Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The American Historical Association Annual Meeting: To Boycott Or Not To Boycott?

As many of you are aware, in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, the decision to hold the the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) became controversial. This is because the meeting will be held at a hotel owned by someone who helped to finance the campaign to repeal reforms that had extended political marriage to same-sex couples (nothing required churches to perform those marriages.) Your favorite Radical is, as we speak, making final preparations to depart for South Africa, where such discrimination is viewed in the national constitution as the equivalent of racism and is banned. What I think is also important to note is that South Africa is reputedly still a very homophobic country where, if it were put to a vote, discrimination against GLBTI (the I stands for "intersex" and is always included by South African queer activists) would be perfectly legal, although the return of institutionalized racism would not be. One legacy of colonialism is the strong association among many black South Africans between homosexuality and the general deformation of indigenous societies by white European domination. And yet, according to the reading I have done to date, the political legacy of apartheid is such that human rights are not viewed as something one puts to a vote. The fact that the vast majority of South African citizens are deeply homophobic is not, according to the constitution, justification for enshrining it in law that would re-classify South Africans in invidious ways that their -- and our -- history has shown to be disastrous.

Ironically, although I am permitted to marry in my own state (unless and until the Catholic and Mormon Churches decide to mount one of their odious homophobic campaigns here), that doesn't do me much good if I leave the state. If, for example, my partner and I are in a car accident in the state of New York on our way to JFK tomorrow, being married in Connecticut doesn't help us at all.

My nightmare? Ending up in a Catholic hospital after a dreadful accident in someplace like Nebraska, unable to make my own decisions: the only person who knows exactly when and under what conditions I wish to die is having all of our retirement money siphoned off by a self-righteous hospital administrator who wants me to live against my express wishes. The only thing that does help is having the money to hire a really good attorney, which we did two years ago. She drew up fourteen documents (seven each) which give both partners in our not-marriage a variety of reciprocal rights in relation to the other, and we can call her at any time of the day or night and have her threaten to sue, sue, sue. So that could work -- or some Bush-appointed judge might decide to wipe his behind with our paperwork while we wend our way to the Supreme Court.

But back to the AHA: the other thing to keep in mind this January is that Doug Manchester, the meddling capitalist douche bag who owns the Manchester Grand Hyatt (as opposed to the meddling Mormon and Catholic bishop douche bags who cannot confine their meddling to their own flocks), is also staunchly anti-union, an issue that I am happy to say that the Committee on LGBT History of the American Historical Association (currently led by Ian Lekus) has linked to the anti-GLBTI bias. You can read the excellent press release issued by the CLGBTH here.

For my mind, I would like to repeat something that I have said before: I'm not sure that it is the responsibility of the American Historical Association to respond to its members on the left any more than to its members on the right. But even though the AHA could not have anticipated Prop 8 or its outcome, the San Diego location has two problems that they could have anticipated. The first is that it's expensive as all get out. Both the AHA and the OAH need to address the fact that conference expenses escalate dramatically when vacation destinations (that I understand are intended to attract us) are chosen. While this has always been difficult for some members, for several years to come, most of us will be financing all or part of our conference expenses out of our own pockets, and comparatively few of us have deep pockets. Going coast to coast for a major conference now costs in excess of $1500, even if you are traveling in a budget-conscious way. That represents about a tenth of a good graduate student stipend, after taxes, and a hefty chunk of an assistant professor's salary.

So it will be hard to know who is boycotting and who is staying home because they simply can't afford it this year. It's time to start aiming for second cities, my friends on the Executive Committees of both organizations, for practical reasons if no other. Second, while Prop 8 was not even on the boards when this destination was chosen, Manchester's anti-union activities were -- or should have been -- well-known, which might have caused the Executive Committee to anticipate the possibility of an ugly strike that would cause at least part of the membership to feel they could not cross picket lines to attend. As a matter of fact, it is hard to imagine going many places in southern California where this is not going to be an issue.

As to the various forms of boycott recommended in the CLBTH press release, do what you must, but I have grave reservations about the power of boycott to affect the massively wealthy, and I often feel it is almost unseemly to, in effect, equate not going to the bar of Doug Manchester's hotel to, say, not riding the bus in Birmingham. Is it a good idea to deprive all of those workers of the tips that allow them to paste together their budgets? I'm just asking. We on the left have a somewhat over-inflated view of how much expressions of individual virtue mean to anyone except ourselves. (There are, for example, probably people who snarled at a certain point, "I am never visiting that %$&@* Radical's blog again!" and you know what? I've never missed them.) So it is, of course, an honorable thing to act on your principles in the matter of the AHA Annual Meeting. But try not to quarrel with your friends about it. And just know, that if you happen to go to the bar at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, you are still welcome at Tenured Radical.

