Johnny Carruthers (chocolatescifi) wrote,
Johnny Carruthers

Jousting With Windmills

[NOTE: I may be getting a few -- or even more than a few -- of the details in this entry a little garbled, mistaken, or otherwise screwed up. Not too many, I hope. But in any event, I'm pretty sure the main facts are correct.]

As I have mentioned at least a few times, my username reflects two of my passions -- chocolate and science fiction. But as you may have also noticed, the overwhelming majority of my entries have a lot more to do with chocolate than they do science fiction. This time, it's definitely about science fiction.

As I sit here pounding away on my laptop, Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention, is taking place in Reno, Nevada. Unfortunately for me, I am still here in Louisville, Kentucky. But even though there is the slight matter of some 2100 miles separating me from the general revelry, I think my presence has been felt. (A phantom presence, perhaps, but a presence nonetheless.)

This actually started at last year's Worldcon, Aussiecon 4. During a meeting of the Mark Protection Committee (MPC) -- the committee that oversees the various service marks of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) -- passed a resolution that states, "Members of the Mark Protection Committee and any of its subcommittees must agree to decline nomination for a Hugo Award presented in a year following a year in which that person served in whole or in part."

On the face of it, this resolution would appear to be an innocuous means of preventing potential conflicts of interest. But it irritated me for three reasons.

First, there is already an exclusionary rule concerning the Hugo Awards. It's Section 3.12 of the WSFS Constitution, which states, "No member of the current Worldcon Committee or any publications closely connected with a member of the Committee shall be eligible for an Award. However, should the Committee delegate all authority under this Article to a Subcommittee whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee, then this exclusion shall apply to members of the Subcommittee only." This particular section has been part of the WSFS Constitution for as long as I have been a member (for the record, that would be since 1991), and most likely much longer than that. From everything I have seen and heard (or perhaps more accurately, what I have not seen and heard), this particular rule has done its job without any problem. And if there is some need to alter it, the WSFS Constitution does have an amendment process in place -- Section 6.5, and I won't quote that here. Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, the MPC violated Section 3.12 with their resolution. The WSFS Constitution has the authority to determine who is eligible or ineligible for a Hugo Award in any given year; the MPC does not.

Second, (again in my opinion) the MPC's action also violated one of the Standing Rules for governing the WSFS Business Meeting. Specifically, Standing Rule 7.6, which states, "All committees are authorized to organize themselves in any lawful manner and to adopt rules for the conduct of their business, which may include conducting balloting by mail and limiting debate, subject to any contrary provisions of the Constitution, the Standing Rules, or instructions given to the committee by the Business Meeting." Attempting to determine who may or may not be eligible for a Hugo Award violates the "contrary provisions of the Constitution" clause of this Rule.

Along the same lines, I could also argue that the MPC's action violated Section 5.1.4 of the WSFS Constitution, which states, "Meetings shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of (in descending order of precedence) the WSFS Constitution; the Standing Rules; such other rules as may be published in advance by the current [Worldcon] Committee (which rules may be suspended by the Business Meeting by the same procedure as a Standing Rule); the customs and usages of WSFS (including the resolutions and rulings of continuing effect); and the current edition of Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised." Especially the "customs and usages" part. It has been my observation that the segment of SF fandom who is most likely to attend the WSFS Business Meeting has something of a reverence for tradition. Screw with that tradition at your peril.

Third, the resolution seemed to be directed solely at one person, Cheryl Morgan. Cheryl is a three-time Hugo winner; for Best Fanzine in 2004 (for Emerald City), for Best Fan Writer in 2009, and for Best Semiprozine in 2010 (for Clarkesworld Magazine, of which she is the non-fiction editor). She was also a member of the Hugo Award Marketing Committee (HAMC); a subcommittee of the MPC that, well, markets and promotes the Hugos. Based on what I have read, it is my understanding that Cheryl had contributed to the creation of the website for the Hugo Awards, and was the website's maintainer. When the resolution was passed, Cheryl was the only person who would be affected by its provisions. (Past Hugo winner Mike Glyer had been a member of HAMC, but not for the past couple of years, and he was the only other person who might have been affected by this resolution.) After the resolution was passed, Cheryl was re-appointed to the HAMC, but she felt obliged to decline in order to maintain eligibility for Clarkesworld Magazine.

