Tired hands, quiet minds. By Big Cartel.

Affect Conf on the Work, Culture, and Design of Social Change

I recently traveled to Portland, Oregon to attend Affect Conf, a conference that highlights the spectrum of work, design, and culture behind social change.

One of my favorite things about Affect is its focus on work. Most of the talks centered around the experience of working to create social change - from emotional labor, to in-depth insights on research and implementation, to everyday stories of people doing great, challenging work. The conference is rich with practical ideas and inspiration. There’s always a place for more abstract, philosophical discussions, but Affect’s approach is both refreshing and empowering. Big Cartel has sponsored Affect Conf for the last two years, and we’re proud to play a small role in helping these conversations happen.

This year we heard from Jazmyn Latimer, Lead Designer for Code for America, about her work to make it easier for Californians to clear relatively minor offenses from their criminal record. She talked about her research and development process, which eventually became the app Clear My Record. It’s dramatically decreased the time it takes to file and increased the number of people who have been able to clear their record, a right under California law.

Journalist Keah Brown talked about the experience of growing up Black and with a disability in America. As a child and young woman she didn’t see many, if any, people with disabilities in most movies, TV, or magazines, leading her to question her self-worth and value to society. She now writes for Cliché Magazine, Teen Vogue, Literary Hub, Catapult, and Lenny Letter to name a few. She was incredibly charming and inspiring, always conscious that her presence may offer hope to a young Keah who might read her work and discover their own worth.

Sydette Harry is a cultural critic, writer, and community leader. She opened the conference with an exceptional presentation that was both powerful and vulnerable. Her talk centered on the force of performance, music, and art to communicate, document, and expose injustice. I loved her declaration that her presentation would contain no answers. Answers are great, but the connection and inspiration she provided is much rarer and equally vital.

In all, a dozen individuals spoke at Affect Conf this year. Ranging from talks on accessibility, to creating a safe inclusive dating app, to a conversation about how to have constructive conversations on social media, each contribution was important and urgent.

The world’s problems can often feel overwhelming and insurmountable, but Affect highlights the meaningful ways to pitch in and make an impact in your own way. There are people out there giving everything they have to make a difference and support others in their community, and it’s up to all of us to support them.

You can read more about Affect Conf, including a full list of speakers, at their site and at the hashtag #affectconf. Thanks to Elea Chang, Alfie Padilla, Nadia Gathers, Gabriela Rodriguez Beron, and everyone who contributed to making Affect such an inspiring experience.