A slightly self-censored version of this post suitable for forwarding to parents, administrators and senior colleagues can be found at Cliopatria.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in your point about the costs of AHA. I could say I'm boycotting because of ethical reasons, but really I'm just trying to survive on adjunct wages, and can't afford to fly across the country. But what does that mean when there are so many jobs interviewing at AHA? Does that lock those of us without travel funds out of the job market?

Tenured Radical said...

Not in such an extreme way: many institutions also have no funds to travel to the convention, and telephone interviews are quite widespread. Anyway, just because you are at the convention doesn't mean people will take a gamble on interviewing you.

Jobs that are nationally advertised are accessible to you: tell people who call that you will not be at the meeting and that you are delighted to interview by phone. If they really want to talk to you, they will do that. If they were only marginally interested in you, it would be a waste of money on your part to travel for a job you are unlikely to get.

Zach said...

Just a marginal note that NY recognizes CT marriages. Maybe if you were flying out of Newark, instead...
I'm not sure I've been alive during an effective boycott. I've read about the South African divestment, Coors beer, Chavez grapes, but I can't think of any recent large boycotts that have successfully changed business practice. Has globalization diminished its impact? Or are we just lazy now?

Kate said...

While sociology is far from perfect, the organizing committees take labor issues very seriously when planning conference locations. In 2007, the national meeting was supposed to be in San Francisco. About eight months prior to the conference, a short time in conference planning terms, the SEIU local representing the service workers at the conference hotels let us know that they were struggling with contract negotiations. It so happened that the Canadian Sociological Association's 2007 national meeting was happening in Montreal around the time of the original conference dates. Two weeks before the CFP closed, the conference location was changed to Montreal for the ASA as well, and the first dual meeting of the ASA and the CSA was announced. The ASA also pointed out that this was because of the union struggles; if the hotels negotiated in good faith with a good contract for the union members, we would reward them, and thus our 2009 national conference was held in San Francisco this past August.
Similarly, the regional conference (Eastern Sociological Society) got word of union troubles at our original conference hotel in Cambridge, MA. And yet again, the conference organizers changed the location of the conference at the last minute, again about two weeks before the close of the CFP. It wasn't so drastic as to move to another country (which certainly impacted who could go, such as grad students on certain visas and the like), but it did move us across the Charles to Boston proper. When the ESS found out that our Philly hotel was having union problems, the organizing committee told them we would never hold our meeting there unless the hotel negotiated in good faith.

I don't think the ASA gives a hoot about GLBTQI issues - obviously, the 2009 meeting was well after the prop 8 vote - but it is nice to know that labor issues are considered at a very deep level when planning conferences. It is also important to note that a lot of the major secondary conferences also take place in the same city as the main ASA conference, so the loss of an ASA conference is also the loss of four or five other conferences.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I've wrestled with the question of boycotts as well, and I think I've decided to differentiate between boycotting businesses who are doing objectionable things as part of their business practices (e.g. anti-labor, hiring discrimination) and those whose owners funnel their profits to objectionable politics. For my money, the problem with the latter is that it ends up favoring corporately owned hotels, restaurants, etc., where the major shareholders may be doing just as objectionable things, but in a less high-profile way.

Knitting Clio said...

Good post, but just want to point out that West Coast academics have to fly the opposite direction more often then we East Coasters have do. So, to be fair, the conference should be on the West Coast at least once in awhile.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Clio: That's why I said coast-to-coast travel: the airfare is always costly for someone and of course it goes both ways. But the price tag could be lightened if we went to smaller cities in any region.

Bear Left said...

First, thanks for an outstanding post.

A few things I'll throw out:

• Totally agreed about the costs of conference locations in expensive places -- this conference, where I'm neither presenting nor interviewing, will consume my entire professional research budget for the year, and that's even staying off-site (staying with da bears has its perks...)

• As you might imagine, this statement & this issue has consumed much of the last couple weeks for me, & I'm basically satisfied with the compromises that went into it (especially my desire to get the Inmex statement in there, which would commit AHA to a longer-term pro-union position).

• From day one, I've disagreed with the decision to hold the mini-conference inside the Hyatt -- sure, draft resisters could invade draft boards, ACT UP could invade St. Patrick's... but I can't quite see this event comparing with those. Even though it looks like a terrific mini-conference program, I can't quite bring myself to cross any boycott/picket lines, & I'm still trying to figure out how to build bridges between those who do participate in the mini-conference, those who must attend professional obligations, and those who observe the boycott.