I suppose the best way to describe my reaction when I read about what the MPC had done was that my sense of justice was outraged. I wouldn't say that Cheryl and I are friends; we really don't know each other that well. I will say that our encounters have been cordial. I just found it irritating (to say the very least) that someone who has possibly done the most in recent years for the marketing and promotion of science fiction's most prestigious award being forced out by a group who, as I understand it, seems to place very little value in that marketing and promotion.

I knew that I wanted to do something. I like to think that I have something of the knight errant in me, though I am probably far more likely to resemble Don Quixote than Sir Gawain in the execution.

Despite realizing that this was one of those times when Something Needed To Be Done, it was a few months before I actually did anything. Part of it was that I knew it wasn't a particularly urgent matter. Even if I had done something in September or October, nothing would have come of it until this past week, anyway. After all, the WSFS Business Meeting only takes place once a year, at Worldcon, and nothing could be done until the Business Meeting.

Well, earlier this year, I contacted Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee), SF fandom's Jedi Master of parliamentary procedure. I expressed my outrage at the turn of events, and asked his advice as to what could be done to reverse the actions taken. I knew that, as much as Kevin might have wanted to do something himself, he probably wouldn't, given his position as a member of the MPC. I also volunteered my services (such as they would be) to help reverse what had been done.

Kevin told me that the correct counter-action would be to submit a resolution to this year's Business Meeting. This resolution would be two-fold: First, it would reverse the action of the MPC, and second, it would instruct them not to take similar action in the future. Kevin also suggested that I get at least one person to second the resolution.

Another few months went by. I suddenly realized that Renovation was fast approaching, and that I needed to:

A. Write and submit that resolution to the Business Meeting staff, and
B. Get someone to agree to second the resolution.

(Not necessarily in that order, of course.)

For the seconder, I contacted Chris Barkley. I explained the resolution to him, and asked if he would be interested in seconding/so-sponsoring the resolution. He readily agreed, so the next step was writing the resolution, which I did based on a couple of suggestions that Kevin gave me. I emailed the resolution to the Business Meeting staff, and mailed a hardcopy to Chris, just in case they wanted something with an actual signature on it. Because of other things, I had forgotten to mail my site selection ballot for the 2013 Worldcon, and he was also going to deliver my ballot for me. (Thanks again, Chris!)

A day or so later, I checked the Renovation website, and I saw that the resolution was indeed part of the Business Meeting agenda. And now it was just a matter of waiting for the fireworks to start.

And from what I can tell, "fireworks" seems to be the right word to describe what happened. Of course, I had to wait to hear from Kevin and Chris for news of what transpired during the Preliminary Business Meeting (which is when the resolution would have been discussed). I was also interested in hearing about Chris's proposed amendment creating a Young Adult category for the Hugos.

I was able to get bits and pieces of information from the Renovation Twitter feed, and from what I could tell, the resolution had passed. The first in-depth report, though, came from Cheryl's blog. There has to be a little bit of irony in that because, like me, Cheryl was not attending Renovation.

Quick version -- the resolution passed. From what I read on both Cheryl and Kevin's blogs, the debate was quite vigorous, including a debate on whether or not the resolution was even legal. The Business Meeting first decided that it was legal, and then approved it.

My contention in introducing the resolution was that if there are changes to be made in Hugo Award eligibility, they have to be made in the WSFS Constitution, through the normal amendment process. Well, there was an amendment introduced that would have done precisely that. As soon as that item came up on the PBM agenda, Chris lodged an Objection To Consideration, and apparently, most of those attending the Business Meeting had already had their fill of the subject, and they voted to kill the proposed amendment without debate.

Unfortunately, Chris's proposed YA Hugo amendment suffered a similar fate when it came up on the agenda. The reason for this seems to have been that there wouldn't be sufficient time to debate the proposal, given several of the items up for a ratification vote. I do know that Chris will be introducing the measure again next year at Chicon 7.

Yes, I'm feeling rather pleased as to how the matter turned out. I think I may still be blushing over Cheryl's thanks on her blog. You know, sometimes when you tilt at windmills, the windmills fall down.

Tags: essay

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