On MAGA Caps and WordCamps

Within WordPress circles, I don’t talk much about politics. I was raised to believe that politics and religion are not polite dinner topics. That belief generally extends to my work-life too. However, sometimes these topics crash into one another at full speed.

I don’t typically provide qualifying statements about my beliefs when writing an article. My words should stand on their own, regardless of my personal views. However, in this toxic political climate in the U.S. that sometimes worms its way into the WordPress community, alternative views are often automatically dismissed if the writer is not considered one of their own. If I wrote a piece that defended conservatism without self-describing myself as a liberal, my words would fall on many deaf ears. Such is the climate that we live in today.

Therefore, without further ado, I proclaim myself as one of you.

WordCamps and Political/Hate Speech

In Symbols of Hate at WordCamps, Aaron Jorbin makes the argument that red MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats should be banned from WordCamps because they are symbols of racism. While one-sided and starting from the position that such apparel is hate speech regardless of context, it is a thought-provoking piece. It is also the sort of statement that will earn you internet points from what is seemingly a majority, Left-leaning inner WordPress community. But, there are unanswered questions and another side to this story that Jorbin failed to explore in his article.

Jorbin opened with a large image. The image has a simple word as a faux HTML tag: </hate>. Before the argument begins, this imagery lets the readers know that there is no discussion. In HTML, the / character is meant to close a statement. The opening salvo is the end of the discussion. The text is merely a formality.

MAGA caps are hate speech.

There is no context in which a MAGA cap is acceptable. The reader should know this because the argument was won before it was given.

“I fully cosign,” said Adam Soucie, the co-lead organizer for WordCamp 2020, on Twitter. “Show up to @WordCampOrlando in one of those red hats and you’ll be politely asked to leave. You know exactly what you’re doing with that choice. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Central.”

The message is clear that certain people are not welcome. More often than not, that message is squarely aimed at conservatives. This type of groupthink is prevalent within the WordPress community. Your political beliefs are not welcome.

In his article, Jorbin does describe how political speech, the MAGA cap, has been co-opted by various hate groups. The question is whether we allow the actions of the minority of one group to become the deciding factor in how we treat the majority. We must also ask whether we hold other political speech to the same standard.

Conservatives within our community often feel like they have no voice. The article and the subsequent discussions taking place on social media help drive home that feeling.

“Today is a hard day to be a Republican in the WordPress Community,” wrote Bridget Willard on Twitter. “I see the tweets. And the moral superiority. It isn’t kind or inclusive.”

She is not alone. Like her, many feel like they will be ostracized if they post a dissenting opinion that does not 100% jive with the Left-leaning vocal majority.

“A MAGA hat makes me angry and uncomfortable, but speech is speech unless there’s a direct incitement,” responded Steve Stern on Twitter. “Do we ban all political content from all WP events? Is a T-shirt supporting a leftist cause OK? WordPress needs to support freedom, even when uncomfortable.”

It is a slippery slope from banning a MAGA cap to stifling more mundane conservative speech, particularly when conservative voices are within the minority in our community. If the MAGA cap is hate speech, it cannot be a stretch to label anything about the man who gave rise to some extremist voices as falling under the same guideline.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the red MAGA cap is deemed hate speech, regardless of who is wearing it, their intentions, and context. Outright ban it. Does such a ban extend to a “Trump 2020” T-shirt? In the mind of many who would ban the MAGA hat, I can guarantee they would like to see the ban extended to any Trump or even conservative-related apparel. Others may not be willing to go that far. However, for many, a ban on such apparel has absolutely nothing to do with hate speech. It has to do with a difference of opinion. Political opinion. Instead of meeting on equal terms and discussing those differences as open-minded adults, it is easier to quash an opponent’s freedom of expression by labeling it all as hate.

If a red MAGA cap is always hate speech, it is not a leap to say that any Trump-supporting apparel is also hate speech. There has to be a line, and the one between a baseball cap and a T-shirt sporting “Trump 2020” is blurry.

Perhaps the solution is to ban all political apparel at WordCamps, regardless of whose politics are on showcase. If some cannot stomach a MAGA cap, a life-long hunter should not have to look at a “meat is murder” T-shirt. We should also ban the countless other slogans that itch some group or another the wrong way.

Or, we can all put on our big boy and girl pants and step out into the world as adults who might be presented with ideas outside our own from time to time.

WordPress’s mission statement is to democratize publishing. The goal is not to democratize publishing for some or for those who share our political views. The implication is that we are democratizing publishing for all. By extension, WordCamps are about bringing people together from all walks of life. We don’t all share the same views, but we should respect that others believe differently. The idea is to break bread with those who are different from you and perhaps grow from this interaction.

Then, imagine yourself in my shoes. I live in rural Alabama. This is Trump Country. If I got angry every time I came across the path of someone wearing a MAGA cap, I would spend most of my days in a fit of rage. Some of my more liberal friends ask how I live among them, jokingly. Truth be told, it is pretty easy once you start looking at people as people. Once you stop making assumptions about them by the clothes they wear or the political views they hold. Once you sit down and listen to their hopes and dreams and fears.

At WordCamps, the best thing would be for everyone to leave their politics at the door. If we need a rule to formalize it, then so be it. We all have so much more in common that we likely realize. Let’s focus on the good that we can do together.

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