Saturday, October 23, 2004

A proposal from Sandy Smith-Nonini

Rob -- Please post this on your blog site. Thanks -- Sandy

A proposal for discussion among sections that favored the Hilton boycott: I think that what this whole debacle shows us in part is the unwieldy nature of the AAA annual meeting, and the corporate environs in which it must be held by virtue of the AAA's sheer size. This issue is related to the enormous increase in registration fees we've seen in the last decade for the AAA meeting ($165 pre-reg, $195 regular reg. this year!)

My proposal would be to take advantage of this moment, and the inter-section dialogs over the Hilton strike, to consider options for a future alternative meeting strategy within the organization. I am cognizant that the AAA makes contracts with hotels years in advance, but this does not mean we cannot begin to plan for future changes. Some of the changes already proposed, such as strike clauses in contracts with hotels, and some living wage requirements for hotels with which we contract are good ideas. I would like to go further, and recommend that we revisit the whole concept of an annual meeting of 4000(+) members.

For example, one alternative would be to hold a biennial meeting, rather than annual; and during the interim year hold multi-section meetings, with the combinations of sections at any one meeting varying somewhat from one year to the next. This would allow us to make use of alternative and more affordable venues, including university campuses and public buildings, and some smaller cities, rather than bouncing back and forth between the Hilton and Marriott in expensive downtown settings of major cities. It would also make for more meaningful and less alienating meetings with perhaps longer sessions and more round-table and discussion opportunities. Such venues would also better enable collaboration with community organizations -- right now this is difficult to arrange at a AAA meeting. We could make a special effort to avoid the breakdown into the old 4-field categories by combining sections that cross over these lines in different years.

This is not unlike what happens with several sections already -- AES and SANA and many other sections hold separate meetings now, but due to the cost and organizational demands, it is difficult for smaller sections to do this alone. Further, many of us, whose institutions have limited travel funds, must already decide whether to attend the AAA meeting or a meeting more in line with our specialty areas, or pay out of pocket for the second meeting. In the strategy I am proposing, the sections would get more assistance than they currently receive from the national office in planning multi-section meetings in the interim years between national meetings. Special arrangements would be need to provide for AAA services, such as job search assistance and press rooms at smaller meetings in the interim years, and there would probably be a need for an executive meeting of officers in years when the whole AAA does not meet. I'd be interested to hear what people think of this idea, and other suggestions for developing an annual meeting strategy that is more people-friendly and democratic, and less beholden to corporate interests.

Sandy Smith-Nonini
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Elon University


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