• One major point of discussion that went into the press release was the issue of bar/restaurant/other hotel staff who would lose out on tips. We are discussing some support fund, but deleted a statement to that effect in the press release because we don't yet know how that would work.

Finally, thanks for supporting me (most of the time) on the campaign to forever banish CLGBTH and replace it with Committee on LGBT History!

Powell said...

Thanks for this post. We on ground have spent 15 long months protesting the working conditions and the anti-lgbt stance of this hotel. It is a stab in our back that so many "progressive" historians are going to turn a blind eye to our struggle for justice and equality and go to this AHA convention. Here are some concrete things progressive and supportive historians can do.


1st steps for AHA to challenge the Manchester Cancellation Fee and show support and solidarity with San Diego’s Hotel Workers and LGBT community:

1. Urge AHA leadership to publicly request that the Manchester Grand Hyatt waive the cancellation fee. An example:

Dear [Sales Dept of Manchester Grand Hyatt],

As you are aware our Annual Meeting is set to take place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in January of 2010. There is growing concern amongst our membership base about violating the LGBT and labor boycott of your hotel. Many of our members will not cross labor picket lines and many feel uncomfortable staying at a hotel whose owner funds discrimination against the lgbt community. For these historians, patronizing the Manchester Hyatt would mean compromising AHA’s core values. This situation places us in an impossible dilemma between honoring our hotel contract and hosting a successful and fully-attended event.

We respectfully ask you to waive any penalty fee associated with cancelling our contract, so that with the 3 months in advance we can look for other venues to host our annual meeting.

Our organization and our colleagues throughout academia frequently use large convention hotels as we host annual meetings bringing millions of dollars to the hotel industry. If you waive the cancellation fee, we will gladly return to the Manchester Grand Hyatt in the future once the boycott is over. If you do not waive the cancellation fee then we have no choice but to publicize that you are holding us hostage with an exorbitant cancellation fee for respecting the strong convictions and dignity of some of our membership.

Thank You

2. Advertise this plea to waive the cancellation fee and the Hyatt’s response to this plea Perhaps one of the ways to publicize this is on the AHA website and throughout the various field and campus list-serves. With the permission and consent of AHA, allow the labor/lgbt Manchester boycott coalition to send out the AHA's call to waive the cancellation fee and Hyatt's response to our vast social network of thousands of lgbt and labor supporters and media across the country. Manchester holding a sympathetic group of academics hostage with a huge cancellation fee will rightfully fuel outrage in the community that will likely assist AHA. .



3. Simultaneously, we ask the AHA to move out as many panels and events as possible to alternate sites, especially the panels that are being led on LGBT issues. This will not only show a real commitment to equality and justice but also ensure more historians and grad students will be able to participate in AHA events without having to cross our picket line and violate the boycott.
4. Ask the AHA leadership to consider UNITE HERE’s offer to have the union’s legal counsel review AHA’s contract with the Manchester Hyatt. The review may locate language that may aid in reduction or elimination on the cancellation fee.

Anonymous said...

For the record, the concept of a mini conference was conceived by management at the Manchester Hyatt. This was not AHA trying to do the right thing, this is the prescribed buy off that the Hyatt has given groups to quell their own members' call for a boycott. We have seen group time and again use the identical language and proposal that AHA did. This mini conference will do nothing other than continue to line the pockets of Doug Manhcester!

Dan said...

A frustrating part of this is that a number of folks organized a resolution at the AHA meeting in Atlanta a few years ago that would have enabled the organization to avoid these sorts of things. Had the AHA joined INMEX, the "Informed Meetings Exchange," and not tabled the resolution (with the help of at least one very prominent historian of gender and labor, as I recall), we would be making plans for a pro-worker AHA as we speak. While the antiwar resolution that came of that Atlanta AHA got a ton of ink, the killing of the INMEX resolution seems to have had a far more significant impact on the politics of the history profession.

Anonymous said...

As someone on the market, I am well aware of the issues surrounding the choice of both SD and the hotel. That said, I am immensely grateful that I am a train ride and a 10 minute walk from the hotel, because otherwise, I'd be unable to go…and perhaps get a job. I agree that we should perhaps pick 'second cities' -- I hear Detroit is cheap right now, as is Cleveland. And they have airports.

