The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

Geek.Kon and the ZRC: The Whole Story

I’ve hesitated to write this post about our ill-fated attendance at Geek.kon all week, despite interested parties, Zombie Allies and dear friends asking about it in the intervening time, because the ZRC is about positive change, working toward a brighter tomorrow for the Living and Undead alike. We don’t like burning bridges.

But, as longtime Zombie Ally Michelle Hartz pointed out to me via email, the bridge in question was already burned, from the other side, by Geek.Kon, so we have neither anything to lose nor any excuse for not telling the truth and warning other potential attendees (and even more so, potential charity auction donors) about what happened to us last weekend.

So here’s the long version, behind the cut:

This all started last week on the ZRC blog, although I first learned of it via my email client because that’s how I find out when people are talking on the blog. A strange, somewhat incoherent and semi-anonymous comment was left on a very old blog post attacking the ZRC for attending a Zombie political rally last April.

However, rude as it was, this comment wasn’t threatening in any way, so I didn’t bother to look into who had left it. Some angry and probably Anti-Zombie type had found us on the internet and been displeased. C’est la Zombie Rights.

It wasn’t until that evening that an alert ZRC follower on Twitter informed us that we were being attacked on the very same issue by apparently the very same individual, now identified as one Peter Zimmer, on the Geek.Kon Facebook wall.

Yes, apparently we’re a hate group.

(you can see the whole conversation from Facebook, later deleted by someone, here)

Zimmer was, in fact, so sputteringly furious that we had said unkind things about Governor Walker at some point in the past that he wanted us thrown out of the convention, or else to receive a refund himself.

I was flabbergasted. This has never happened to the ZRC before. Never. Not even when we had a booth to sell things and protest at Famous Monsters of Filmland’s convention, where their big guest of honor event was a room full of Romero/Russo film alumni. Not only had no one *ever* demanded that the ZRC be blocked from attending a convention before, no one had ever even objected to our presence at any public event.

Not even on those occasions when we picket films being shown at film festivals!

And yet, here we were, a couple of nights before Geek.Kon, having to fend off some pretty unhinged rhetoric. I was actually quite concerned on the whole subject, until receiving, in writing via both email and comment here on the ZRC blog, word that not only were we not being asked to leave, that the ZRC was ‘welcome’ to attend Geek.Kon, politics or no politics, and that we would not be censored.


All was well, right?

Well… no. Not really. Because, as it turns out, that wasn’t really true.

At this point I need to back up and explain another problem between the ZRC and the convention that the groundwork was being laid for simultaneously. Some time ago, out of the goodness of her heart, an artist friend of the ZRC donated a very nice piece of artwork to the ZRC to use in some charitable fundraising activity, be it an auction, raffle, what have you. We decided to donate it in turn to the Geek.Kon charity auction to benefit the local zoo, because, why not? It was a gorgeous original piece of Zombie Friendly art, and we put it in a decent frame and the art director even matted it so it would look swanky.


Before agreeing to the auction I confirmed with the organizer, in writing via email, that we would be allowed to set a minimum bid so that this wonderful artwork didn’t go out the door for a minimal bid, when I could easily find a good home for it myself. I was assured that yes we could set that bid, and I informed them ahead of the convention what bid I had in mind, and received no objections.


At the convention out of a spirit of goodwill, I even lowered that to 30 dollars. I figured it might sell too cheaply but what the heck, right?

It turns out I was trusting the wrong people.

The convention got off to a good start on Friday, we talked to a lot of people, handed out a lot of pamphlets and had a nice time. I had a really fun idea to use the ZRC’s spare monitor the next day to display slideshows of our previous activism and public appearances/protests/what not, and we lugged a bunch more stuff to the booth Saturday morning and set up a little multimedia extravaganza. It was wonderful, and we started running low on reading materials, which is always a good sign.

That is, until the con staffer whose name badge read ‘Chief’ showed up. (We never received his full name)

‘Chief’ didn’t like us. First, on an open vendor floor, in front of customers and vendors alike, he started raving, accusing us of pushing our literature all over the convention. At first I thought he was referring to people taking our pamphlets and then leaving them/littering them somewhere else, which has happened in the past, and I was prepared to apologize on that point.

