for one off and on, but that one has scaled their presence back to avoid taking an unacceptable loss, so I'll be doing other events instead.)