Wasteland Weekend: The State Of The Community

September, 2020.

WHERE WE’VE BEEN

The very first Wasteland Weekend in 2010 wasn’t much more than a few hundred people camping in a field. For the most part, we were all strangers in makeshift costumes, meeting each other for the first time at a small patch of desert none of us had ever been to before. As event managers, we didn’t really know much about running an event, but we did the best we could with what we had, sharing our little Mad Max-themed party in the desert with others who loved the genre. It was cold and windy, and almost nothing went as planned, but it felt like the beginning of something special.

What we couldn’t even imagine back then was that our annual event would spawn a global online and in-person community. 

Thousands of people have helped create that community over the years, and figuring out the event staff’s role in that community has always been a struggle. How much to get involved, and how much to hang back? How much of our own personal values should we try and inject into the event, and into the wider community? 

This community that we are a part of, but don’t presume to be IN CHARGE of. With the community growing online and in-person, we tried to always enforce our “no politics,” “no religion,” and general “don’t be a dick” rules. We also made sure to let people know that we have a zero-tolerance policy against racism. But those are all pretty nebulous terms, open to interpretation, and we realize in hindsight that we needed more than that to show people coming in to our little make-believe world what we were all about..

Years ago, we put up our anti-harassment policy on our website.

It was an effort to get more specific, and (we hoped) make it clear where we stood on racism, homophobia, and other types of discrimination. Not everyone read it, or was even aware of it, but we did our best to enforce egregious violations of it. Occasionally, we would have to issue warnings or bans on our social media pages, and even ban some people from our live events for violating one or more of our policies. 

But, in general, it felt like people got along better in our pretend apocalypse than they did in the real world. Attendees would tell us how friendly and welcoming everyone was, and we were proud of that. Relatively few serious security incidents occurred given the size and duration of the event, but we now know that the view we had from the top down was not the whole picture.

Frankly, we became too confident that our event was the welcoming place for all that we intended it to be. And we became too enamored with the concept that we were bringing people together and changing hearts and minds for a few days a year. The thing was, we really did see instances where our diverse demographic coming together gave an opportunity for some close-minded people across the spectrum to GROW. Wasteland gives people a chance to come together based on a shared love of the post-apocalyptic genre. We saw people make friends and broaden their ideas and become more tolerant. We were really proud of that. We still are, in a way, and never want to abandon the opportunities for people to learn and grow.  

But we held onto that idea for too long. As the nation became more polarized politically, and tempers outside of the event (and online) tended to flare up, we still thought Wasteland could be a shining example of how we have more that unites us than we do that divides us. And we didn’t raise our voices loud enough about things that mattered to a great many of our attendees. Even if a few people might be slowly growing and becoming more open-minded, our event wasn’t the best place for them to do that. People from marginalized groups who came out to Wasteland were putting a lot of time and money into an escape that they deserved as much as anyone else. They needed to know loud and clear that we had their backs, even if it meant that some people might be turned off by Wasteland Weekend stating their values loud and clear, and might decide not to come out anymore. It was time for any voices of intolerance to either accept Wasteland was pro-LGBTQIA, pro-BIPOC, pro-gender equality, and pro-a lot of other things… or get out.

The pandemic of 2020 changed everyone’s lives. And it hit the live event industry hard. For us, it meant we had to make the tough decision to postpone all of our events to 2021. But it also meant that we would have time to implement a lot of changes that we hadn’t had time to make in the past. And to embrace some changes we hadn’t even thought about until the community brought them to our attention. 

WHERE WE ARE

In the last few months, with the Black Lives Matter movement becoming prominent in a historic way, members of the community wanted to hear where we stood as an event. Some people thought we were staying quiet about it because we considered it something to avoid, something political. But we feel that affirming the value of human life is not a political stance. We reasoned that being vocal wasn’t really our place, that there were more important voices that needed to be heard than two white guys who run a small festival. But we were wrong. It became clear that the community felt we should speak out.

So we made the following statement on our social media:


“Racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes, and misogynists are not welcome at Wasteland events or in our community.

Wasteland Weekend explicitly forbids discrimination based on race, religion, gender, gender expression or identity, sexual orientation, medical condition, ethnicity, or national origin.

We have had that policy in place for years and we enforce it to the best of our abilities, both at our in-person events and on our official social media spaces.

You can read our rules here.

And we have a direct link to our longer statement of values / anti-harassment policy here.

But that’s not enough. We acknowledge that we have at times fallen short of our value goals and addressing community concerns and we want to be better and do better for our community.”


