[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]
5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?
While there certainly is an ideological appeal in an all-volunteer organization, it has become obvious that we are outgrowing our current structure. And yet it is difficult to select whose work should be paid and whose shouldn’t. Unlike most established non-profits that have paid and unpaid workers, our staffers often work at least part-time jobs for the org, which makes choosing whom to pay difficult. And yet as a feminist organization that employs a majority of women, the issue of unpaid labor is certainly of vital importance.
I was extremely pleased that we hired a contractor for the Archive, because it is clearly the one org project that is the most used by fans and, for many, the central purpose of the OTW. Where some of us do quite similar work in our paid and org work (Legal and Journal) and others enjoy fannishly contributing when they can, Archive coding certainly profits from having a dedicated coder for an extended amount of time. Going forward, I think we need to consider our finances and needs but hope we can move into the direction where we can hire more necessary contractors, if not employees. This is particularly crucial in areas where we may not have volunteers who are professionals in a given field (say, Finance) but which we need for the org to remain sustainable.
6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?
The OTW Board has two functions as I see it, (1) to assure the long-term goals of the organization, which requires that it interacts extensively and productively within the org, and (2) to represent the organization and its mission to the public. In both, the Board is supported by various committees: Volunteers & Recruiting is vital to our internal organizational structure, and Board needs to work closely with them when helping for struggling committees. Given our focus on establishing and implementing org-wide goals, this may also include the events when two or more committees are asked to work together closely to assure project success.
The latter is even more multi-faceted and the Board is helped by both the Communications and the Development and Membership committees. The former is our official voice that mostly is geared toward fans and, as such, includes OTW members that are neither staffers nor volunteers. The recent Board has sped up the process by which all minutes are released, and the monthly newsletter has updates of nearly all projects. Personally, I’d like to ask committees to expand their individual contributions to increase awareness of the different committees and their achievements–both for staffers and for all members. The latter has been working on clearer guidelines and support for fan conventions and conferences, which will be yet another way to connect members with one another and, potentially, the Board.
7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.
That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?
Fandom has provided a haven for outsiders in all kinds of ways, but it has never been immune to racism. Even with fans speaking up and sharing their experiences, it has taken too long to make race and ethnicity a central issue and to address the ways white fans can help create an environment that does not make fans of color feel unsafe or unwelcome. It’s important to create a more inclusive community where people are heard and understood, where fans can share their fannish interests without fear of attacks on their identities. Fandom and academic fan studies have finally begun to talk more about race and become more conscious of the casual racism existing in our communities in order to create safer spaces, but we still need to do much more.
OTW was founded by a group of primarily white US women, and it can only serve all of fandom if it recognizes and challenges the biases that come with that. AO3 launched in the aftermath of some major rounds of fannish debate over warnings and over racial bias (RaceFail09). Concerns over warnings were reflected in the infrastructure of AO3, where the combination of mandatory warning labels and free-form tags allows both free expression and informed consent. The issues that surfaced in RaceFail haven’t been similarly addressed, but perhaps they could be. Fandoms often establish common tagging conventions, such as spoiler tags on Tumblr or podfic lengths on AO3. We should come together as a community to establish best practices for tagging problematic content, and OTW should support those within the scope of the AO3 TOS. As an organization and as members of fandom, we should strive for a genuinely diverse community within the org and in fandom, making decisions and working through conflict with openness and without defensiveness.
8. You mention that retention of volunteers should be a key focus for the OTW. I know you said there isn’t an easy fix to this problem, and that it is something that will need working at, but do you have any preliminary ideas for things the OTW could do to tackle it? Do you think the solutions to this problem need to be implemented on an Org-wide level, or at an individual committee level?
Retention is an org-wide problem but specific causes and solutions may differ widely among committees. Where a larger committee may need to optimize its recruitment process (as Translation has done) in order to remain viable in the face of natural depletion, a smaller committee might need to foreground interpersonal contact so as to assure a good work environment. Where one committee may need to specify and delegate specific jobs, another committee may need to create sufficient redundancy so as to allow one volunteer to easily substitute for another. Different committees in the OTW have very different organizational structures and needs, and any plan for volunteer retention must take these into account.
At the same time, none of this can work if we do not have the org-wide structures in place. Thankfully, Volunteers & Recruiting has worked hard to establish unified guidelines so that all staffers and volunteers have similar access to tools and information regardless of which committee they volunteer for. Likewise, it has streamlined the recruitment process to allow committees to easily put out call for volunteers. Also, our new communication interfaces has allowed org members to more easily talk to one another and meet others across the org. Part professional, part social, the tool allows members to participate more easily but also to share fannish interests and get to know others as fans and not just as OTW staff or volunteer. Feeling part of a community and being able to easily reach Board members and members from other committees can keep members more engaged and involved, which should help retention.