No no, he clarified. He didn’t like what we were SAYING, and he didn’t like that we were there. We didn’t belong at his convention, no political discussion should be allowed there, and he wanted us to know that, to dress us down in public.

Somehow I managed to keep my composure, despite the utter humiliation this twit was attempting to inflict on myself and the art director. Gutless coward that ‘Chief’ obviously is, he probably assumed that he could intimidate us away with his manly swagger and convention badge of authoritah.

‘Chief’, whatever your real name is? Let me clue you in here and now before you try this on someone not so civilized. You’re not nearly HARD enough to pull this off. You are a very, very small individual and it shows; you don’t intimidate anyone.

(The pamphlets that drive men.. well, sorta… mad!!)

As I said, in the spirit of the ZRC’s positive attitude, we held our tongue and waited until after the show to talk to the convention staff. I spoke to our vendor contact Erin Burke, who I had conversed many times with via email and who had emailed me as mentioned above to state, explicitly, that political material such as ours was allowed at the convention. She called in a higher ranking individual, and they said that this Chief person had been ranting in the staff room about us along similar lines, and that he would not bother us again and some sort of disciplinary action would probably be taken.

Only, the conversation started taking a very strange bend. Now, instead of political material being welcome at the con, the convention’s position was that they had to tolerate it. ‘This year’. Because there was nothing in the vendor agreement we signed to prohibit it.. and that they would probably be changing that next year, the implication clearly being to deliberately restrict or ban the ZRC’s activities.

It’s always nice to be welcomed to an event you paid hundreds of dollars to attend by being informed halfway through that you’re only there by grace of a loophole they intend to close.

We even had it strongly suggested that we if we should pull our Wisconsin-related materials , in direct violation of the no-censorship pledge, to avoid offending Chief again.*

I reiterated how unprofessional the whole situation was, declined any compensation for the Chief incident, stated that we would not reward his bad behavior with self-censorship and we left it at that.

(the booth.. of HATE)

Sunday was tense, off and on. Not with the attendees of the con, don’t get me wrong; all of the guests were WONDERFUL, all weekend long. We had many great conversations, including one with someone who disagreed with us re: Governor Walker, and all was civil and welcoming.

But the convention staff were another matter. All day long people with con shirts and badges, especially security, were hovering around our booth. At times they would take stacks of literature back to examine in private, which seems wasteful of paper if nothing else but came across as unnerving and judgmental. Also, we actually pay to print those, you know. (Glad we weren’t giving away stickers this time.) Adding insult to injury, the ‘Chief’ individual was back on the vendor floor on Sunday, although he didn’t approach our booth again. (Nice discipline there.) Having a known wacko troublemaker in the room again didn’t do anything to put us at ease either.

At the end of the day we were content to wrap it up and go home with a very full cashbox including lots of money for Lynn Sage, in spite of all these nuisances. There was just one last stop to make, to see if the original Zombie Friendly art had sold in the auction, and if so, for how much, so we could report it happily on the blog.

It took some tracking down, but finally we were relayed the sale price of the artwork, priced at a minimum of 30 dollars, one of a kind, hand matted in a pretty nice frame that we paid for ourselves:


I was incredulous. I insisted there must be some mistake; the opening bid was $30. It could not have sold for 10.

They checked back. Yes it had. It was sold and gone. Out the door. Never to be seen again.

Eventually the Convention Treasurer came down to explain, with more ‘compensation’ to offer. A con staffer had decided, unilaterally and in violation of our written and verbal agreement with the convention, to change the price, because they thought that we had overvalued the item. (No word on whether this was done out of spite because of our apparently controversial political views).

Violating our agreement was supposedly ok, because the convention was willing to donate the minimum bid out of their cash wad to the Zoo. An extra twenty bucks made it acceptable to break multiple agreements with a vendor, some in writing. No promises to do better in the future, no promises to change policy so this doesn’t happen again, not even an apology for tossing the work of a professional artist out the door for less than the cost of the frame.

