INTERVIEW: Backup Ribbon Project

I came across the Backup Ribbon Project… I’m not honestly sure. One day they weren’t on my radar and the next they were. Since then I’ve done some digging and both them and the wider Backup Project do good work, and work that needs more of a spotlight shone on it. There are two people behind the Backup Ribbon Project though I don’t know who they are. I do know it doesn’t matter. They answer as one person, and it makes no difference.

For a bit of background on the Project though: In 2008 the two people who eventually started the BRP saw a woman being harassed at a convention and noticed no one was doing anything to help. So they did. And that got them thinking. They got involved with the overall Backup Project and started to print up ribbons – giving them away to people who requested them. As they say on their site:

If you take a Backup ribbon or you wear a Backup t-shirt, you are promising one very simple thing: You WILL help out anybody being harassed. Gender, orientation, presentation is irrelevant. You WILL find a way to help, whether by directly intervening, getting help from elsewhere, or simply listening the person being harassed. You WILL be there for them. You WILL accept that they believe they have been harassed. You WILL NOT question them or doubt them, You WILL give them whatever help they wish.

No judgment. No exceptions. We got your back.

So with that in mind, let’s talk to the fine folk in charge of the BRP:

Adam P. Knave: Roughly how many ribbons do you give out a year, at this point?

Backup Ribbon Project: Last year and this year, we gave out about 1,000 ribbons.

APK: You started the Backup Ribbon Project in 2008 because of an incident at Dragon*Con. Since then how have either of you seen the culture at conventions change in respect to harassment issues?

BRP: Definitely. People are now more willing to speak up, either to stop harassment of themselves or other people. The Readercon incident is a perfect example of this. They are also more willing to discuss the problem as a whole and what needs to be done about it.

APK: Speaking of Dragon*Con, and not to pick on them at all, they recently had an issue with the Backup Ribbon Project where they were going to sanction people wearing ribbons. They backed down off of that, but still expressed concerns, specifically toward possible abuse of people wearing ribbons. How do you respond to that idea?

BRP: It’s tricky. There’s a huge leap of faith in just handing somebody a ribbon and accepting that they are not going to abuse that. And we think, for the most part, people will do the right thing. But there’s always going to be that boogeyman lurking around the corner. Our feeling is that the benefits of making the Backup Ribbon Project available as widely as possible outweighs that potential boogeyman. We’ve had people ask us if we do screening. And we could, I suppose. But it would severely limit the number of ribbons we could hand out.

APK: Do you have plans to expand the Project going forward?

BRP: Oh, absolutely. We want to be in a place where we can penetrate the bigger cons, such as Dragon*Con or San Diego Comic-Con. We’d also love some big-name publicity. In our perfect dream world, John Scalzi would do an article on us. And we’d get mentioned in places like The Mary Sue, Jezebel, or i09. We’d also love people willing to print up and distribute ribbons. Right now, we’re just an army of two. We’ve done quite a bit, but we know this is a process.

APK: Do you have info cards people could carry to hand out, or ribbons and
cards people at cons could offer at their tables for more information?
Sort of a partner program?

BRP: We just got in cards and stickers that have our “Keep Calm and Backup” logo, along with our website, email and Twitter feed. We are more than happy to hand these out along with the ribbons for people to have at their tables or booths. There are also flyers available for download and printing at the overall Backup Project site at http://www.backupproject.org/flyers.html

However, because these are more than just free swag, we ask that people who want to have these items at their booths or tables take a few minutes to talk about the Backup Ribbon Project and the overall Backup Project before handing out the ribbons and such. And of course, we ask people to be kind to the venue hosting the event and not plaster it with Backup stickers.

APK: Have you considered officially partnering with conventions that are willing?

BRP: We’ve had some interest from smaller cons, so we are open to that. In fact, one is set to take place in London next year, so I guess that now makes us an international phenomenon!

APK: If a con-goer or staff is interested, what sort of partnership do you
envision working best?

BRP: Really, a two-prong approach. In addition to having the materials readily available, including the Backup Project as part of the programming. Have a panel explaining what the Backup Project is about, why it is necessary, and how fans can get involved.

APK: Do you have plans to set up booths or tables at conventions to spread awareness of the Project, and the issues that prompted it?

BRP: Certainly in our future. Again, with only two of us, it’s difficult. But I think that face-to-face contact helps. Being able to have real conversations with people about their experiences with harassment and the ways in which the Backup Project can work on the problem.

APK: Switching away from the Project specifically, the issues of harassment (and worse), that prompted the launch of the Project, run deep in society. What ways do you see to start clawing our way toward a better place?

BRP: We think the biggest thing is letting people know that not only is it everybody’s problem, but that anybody can stop it. You don’t have to be built like the Incredible Hulk with Jet Li kung-fu moves to feel secure enough to step into a situation. You just have to be willing.

And it doesn’t necessarily have to escalate to violence. In fact, we state that not having the problem get to that stage is better. We’ve heard so many times that people don’t think they would be of much help because they’re shy, or they’re small in stature, or too old. And the point is that it doesn’t matter. If you want to help, you can find a way. Maybe you can distract the harasser, or get the person being harassed out of the situation. Maybe you can just sit with that person while somebody else gets help. There are so many ways to dig in and solve the problem.

APK: For people just getting into these sorts of discussions, are there any
books, talks or some such you would recommend?

BRP: Really, the best place to start is with the links listed on the overall Backup Project website (http://www.backupproject.org/links.html). These are good starting places to talk about harassment within the fannish/geek community.

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So that’s the Backup Ribbon Project. If you go to conventions, I urge you to look into them, as well as the wider Backup Project itself. But either way – look around and see what society is honestly shaped like. Take stock, give thought, take action where needed and most importantly – educate yourself.

By Adam P. Knave

Adam P. Knave wrote this, but you knew that, since this is his site. That's kinda how it works.

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