But is it the responsibility of large professional organizations to always be 'politically correct' (an inadequate shorthand term, to be sure)? Boycotting the AHA this year means no job, and as much as I deplore the union-busting, and, of course, the passage of Prop 8, I can't live on my principles. So I'm going to suck it up, wear my union t-shirt, and hope that I get a job.

Susan said...

So my compromise is to go, but to stay in another hotel. And I'll be curious to find out if others have done the same, whether the other hotels fill up before the Hyatt.

I have heard that the reason the AHA doesn't use "second cities" is that we're too big. The facilities are not there. Now, perhaps that isn't true. But I'd also say, as someone who lives in the boonies, that second cities are a lot harder to get to.

Barry said...

"I have heard that the reason the AHA doesn't use "second cities" is that we're too big. The facilities are not there. Now, perhaps that isn't true. But I'd also say, as someone who lives in the boonies, that second cities are a lot harder to get to."

I'm willing to be that if a major conference organization (which brings in other satellite conferences) contacts the government of a 'second' city, they'll work really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hard to obtain the facilities.

Barry said...

As to the 'get to' - Detroit, for example, is a Northwest hub. An organization bringing in thousands of people could probably negotiate quite a discount on tickets.

right-wing prof said...

Just more of the hateful intimidation campaign led by the GLBT community against anyone in California donating money on what they consider the "wrong" side of this dispute. Fortunately the courts have shut down similar efforts in Washington to procure a list of names. More recently there have been threats of violence in Maine against supporters of the now passed repeal of the gay marriage law there. Better would be to make your case, respect that we live in a democracy, and not threaten violence against your opponents.

Townsend Harris said...

I gotta check with my Connecticut attorney, Louise: I thought two or three documents, including durable powers of attorney and medical directives, duly witnessed and notarized, could have easy clout, easy standing across all state lines. I gotta do this, because I like to ride motorcycles and horses in Wyoming in August.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

@right-wing prof: WTF? Since when is a boycott equivalent to "threaten[ing] violence"? Neither TR nor any of the commenters has called for violence; to suggest that they have is repugnant.

Anonymous said...

31 out of 31 states that have voted have rejected gay marriage, including liberal bastions like California and Main. All four Pres/VP candidates last fall opposed gay marriage, including Dear Leader Obama himself. Why do you vote for him and sing his praises but boycott some poor hotel owner?

temperance said...

Why should anybody in the 21st century want to attend a national disciplinary conference anywhere? Enjoying a vacation doesn't require a conference. The arguments for the meetings of the specialized scholarly societies are almost as feeble. With imagination and modern technology, adequate alternatives can be found. Then we can put our time, money, and energy into our teaching and research. Sorry about missing that hotel bar.

The History Enthusiast said...

temperance: for job seekers, the AHA is most definitely not a vacation.

everyone: I personally like the idea of Kansas City as an option. There are several hotels downtown, a major airport, and the weather can be cold but generally isn't terribly snowy. There are some interesting historical sites for "field trips" too.

right-wing prof said...

Brian,
Sorry I didn't mean to suggest TR was violent or that a boycott was violent, just that it's part of an intimidation campaign in California that has on multiple occasions included violence against supporters of the proposition, both in public campaign rallies and against donors.

GayProf said...

I also wonder if "second cities" are large enough for the AHA. When American Studies was in ABQ (the city of life), it clearly strained the local resources and air transport. ASA is a fraction the size of AHA.

But I also think that AHA has been remarkably poor in thinking about social justice issues, costs, etc. I wonder about the "negotiation" process that occurs (or if the AHA just accepts whatever hotel bid comes to them).

GayProf will not be attending AHA, regardless.

Anonymous said...

GayProf: The AHA is large enough that they "negotiate" by handing their prewritten contract to hotels and asking them to bid. They use their institutional power as a large conference to get hotels to lower the room rate so that grad students can afford to attend. One of the things they bargain away is that they settle on a large cancellation fee... which is precisely, as I understand it, at issue in the boycott. If AHA wanted to pay the cancellation fee, it would give up something like a third of its endowment... to Doug Manchester, thus cancelling the effects of the boycott anyway.

GayProf said...

Anon: Thanks for the clarification. I wonder, though, is $129 really a steal for a hotel room? Looking on-line, I find basically the same rates for those same dates without going through the conference rate.

And actually the Hilton rate that I found on-line was a bit lower than the conference rate. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'.

The History Enthusiast said...

$129 is not a steal. I found a hotel within walking distance, that looks really nice (it is an old bank!), for about $20 cheaper per night with my AAA discount. That adds up to almost $100 if you are staying for the whole conference. To a grad student that is money well saved.

Concerned Historian said...

Does anyone else find it offensive that for a year and a half our lgbt brothers and sisters have been protesting this hotel, holding candlelight vigils, picket lines, etc telling customers to honor their boycott and not to go inside; and we are just going to waltz in the hotel because the AHA told us so??

This notion of Manchester still getting $800,000 is bogus if the AHA relocates. That is the AHA's line. Are we really just going to accept that and not ask any questions and feel we are free to enter this hotel morally?

I live in LA and this is a big deal. LGBT professors and historians need to get out of our little bubble of academia and realize our decisions have consequences!

right-wing prof said...

Concerned Historian,
I'm not a Historian but you shouldn't doubt this $800,000 number, that would be completely normal for a convention of that size canceling at this late date.

bookpenporch said...

TR,
the National Communication Association dealt with this same issue last year (Manchester Hyatt) and many members formed an UNconvention at another SD hotel. Many simply decided not to attend. If you have friends in the communication field, talk to them about how they organized. If not, I can email you some contacts.

bookpenporch said...

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25023464067

http://www.ncaglbtq.org/UNconvention.pdf

What emerged in response....

Anonymous said...

Dallas is the main hub for both American and Southwest and has several HUGE conference hotels, is centrally located, and very inexpensive to eat, shop, and play. I know Texas isn't the first place that pops into anyone's head when they think of places that are LGBTI friendly, but we do actually have a very large, and very active, LGBTI population. Just sayin'...anyone looking to host a huge conference could do much worse than coming to Dallas.

SD Activist said...

Yes, the professors in the NCA actually took a stand in support of the lgbt community and San Diego's hotel workers. They did not just blindly accepted their organizations claim of financial devastation.
Cancellation fees are only related to time intervals; so last January, their was no where near a 800,000 cancellation fee. It is only now once historians have started to see the light that the AHA falls back on this cancellation fee.

What is more upsetting is that the LGBT task Force of the AHA is going to be the first LGBT org or affiliate to violate this boycott! If anyone, they should follow in NCA's footsteps and hold their mini conference elsewhere. Its so pathetic that they are talking about LGBT issues in the Besty Manchester Ballroom!

I hope all AHA members get a nice view of the photo gallery in the lobby of war criminals like George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeldt arm in arm with Doug Manchester.

This makes me sick!

In some parts of the world academics and professors stand with activists, students and workers to fight against injustice. Im America, it seems they are committed to publishing research papers and holding conventions. So committed to that, that they are willing to cross picket lines to do so. Amazing

Anonymous said...

@ RightWingProp, your assertion that any LGBT activists in CA have advocated for violence toward people who feel entitled to strip LGBT people of their equality in this state is simply not true. I'm an extremely active member of the struggle for LGBT rights here in SD--and I would have heard about it.

The UNconvention last year was a perfect model of what to do in a situation like this, when your organization simply refuses to stand up for your principles.

The idea of AHA holding "same-sex marriage" sessions inside the Hyatt are akin to arguing that the AHA should hold 15 sessions "on the question of racial equality" inside the Church of the Aryan Brotherhood (and PAY the Aryans to do so!) because "the Aryans are the ones who really need to hear this discussion about racial equality the most." Yes, that's true that Aryans need to hear about racial equality. But they can HEAR ABOUT IT while we make noise on their front steps--not while we PAY THEM TO BE INSIDE.

Or to use another example, would a group of people organizing to end the sexual objectification of women choose to use Hugh Heffner's house as their trusted venue? Would we really expected to be HEARD and SUCCESSFUL there? Would it be smart if Heffner was charging a fee for admission to such a discussion? Or should we feel USED that he gets to play the meeting off as something that proves that "See--the women love me; we're having conversations here about it at my house."?

Some AHA members commenting on this post seem not realize the seriousness of this boycott. It is not "light" or "unsuccessful". On the contrary, Manchester has had to lose millions in profits in the last year under this boycott. For those who plan to attend the conference, there WILL be a picket line, and it WILL be serious. I hope you'll have organized a different venue for your conversations about LGBT rights by then.

Cecile in San Diego

clioandme said...

I don't really see the need for the AHA to get involved in politics, even if marriage equality is nothing more and nothing less than a human rights issue. For my part, I find myself unable to attend these things because of cost, even if they are happening in my own backyard. Adjuncting won't support that and pay the rent at the same time.

Larry Cebula said...

There are already so many good reasons not to attend the AHA--starting with the fact that the conference sucks ass.

Anonymous said...

The link to the press release is dead.