Jan 13

Tech Conferences and Political Statements

While at CodeMash last week I was surprised to see an extremely political t-shirt being worn by someone at one of the Sponsor’s booths. I am a firm believer in Free Speech, however the sight was disconcerting — to my mind CodeMash is a place for technical sharing and discourse. Their Code of Conduct states:

CodeMash is dedicated to providing an outstanding conference experience for all our attendees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, financial status, hair color (or hair amount), platform preference, or text editor of choice.

We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form, and we would like to take this opportunity to remind all attendees of the basic premise CodeMash was founded on: passionate, but respectful dialog between our attendees. Please treat your fellow attendees with respect, regardless of the context you’re interacting with each other.

Arguments regarding the merits of vi over emacs I would expect; in fact I participated in one. Discussions of .Net or Java, ember or angular, peanut butter or chocolate (or peanut butter in chocolate). Even if some of these can be called ‘Holy Wars’, all of these are to be expected and welcomed as they promote dialog and understanding. Sometimes the “arguments” have even degraded to the state of jest or loyal opposition and it’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree respectfully.

The shirt, in question, espoused a rather partisan viewpoint which I perceived as inflammatory in nature. I have asked myself whether my reaction is, in part, a reflection of my own political views. It’s part of why I’ve taken as long as I have to put my thoughts together on this topic. After much consideration, I would say it is not — I believe that political statements on either side of the spectrum are not appropriate.

I’ve come to the conclusion that politics are a very divisive topic and as such they can distract from the atmosphere of an organization — whether it be workplace or a conference. The place at which I work has a policy against political discussions; I think that there’s a good bit of wisdom in such. Moreover, were I to be in a position to represent my employer, I would not want to espouse any political views — unless I work for a political organization. It is just too divisive. Additionally it provides the impression that my employer tacitly approves of my political statement — whether they do or not, that is the impression given by such publicly visible statements by representatives of a company.

I’ve spoken, generally, with others about this — not mentioning any names — and received some interesting feedback. In general, the majority were in agreement with me. Some people said that they knew which sponsor I was alluding to and that they’d chosen not speak with them based upon the message of the shirt. Others, who were not present, said that they’d rather see such statements — it tells them from the beginning whether or not they will feel comfortable interacting with the company.

For me, the bottom line is that I’m a firm believer in Free Speech. However, the right of Free Speech does have limits. Certain types of speech are not appropriate in certain situations or environments, such as when creating safe space or a learning environment. Likewise, the responsibility of representing an organization limits what I may or may not say. So, while the person was within their rights to do so, I don’t think it was an appropriate venue for doing so. Nor can I say whether or not the message would have been one condoned by their company.

1 comment

  1. Wayne Shingler

    This reminds me of a couple who used to vend at some of the same farmers markets I did. One could be forgiven for not knowing the name of their business, as their booth was always dominated by a huge banner that said, “JESUS IS LORD,” and nothing else. I heard from a number of visitors who were made so uncomfortable by that sign that they avoided that booth altogether. Some people just don’t know how or when to compartmentalize.

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