Over the past several months there have been rumors on social media about a situation that occurred during last year’s ComFest. This post is to provide facts that clarify what happened and to assure volunteers that ComFest’s General Planning Committee is addressing the issues involved.
Last spring, unknown to ComFest organizers, several people who were members of a white nationalist group signed up online to do Clean-Up & Recycling. At some point during their shifts, they removed their volunteer tees to reveal shirts identifying themselves as part of a hate group. A ComFest volunteer quickly notified the Safety supervisor. He confronted the group, required them to remove those shirts, and dismissed them as volunteers.
ComFest has thousands of people sign up online every year for volunteer shifts in various capacities. Given the limits of time, personnel, and technology, as a practical matter we are unable to screen every potential volunteer. We are, however, developing practices that will reduce the possibility that persons whose beliefs and affiliations contradict our Statement of Principles will be able to secure volunteer shifts as a cover for their extremist ideologies.
ComFest volunteers have a responsibility to uphold the Statement of Principles as they provide services to those who attend the festival. Our volunteers are not—and should not be put—in roles that require them to confront individuals or groups expressing extremist ideologies. Although there are people who may seek to provoke strong reactions by their behavior, our responsibility is to provide an atmosphere of relaxation and security. ComFest maintains its own Safety Committee and hires special-duty police to ensure the safety of everyone who comes to Goodale Park each June, and these individuals are responsible for preventing altercations that jeopardize anyone’s well-being.
One critical clarification is necessary. ComFest is not a political organization. It is a cultural organization with a strong, politically progressive foundation. It is not part of political coalitions. Although its organizers are anti-fascists and anti-racists, ComFest as an organization does not engage in political actions. It exists to support and build alternative and progressive community resources through its grants, workshops, and educational programs with a 3-day festival as its centerpiece.
We are implementing processes that will limit opportunities for those who support ideologies that we oppose and condemn to undermine our important progressive community institution. Nonetheless, the reality is that we cannot devise any system that guarantees that trolls of various stripes—whether in person or online—will not seek ways to create mischief. They can and will. We ask that you who support ComFest and its Statement of Principles trust us to uphold them as we address complex challenges. And we ask you to share this information with individuals and organizations so all of us can dispel the kind of misinformation that erodes the trust that is essential to a strong progressive community.