Just some money. Because that’s all that seems to matter at this convention. If there’s a problem, or embarrassment, or outright harassment, money is the proffered solution, the only real solution on offer, in fact. At the end of a long weekend of stress and broken promises, Geek.Kon’s management saw yet another violated pledge as a matter they could clear up with money. In the end, we settled on taking the reserve price ourselves and put it toward the Lynn Sage donation; I don’t think anyone can blame me for wanting to make sure it gets to a worthy cause
after all this. This was no time to be extending further trust.

So here we are, a week later, and yeah, we’re still angry here at the ZRC, but more to the point I feel like we have an obligation to warn the rest of the convention-attending world about Geek.Kon. This year’s event presented a textbook example of bureaucratic mismanagement; the right hand was not just unaware of what the left hand was doing, and promising (in writing!), but wasn’t even aware the left hand existed in the first place.. or perhaps didn’t care.

Don’t be fooled, potential future Geek.Kon vendors. Getting the convention’s word on something means nothing. Even if you have it, in writing, from more than one member of the Geek.Kon staff, it means nothing. And whatever you do, don’t donate anything valuable to the convention charity auction, because some random staffer, potentially one with a grudge against you, might give it away for next-to-nothing. Which of course robs everyone involved, including the charity.

I haven’t heard word one from the convention in the wake of this debacle and I don’t expect to. We got the message loud and clear: we’re not, in fact, welcome.

We’ve decided to take the hint.

PS: For the art director’s take on this, see her Livejournal entry.

PPS: One particularly annoying part of this whole episode is being lectured on how, supposedly, all things ‘Geeky’ are apolitical, especially anime. The art director touches on that in her LJ, but I cannot help but gawk at the idea that traditional geeky interests like science/speculative fiction and anime are free of politics. Excuse me? Seriously? The idea that things like ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Doctor Who’ are free of political messaging is so thick-headed as to be absurd. As for anime, you have to be joking. Even leaving aside explicitly political material like ‘Jin-Roh’ or the ending to ‘Nerima Daikon Brothers’, a lot of very popular anime, including contemporary titles being promoted at this very convention, are political in nature.

A very short list of anime with significant political themes:

Code Geass
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Mobile Suit Gundam, Gundam Wing, Gundam 0080, basically every single Gundam series and film.
(Especially noteworthy is recent series ‘Gundam 00′ which is about energy resource conflicts in the global warming era)
High School of the Dead
Ghost in the Shell (as well as its tv series spinoff, Stand Alone Complex)
Rurouni Kenshin
Many, many other historical shows set in the pre-modern era. Pick your favorites.
Hetalia. For goodness sake, Hetalia. The characters are all *countries* for crying out loud!
Samurai Champloo
Spirited Away
Princess Mononoke
Grave of the Fireflies
The aforementioned Nerima Daikon Brothers (read the wikipedia page for more on that one)
A Wind Called Amnesia (obscure but interesting viewing)
Wandering Son
(Debated whether to include ‘Wandering Son’ here, but LGBT acceptance is often a very politicized issue, so I will)

Etc Etc.

(A political joke at Geek.Kon! Burn the heretic! BURN THEM!)

*changed from being ‘asked’ to having it strongly suggested per the Art Director’s recollections.

About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.


3 Responses to “Geek.Kon and the ZRC: The Whole Story”

  1. Red Lucy says:

    All conventions are like that – disorganized clusterfucks run by volunteers who have an overinflated sense of importance. Try not to take it personally. If it wasn’t the ZRC, it would be someone else. You just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

  2. Wayne Zombie says:

    Wow. How amazingly unprofessional of a convention to allow Shaenon’s work to go like that, not to mention a staffer who thinks “geeks” shouldn’t express political opinions. If he’s working there as staff, doesn’t that make him a de facto geek? Doesn’t that mean that by his own standard he should be incapable of being offended by your material? Actually, I guess it means he shouldn’t understand your material. I would also have serious misgivings about attending the convention in the future, very unprofessional. And I’ve had my expectations of professional behavior seriously downgraded over the last few years.

  3. John Sears says:

    Red Lucy: Perhaps most conventions are like this, but if so we’ve been remarkably fortunate at the ZRC beause we’ve never had a problem like this before!

    Wayne: He was definitely staff. Not sure what he understood, definitely not appropriate behavior. We’re not planning on going back in the future, and as I said they made it fairly clear we shouldn’t try.

    All very sad.

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