AAA Democracy

I was flying back to Taiwan by Saturday evening, so I missed some exciting activity in the general business meeting. Luckily David Price wrote it up for CounterPunch and Maureen posted it in the comments to an old post (we do have a “contact us” link, although I admit it is a little hard to find). In short, the AAA adopted some measures denouncing the War on Terror and torture; but what I find really interesting about Price’s article is the debate that followed over AAA democracy:

After adopting the anti-Iraq War and anti-torture measures, a spontaneous floor debate arose after Gerald Sider, CUNY Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, eloquently spoke of how the AAA’s bylaws had been changed during the Vietnam War as an anti-democratic measure to empower the association’s administrative structure, while disempowering the rank and file’s ability to enact political measures at these annual meetings. Sider knows of which he speaks. While doing archival research over the years at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, I have seen enough of the AAA’s records and the correspondence of key actors from this period to know that such claims are well founded, statements from the floor by Nina Glick Schiller and other veterans from these past struggles helped push Sider’s proposal to a vote that the association consider returning to its old structure.

The debate that transpired was interesting. Some argued that the business meeting’s normally low attendance was sufficient evidence that such poorly-attended meetings should not be allowed to direct Association policy, but the argument that carried the day maintained that it was the structural decision to limit the power of meeting attendees that had destroyed meeting attendance. After some discussion, a resolution was adopted instructing the Association to consider re-empowering the annual meeting as a forum where direct democratic action could occur.

Very interesting developments. Was anyone there who has more to comment on the debates?

2 thoughts on “AAA Democracy

  1. I was not at the meeting is question but I was on the flight back to the East Coast with Alan Goodman, the AAA president. He mentioned the issue discussed in the CounterPunch piece, saying that even with the vote the resolution has to go to the full membership for approval by secret ballot. He said that this would take about six months because the association uses paper ballots. From my own past experience on other issues with AAA paper ballot voting I know that the ballot return is very very low.

    I tend to agree with the argument that the structural stuff keeps people from attending the AAA business meeting at the AAAs. I am really active on committees and in two sections but the business meeting for the entire association usually just seems like a waste of time.

    I must also add that although I think it is great that so many people showed up for the meeting and that they adopted these resolutions, it seems strange that the AAA is behind the entire rest of the United States in terms of saying that they are ‘against the war in Iraq.’ Sure, symbolic, but why didn’t this happen five years ago (my students reminded me this morning that the war started when they were all in high school)?

    On another note, I did attend the dance this year. The band was fantastic and really what is better than watching your colleagues booze it up and get down? But alas, the dance was also poorly attended. What was worse was that it was in a truly terrible space.

  2. I attended the AAA Business Meeting on Saturday evening, and had several observations about both the procedural issues raised in the discussion and the substance of the resolutions.

    Procedural: I don’t think the discussion was well served by the advice on parliamentary procedures that was being fed in real time to meeting chair Alan Goodman. In my reading of the AAA By-Laws , when the Business Meeting has a quorum (as there was in this instance for the first time in years) a vote cast in support of resolutions has a binding effect. No further referendum of the membership is needed. I don’t find Gerry Sider’s energetic assertions about the structural silencing of the membership supported by the facts. If you want to get the Association to act, all you have to do is troll the bars and hallways for 250 of the 5000-plus in attendance, and you will have a quorum.

    My own sense, however, is that had anyone had the temerity to point out that the sweeping generalizations in the language of the two resolutions actually serves to undermine the Association’s credibility, they would have been shouted down by the “coercive harmony” (to use the phrase David Price borrows from Laura Nader) of angry activists wanting to turn back the clock to the glory days of campus protests.

    Substantive: In fact, the Association has now passed a binding vote that, among other things, demands release of the names of all prisoners held in US prisons (including federal prisons domestically and abroad, regardless of genuine privacy concerns the prisoners may have), demands release all prisoners held in these prisons (including, for example, US soldiers convicted and incarcerated for homicide and sexual assualts against citizens in foreign territories), singles out Jerry Bremer as principally responsible for the ongoing mess in Iraq (when, in fact, I believe there is plenty of collective responsibility to go around), and insists that the US pay for all cleanup and decontamination of everything in Iraq, whether it was the result of the Iran-Iraq war, the Saddam regime’s environmental excesses, or the current conflict. We also simultaneously called for the withdrawal of all US troops and the establishment of a UN peace-keeping force – that I guess would have to limp along without the US since its troops are to be withdrawn.

    I find such high-temperature rhetoric to be self-defeating, as it undermines the Association’s credibility and allows its intended audience to discount a deeply felt and widely held sense of the Association.

    I hope that Professor Gonzalez is willing to entertain some friendly assistance to enhance the credibility of the resolutions’ language without undermining its substantive strength.

Comments are closed.