Monday, April 4, 2011

Letter to the Editor Concerning Political Activism

Flor -

Here is the final version of the letter to the editor regarding the "Political Activism in SL" article in the Palais SL magazine April 2011 edition.

I have learned a lot through this interview that I will carry with me through the rest of my career. For that I am grateful. This is the first interview that I've done that has left me feeling so maligned. The other interviews that I've granted have been treated with much more care in making sure that my meaning was conveyed. I felt a comfort that I shouldn't have and I didn't do enough research into your style before I did the interview. I also need to prepare myself a little better.

I've always tried to be transparent and open and willing to talk to anyone, no matter the difficulty in the conversation. I tend to ramble and so when you picked out and pieced some of the things together, they took on a different meaning than I intended.

I do feel as though I was misrepresented and that I don't like. But your article, your writing is yours and it certainly isn't my place to tell you how to go about it. It surprises me that you would take that angle with people who are trying to do good work. I hope that maybe we managed to change your mind a little about why we're here and what impact that might have.

I thank you for the lesson and really do hope that you come away with a few of your own.

Take Care.

millay

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: PALAIS SL, APRIL 2011 EDITION
Re: "Political Activism in SL"
from: millay Freschi
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“Everything we do is futile, but we must do it anyway.”
Mahatma Gandhi


Tonight, as I was sitting here preparing a blog post, I got an early copy of the April edition of Palais SL Magazine which includes an article titled "Political Activism in Second Life". The magazine’s editor, Flor Nachtigal interviewed three of us from the community; Plot Tracer, Trill Zapatero and me. There are more than a few corrections that need to be made as many of the statements are taken out of context or my response only negligibly included. I was, frankly, disappointed in Ms Nachtigal’s representation of me, Four Bridges and the Afghanistan museum.

Let’s start with the corrections:

And let's begin with mine -

Four Bridges does not “represent” any of the organizations that are housed here. Each organization is represented by its own leadership. This was my mistake in wording. I happen to be the virtual world coordinator for Amnesty and I am the group leader for BORDC, Aserela, Cepacet but those are volunteer positions aside from the Four Bridges Project itself.

Four Bridges is a community. We share resources. We collaborate on events and we work with student groups. Our mission is based on human rights, social and economic justice, respect for nature and a culture of peace.

It bothers me that it sounds as though Four Bridges has an agenda of any sort. We used the same word in the interview but I meant agenda as a focus. Not the way that it was portrayed in the article.

I didn’t like that my words were taken so as to seem that our mature rating was a choice between “universal access and freedom of expression”. There are ratings on movies, music – all sorts of things to empower the parents of teenagers to be the guides in their child’s access to particular information. My son at 14 was not ready for some of the issues that we deal with on Four Bridges without an explanation - which I would prefer come from me. I don’t believe that restricting access to those under 18 is compromising “universal access”. Nor was the choice to do so based on the teenagers. We have always been a mature rated sim because TOS requires it - we allow mature content (which is a completely different rating than “adult”). As a parent, I want to be involved in what my child sees and I believe that we have a responsibility to respect those ratings. This was also made clear in our interview.

Another point was about the number of members in the groups. She specifically mentions Amnesty International – E and the Four Bridges Project groups. She compares these numbers (200 – 400) to the number of people in groups like those based around clubs and art galleries and music. I recognize that there are groups based similarly on communities like Four Bridges and Amnesty that have a much larger membership base. I have to be honest here. Things like traffic and members as a numbers have never been what this has been about. I’ve never wanted to compete or compare - only collaborate. When the issue was brought up, though not included in the interview, I clearly stated that our goal was to reach out to these other communities and that, in many ways, we have. Amnesty has kiosks all over the grid with information for all. There are different levels of involvement – varying and personal degrees of activism. The numbers game to which Ms Nachtigal referred is not a game that we’ve ever been interested in playing.

Another thing that troubled me was that she seemed as though we ought to be disappointed about the turnout for the solidarity “demonstration”. She says that “…in real life terms some thirty people do not amount to much, no matter how loudly they chant.” It’s difficult to tell through the rest of the reading whether or not our conversations had any effect on this notion but let’s not forget for a moment the power in even one person to facilitate change. Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Susan B Anthony, Meena, and Mandela…history is full of the voices of the few and we all know the Margaret Mead quote by now…”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Further, I was disappointed in her treatment of Trill and the Afghanistan museum. The majority of the museum is centered on understanding a culture that is very different from our own and inaccessible to most people at the level in which it is presented through Trill’s work. Rather than looking deeply into the potential of that understanding, she mentions feeling “queasy” at the RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) exhibit and the reality of the life of many Afghanistan women…queasy to the point of keeping a “respectable distance”. I found especially troubling the insinuation “equating” Afghanistan to the Gorean culture in SL. The Gorean culture is, I assume, based on TOS, an adult community where the participants are willingly such. To “equate” this lifestyle to the entire population of Afghanistan does a great disservice to mending the cultural divide. Also, I know that Trill has passionate feelings about this and that these were diminished, by Ms Nachtigal’s interpretation. To insinuate that Trill “did not feel much of anything about those” undermines the incredible efforts that Trill has made to bridge this divide.

To my knowledge, Ms Nachtigal did not look around the Four Bridges sims or try to connect with any of the other activists that I mentioned to her after her request for names.

Again, activism is a personal, and I believe intimate choice. I respect Ms Nachtigal’s choices and, were this article presented as an editorial piece, I would simply chalk this up to different experiences. But this is presented as a journalistic piece without actually quoting those of us that she interviewed. In this context, I have to question the integrity. In Ms Nachtigal’s defense, she repeatedly warned me throughout our interview that she was going to ask “tough” questions. Frankly, I didn’t find any of her questions to be difficult to answer or ones that asked for information that I wasn’t prepared to offer. I believe in transparency and have practiced that belief – especially admitting when I simply do not know. What I was not prepared for was the extent to which my responses would be edited and misstated. In fact, no direct quotes were used at all in the article.

My intent in writing this is not to call Ms Nachtigal out. Perhaps she might consider treading a little more carefully that line between the quotation marks and the veiled insinuations. My point is that I don’t want just part of that information out there. I don’t want people who are interested in being active to feel as though their efforts here are somehow less. And I certainly will not be misrepresented without having a say in return.

I do wish for Ms. Nachitgal peace and will continue to work for the rights of all humans to freedom of speech.

I would simply remind that with every freedom comes responsibility.

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