XOXO 2019

Annika Backstrom
in Personal, on 11 September 2019. It is tagged and #xoxo.

Another XOXO has come and gone. For those of you who don't know of the XOXO Festival, it's billed as an "experimental festival for independent artists who live and work online." I've been fortunate enough to attend the last four events.

One of the features of XOXO is a weekend of talks by creators of all sorts: podcasters, writers, artists, musicians, videographers, and more, many of whom blur the lines or defy categorization. Often, speakers choose to talk not of their successes, but of the challenges they face. As a festival for creators, many of these challenges are shared by those in the audience, or else are things we've experienced through the eyes of our friends and peers. The vulnerability and honesty on display, the kinship we feel, and what it sparks in the attendees are defining features of the festival.

There is no "theme" for the talks in any given year, but we often see a common thread winding its way through the consciousness of the speakers and attendees.

This year, the recurring emphasis on Community spoke to me. From Emma Kinema describing the ongoing global work of Game Workers Unite, to Mikki Kendall urging us, "for the love of god, get a group chat," it's clear that in what for many of us is a time of crisis, community is essential.

Communities serve many functions. Amelia and Emily Nagoski inform us of the ability of human connection to break the cycle of anxiety. As Mikki reminded us, communities can be your sounding board, your way to say things in a private space where your friends can check you and tell you when you're wrong. Harry "Hbomberguy" Brewis showed us the incredible power of common cause, as a group tens of thousands strong raised over $300,000 for Mermaids, a charity in support of trans youths. From the emotional to the physical, our communities strengthen us.

Lindsay Ellis spoke to their power against harassment. Community can insulate us from the bad actors that seem to permeate online spaces, deflecting harm or drowning out hate with love when it's most needed: "We need to build a culture of mutual protection and be aware of people's humanity." As the negative forces in the world band together in campaigns of harassment, we too can draw strength and power from each other.

It's important to remember that strong communities are often bound by ideas and ideals rather than a specific person. As Brewis found entirely by accident, his community was ready to be partners in his cause. His charity stream became a community-driven project literally while he slept, propelled beyond any expectation by the love and dedication of a passionate group of people. Says Harry, "the Skeleton Krew turned out to be the best idea I ever had while panicking."

Get Together teaches a similar lesson: "If you want to maintain your community's magic, bolster its impact, and broaden its reach while honoring the potential of committed community members, you have to empower others." We cannot be satisfied with passive community membership. We must seek them out or create them ourselves, and work to make them strong and impactful.

I see people every day who feel alone, disconnected, powerless. Many days, I feel it myself. I don't know what the answer is, but I am certain we can figure it out.

As Emily and Amelia so succinctly put it: "We're not built to do big things alone. We're built to do things together."


Huge props to this year's sponsors, who make all this possible with very little fanfare: