Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WAM! final thoughts...

So, I already talked about the sessions I attended, but I wanted to take one more post to talk about the rest of the conference, because, honestly, the sessions are just one piece of the conference. The other, equally important, part is the networking and keynotes.

And, oh, what keynotes they were! Helen Thomas (Patron Saint of Not Shutting Up!) opened the conference on Friday with a funny and critical discussion about the ways that the media does (or does not) hold the president accountable. For the most part, it was a pretty good speech. She's got a good sense of humor, and has six decades of experience and stories about her work to talk about. She talked about the struggles of breaking into journalism when it was still closed off from women, and she talked about the obligation journalists have to keep an eye on the government. And how many mainstream journalists have been failing that obligation.

At one point she did make the claim that racism is more verboten than sexism in our society, which, um... no. I have to admit that I cringed at that. I just don't like to see/hear claims that sex trumps race trumps gender identity trumps sexuality, etc. She was also a very strong supporter of Clinton, and made it clear that, for her, the fact that this is a viable woman candidate is enough for her to cast her vote. My impression, however, wasn't that she was interested in criticizing supporters of Obama. She made it very clear that she actually thinks that debate and disagreement between Obama and Clinton is a good thing. She repeated asked "What's wrong" with division or debate or disagreement.

There was also a really touching moment where a Lebanese woman thanked Thomas for her work, and talked about how much it meant to her and her family that a Lebanese woman was working the Press Corps. I don't know about any one else, but it was really moving to see this woman, who seemed on the verge of tears, talking about what a tremendous impact it made in her life to see someone who looked like herself covering the president. She said that her whole family would come running to watch whenever Thomas was on. It was really moving.

The second keynote was delivered by Haifa Zangana, and was incredibly powerful. Zangana was tortured under Saddam's regime, and has been an outspoken critic of that dictatorship for a long time, but she discussed the many ways in which Iraq is crumbling under the weight of the current occupation. She discussed the rampant poverty and unemployment that has been created by the war, and how the infrastructure of the country has all but been destroyed. I have extensive notes on her speech (at home, of course.*sigh*).

In a speech filled with sad and disturbing facts about what life is like in Iraq now, it was really upsetting to hear a woman who was detained and tortured by Saddam's forces say that, for most Iraqis, life was actually better under Saddam's rule. When you hear about children being detained in imprisoned by American forces, and you hear about people not knowing what has happened to their loved ones- have they been killed? Detained? Trapped somewhere? For many Iraqi citizens, there's no way of knowing. And then you hear about the millions who've been displaced or fled the country, and I don't know how you can feel anything but upset about the situation.

At the end of her speech, Zangana requested that, instead of straight Q&A, people talk about and pitch ideas for change. She was really interested in hearing what kinds of ideas people had for how we could all work together to improve the situation. She made it clear that she was looking for ways to stand together, not for ways that Americans could give charity.

I believe that Zangana's speech was recorded, and should be out there in the interwebs somewhere. I'm going to look around for it, and see if I can find it or a transcript of it, because it really was a pretty amazing speech.

In addition to the keynotes, one of the most exciting parts of the conference was getting a chance to network and meet so many amazing people. I'm a pretty avid blog reader, and, I'm happy to admit, I think of some writers as being sort of like celebs. I think of them the same way I'd think of meeting a novelist I really like, for example. Which is both amazing, weird, and funny.

On Sunday, after the conference was over, I was hanging around the lunch area, saying goodbye to a few people, and just sort of hanging out. As I'm standing there, a woman walks up to me and says something like (as close as I can remember) "Hi, you're Roy from No Cookies, right? I'm Amber- I don't know if you know know who I am, but I read your blog and I think it's really great." Which was awesome, because it's great to meet someone that reads you. And I started thinking, Amber... Amber... I can't think of any of my regular commenters who go by Amber... And then, all of the sudden, she says something, and it hits me... Amber Rhea!

So. Awesome.

There were moments like that all through the weekend, too. There were so many people there whose writing I read on a regular basis, and whose work I really respect. Like I said the other day, I met Nadia Ann Abou-Karr, which was really cool. I've been excited about the Allied Media Conference being in Detroit since I heard about it last year. I met Latoya Peterson during my session, and got a chance to talk with her a bit afterwards. Oh, and Nancy Gruver, who founded New Moon Girl Media magazine, introduced herself to me during one of the receptions (I'm getting business cards now, I swear!). I got to hang out with Lisa Jervis. I finally got a chance to meet and talk with Jill and Holly, was introduced to Ann and Jessica and "Tech Goddess" Deanna Zandt. Did I mention Derek? And those were just the people I met whose work I was already really familiar with. I can't even begin to list all of the amazing journalists and writers that I met.

Which is all to say, I'm completely blown away by how incredibly awesome the conference was. Three days of learning from amazing and talanted feminists. Three days of networking with really interesting and motivated people who've been busting their asses to make change. It was really, really great to attend a conference where, as Lisa Jervis put it, you don't have to try and explain your politics to everyone. You know, when you're at WAM!, that most of the people there are, if not on the same page, at least reading the same book- we agree that there are problems with the mainstream media, and that sexism is still a problem, and that we need to do something about it. It was easily the most important and informative conference I've ever attended. Aboslutely brilliant.

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