Soon after that above statement, we also issued some new ban notices, some of them public and some of them private, removing people from our community for past behavior that went against our community standards. Some of them were for recent issues and some of them, frankly, were long overdue. (It was not a complete list of everyone that has been banned over the years, just some of the recent ones).

We also updated our code of conduct and harassment policy and put them front and center on our website, along with how to contact our security team about issues. And a larger overhaul of the website is in the works that we hope will make EVERYTHING easier to find.

We want everyone’s experience at our events to be as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Our primary focus for our limited resources is the security at our events themselves, but where possible, we also try to help create a safe and enjoyable experience on our official social media channels; free from harassment, hate speech, or abuse.

Should you need to report any security issues from our events or on our social media channels, please email:

security@wastelandweekend.com

This information is also on our website, under the “command center” heading. Here is a direct link.

We recently held a large Zoom meeting involving representatives of tribes within Wasteland City that specifically discussed security and at the event. 

We also held a series of smaller, round-table-type Zoom discussions featuring a diverse group of Wastelanders in order to get their first-hand input on WW community and event issues. 

We got a lot of input from those meetings, and there will be more of them.

Additionally, we have put together what we are currently calling our “follow-up team.” Sometimes reports of incidents that happened during our in-person events don’t get submitted until weeks, even months later. Sometimes an incident becomes public knowledge on social media, before we are even aware an incident occurred, or before reports are submitted through the proper channels. We generally have a smaller staff in the off-season, and we don’t want these incidents to fall through the cracks, or get pushed back months before anything is done. That’s where this new team comes in. 

Reports that come in during the off-season will be reviewed, researched, and brought to event staff for consideration. Incidents that occurred at our in-person events are our top priority, but the team may also follow up on incidents that may have occurred outside the event if there is a clear threat to attendees at our in-person events. As always, discretion is our paramount concern. We have always operated from a victim-centered philosophy, and will continue to do so. 

The follow-up team has already enabled us to settle some previous incidents and we are glad we were able to resolve them in a way that satisfied those involved. 

This is one of the ways in which we are working to build more trust within the community for our official security reporting channels.

Finally, we have been adding some great new voices to our senior staff and our online moderators, and there are more to come.

WHERE WE ARE GOING

Going forward, we will continue to engage with the community for input on improvements to our in-person and online Wasteland community experience. 

Some of the things we already have planned are:

  • Continuing to streamline and clarify the reporting system for incidents that happen at our events.
  • Security towers – We will have visible security stations placed throughout the event so that the command center and the security and medical tents are not the only official places to report incidents. Work on assembling and testing these new structures has already begun.
  • A training document (possibly a training video) will be created that at least one member of each placed tribe at Wasteland will need to review and sign off on. It will cover things like key security information and policies. That way, we will have someone designated within all of the major tribes that should have the information that their tribemates may need (it will also be publicly available for any Wastelander who wishes to educate themselves on it).

We are introducing a community blog on our website. In fact, this post is the first entry in that effort. This will be a space for event news, security updates, announcements, and general discussion regarding the event and the post-apocalyptic genre we all know and love. We intend to make this portion of the website where you can get pertinent information in one easy-to-find place, partially inspired by community concerns that important posts can get buried on our official social media channels like our Wastelander Central Facebook group. This blog will also serve as an ongoing web-based current information center for those who are not active on social media.

We plan for it to feature information and guides for newcomers, instructional videos for those looking to up their Wasteland camp or costume game, articles on the Post-Apocalyptic genre, more in-depth explorations of Wasteland’s values and what is and isn’t acceptable at the event, updates from Wasteland staff in regards to addressing community feedback, and clear and concise methods for reporting safety and security concerns.

This blog project will be shepherded by our new Entertainment Director, Ravage, with the assistance and participation of the Wasteland staff as a whole, and will also feature contributions from the greater Wasteland community.

So that’s where we’ve been, where we are right now, and a little of where Wasteland is headed.

In closing, we couldn’t have planned for the longer period between events caused by Covid-19, but we see it as an opportunity to take time to look back at the road we’ve travelled as a community during these last ten years, and to plan an even better road ahead.

We are hard at work for Wasteland. Assessing, planning, and, most importantly, listening. Just like we have never stopped working to improve the event from an artistic / immersion / entertainment perspective, we will never stop working to improve the event from an equality and safety perspective.

Thank you to all of you who strive to make the Wasteland community the best it can be.