At PAX South, gamers gather to protest Trump

Kyle Orland
It was Saturday night, and Trin Garritano was on vacation at PAX South, an annual San Antonio gathering where thousands had come together to celebrate everything associated with games and the wild and wonderful culture surrounding them.
She should have been happy and relaxed, but she wasn't. "I was just sitting in my hotel room with my friend Maya, getting angrier and angrier watching the news," she said.
The news, of course, was focused on President Trump, and especially on his recent executive order to largely bar people from seven muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Garritano, who described herself as the "businnesswoman" for the popular game Cards Against Humanity, said she was feeling isolated from her home and many of her friends and family in Chicago.
"I'm watching all my friends coordinate protests in [Chicago's] O'Hare [airport], and I'm here in San Antonio, on vacation," she told Ars. "I needed to do something. Then it kind of dawned on me more and more that there's no way I'm the only person [at PAX South] from out of town feeling that way, who wants to be involved, who very specifically as a gamer is directly affected [by Trump's actions]."
Thus, the impromptu Nerdwalk protest was born. In a matter of hours on Saturday evening, the idea became a rallying cry for PAX attendees to gather Sunday and march to the offices of Texas Senator John Cornyn, which happened to be less than a mile from the convention center (the event was not officially sanctioned by the convention, which remains apolitical).
A gaming convention might not seem like the most likely place to find politically active supporters willing to take time out of their game playing time to join a public protest. I've definitely never seen any sort of organized political action grow out of any of dozens of gaming conventions I've been to over the years. Still, with less than 24 hours notice, dozens of PAX South attendees came together this weekend to show their solidarity and opposition to the current administration's actions.

Throwing it all together

Screengrab from the NerdWalk organizing page that went up Saturday evening. Less than 24 hours later, dozens of PAX South attendees would gather for the event.
Enlarge / Screengrab from the NerdWalk organizing page that went up Saturday evening. Less than 24 hours later, dozens of PAX South attendees would gather for the event.
While Garritano said she and her fellow organizers were "mad about literally everything," they focused the protest on two specific issues of particular interest to the gaming community. The first was the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which she said "very specifically [affects] independent artists and developers. Could we have had a Stardew Valley—one guy just making a game—if health care wasn't available to him. We don't think about the fact that, if we want a diverse set of voices in the community, we have to nurture that. One of those ways is to nurture the idea of an artist being able to live on their own and make a thing."
The second was the weekend's immigration order, which Garritano described as "enormously unconstitutional, and it feels painful and embarrassing for it to even come up in 2017 in the United States." Besides that, though, Garritano echoed many others in the gaming industry in saying that "it's the diversity of our community that really matters and speaks to us.... We become better the more diverse our voices are."
Once the idea was in motion, Garritano scrambled to organize everything on very short notice while also working as one of the volunteer Enforcers that help PAX run smoothly. Friends came together to make signs, take photos, and generally get the word out. Cards Against Humanity creator and founder Max Temkin, who previously worked as an intern on the Obama campaign, provided some advice and funding for posterboard. A tweet from popular fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss helped spread the word to attendees quickly and widely.
NerdWalkers react to honks of support from passing cars. Credit: Karlyn Meyer
By the time the march was scheduled to start at 3:45pm Sunday, 25 RSVPs had risen to 40 or 50 taking time away from their vacations to make their political voices heard, Garritano said. And yes, many of them were dressed up as comic, anime, and video game characters.
"In the invite, I stressed that I want people in cosplay, I want people to be themselves," Garritano said. "The costumes definitely catch a few eyes, [and] some of the people taking pictures were not just taking picture of the signs, but also probably thinking 'Why are they wearing kigurumi in the middle of San Antonio?'"
Though the impromptu protest was small, it was big enough to attract a San Antonio police presence, with four officers coming to flank the protesters and even help them re-plan their route when traffic became a potential concern, Garritano said. That was a bit of surprise for someone who comes from a very different political culture. "I'm from Chicago, man, I have a pretty complicated relationship with the police," she said. "In Chicago, we really don't take shit. When Trump came to do a rally here, we kicked his ass out. He had to leave. We don't play."
Perhaps because of the police presence, Garritano said, the marchers didn't face any pushback from locals while walking the route, save for a lone "I voted for Trump" catcall. "I had expected more pushback because it was Texas and I was blown away by how there was none."
The gathering attracted new supporters as it went, too, including a car that rode alongside them blasting invigorating punk music for a while, she said. Those en-route additions also included an Iranian woman who joined in the march and told Garritano she was afraid Trump's order would make it hard for her parents to come to her impending wedding. That woman also told the group about another rally, being held at the city's nearby Main Plaza, where hundreds of San Antonio natives had come out to protest Trump's immigration order.
After cheering and waving signs in front of Cornyn's office for a while, much of the NerdWalk group went to join the larger rally in a show of solidarity, Garritano said. "When we got there, 40 of us stroll up and everybody turns around and starts cheering," Garritano recalled. "'Oh my god, there are more of us!'"

A movement?

As a hastily thrown-together protest gathering out-of-towners who were relative newcomers to political action, Garritano said she tried to limit the goals and rabble-rousing involved in the NerdWalk.
"We very purposefully tried to make this a 'baby's first protest' situation," she said. "We're going to be chill, civil, kind. We barely chanted, because we're nerds, we're introverts. We don't chant, what's going on there? ... None of us were like 'We're going to storm into the building and make him sign a bill.' That was never the idea, it was just to show solidarity."
That said, Garritano pushed back against any idea that gamers might be less politically aware than any other group of people, or more willing to ignore political realities in favor of escapism.
"Escapism is everybody's favorite pastime," she said. "There are people who watch sports, people who watch four hours of must-see TV every night. Video games are just another of those fun entertainment things that we do. There's this strange designation when it's video games rather than everything else, which is bizarre to me."
While Garritano hopes there won't be any proximate reason for a similar march at Boston's PAX East in March, she said she's considering organizing a "call your representatives" gathering or similar kind of direct political action for interested gamers there. Even if that doesn't happen, though, Garritano said marching with so many like-minded gamers this weekend helped give her hope.
"We have a community here that matters and cares about more than just its insular situations," she said. "It just made me really proud to belong to this and reinvigorated me to belong to the industry."
"These are people who are gamers who are here to have fun, who are here on vacation, and we can't even do that because things got so real. Almost everyone [at the march] came up and said, 'This was my first protest, I want to do it again.' That was like the thrill of my life, I can't even express."
At PAX South, gamers gather to protest Trump Reviewed by Bizpodia on 01:56 Rating: 5

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