Creativity in a Post-Trump America

Last month, we decided to wait to release the XOXO talk videos until after the election—when the stress and anxiety of this political train wreck would finally be over.

Yeah. Well.

It’s hard not to feel a bit hopeless right now. Many of the things I’ve focused on in the last few years now feel trivial, or badly broken, in the wake of last week’s election.

Last February, we opened the XOXO Outpost, a shared workspace for independent artists and creators working online. Today, 85 people work in the space across all disciplines and backgrounds. It’s pretty great.

Every Friday afternoon, everyone gathers together for Show & Tell, a chance to show off what they’re all working on. Hearing all the incredible things people are making is the highlight of my week—sneak peeks into work-in-progress videos, comics, videogames, journalism, photography, experimental art and code.

Last week’s Show & Tell was different. It wasn’t a productive week, and there wasn’t much to show. Instead, we gathered in a circle and just talked and cried and comforted each other. Everyone told stories of an uncertain future.

One of our members designs critically-acclaimed interactive art, and lives with HIV. He’s afraid of losing his health insurance, which allows him to afford the medication that keeps him alive.

Another’s a young black man who writes about videogames. During the election, he faced racist comments on his commute. As protests spread across Portland last week, he remembered getting hit with tear gas as he marched at Ferguson. He hurried home when he heard the sounds of riot police moving across downtown Portland. He didn’t feel safe.

Our newest member is a Muslim podcaster and writer, now facing a future where he has to register in a federal database.

Several of our members haven’t come in since the election. Afraid, demoralized, struggling with depression or apathy. Other members have visited them at home, keeping them company.

Half of our members are women. 20% of our members are people of color. Several members are queer and/or trans. All of them now face the grim prospects of living in a country actively working to roll back their personal rights and freedoms.

I’ve spent the last few years evangelizing the importance of owning your own work, ways of funding independent art and code, and promoting the work of independent artists and creators.

But it’s hard to survive, independently or not, if you lose your health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or are facing daily abuse and harassment from people in the real world, or facing both cultural and legislative discrimination based on your gender, race, or religion. (Or if your city’s destroyed from climate change inaction.)

It’s a dark time for indie artists online, especially the historically-marginalized and disenfranchised people in our community.

Like so many others, I’m legitimately afraid for the future. I worry about our community, my friends, and my family. I worry about my son.

The night after the election, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up late, exploring dark corners of the web I’d avoided for months, seeing what they had to say about it all.

I retreated to the XOXO Slack, our private chat room for XOXO attendees, frustrated and sad.

At 3am, I wrote, “Yeah, good thing we decided to wait until the week after the election to release the XOXO talk videos… Now that all the stress and anxiety are over.”

Lucy Bellwood, an independent cartoonist and speaker at this year’s festival, replied, “The work you and Andy McMillan did bringing people together for the conference is at the heart of what can change things. It is an exceptional time to be reminded of kindness and community and empathy.”

I hope Lucy’s right. I’m not sure if these videos will help anyone right now. There are so many bigger problems to tackle and it feels like it will be a long time before things can start to heal. But I don’t think it will hurt.

So, with that in mind, we’re releasing the XOXO talks starting today—one per weekday, in speaker order, for the next three weeks.

This year, Gaby Dunn opened up the conference portion of XOXO with a powerful talk about how media companies like BuzzFeed exploit marginalized creators, and the importance of owning your own work.

I’ve been a fan of Just Between Us, her comedy web series with co-creator Allison Raskin, since it launched in 2014. In just over two years, they’ve passed 700,000 subscribers on YouTube.

But this year, Gaby became a powerful voice for online video creators with her articles on about the sad economics of internet fame and the dangers of signing away your ideas.

In August, she launched her new podcast, Bad With Money, covering financial anxiety with personal stories and interviews. Highly recommended.

I hope you like it.