An Open Letter to SAA Members Regarding the Location of the 2019 Annual Meeting

August 24, 2017—The SAA Council announced on July 24 that we were considering relocating the 2019 Annual Meeting from Austin, Texas, based on pending legislation that would “require people to use restrooms and other facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate.” The legislation was not taken up in a special session of the Texas House and therefore failed on August 16. But there’s more to the story.

In mid-June the Texas governor signed a discriminatory law that allows child welfare providers to refuse adoptions to LGBTQ individuals based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Subsequently the California attorney general invoked California’s AB 1887 (which prohibits the state from supporting or financing discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people by prohibiting state-funded or state-supported travel to states that have passed discriminatory legislation since 2015) to place a ban on travel to Texas.

On Tuesday the SAA Council held a conference call to make a final decision about our 2019 conference site. We carefully reviewed a list of options and a recommendation prepared by SAA Executive Director Nancy Beaumont and, ultimately, we made the very tough decision to keep the conference in Austin. The Council vote resulted in a tie; I cast the deciding vote.

Our heartfelt beliefs were brought forward as we discussed SAA’s options, and ultimately a majority of us were swayed by three important considerations:

  • The penalty for cancellation of the conference (by August 23) would have been $140,000 – an amount that would compromise SAA’s programs and services for several years, with no tangible benefit to SAA’s members and no tangible economic impact on Texas.
  • Given our experience with the Liberated Archive Forum in Portland, we think there is an opportunity in Austin to once again craft programming that addresses the intersection of social and political issues with the work of archives and archivists. There is an opportunity to partner with groups in the trenches in Austin and throughout Texas who are working against discrimination and oppression. As one Council member said: “Texas is one of the places that needs more activism, not less, to counter hateful forces. If we go to Austin, we’ll be showing up on the front line—and that’s a powerful move for an organization such as ours.”
  • In light of the travel ban imposed on our members who are California state employees—and also based on the fact that just a third of our members are able to attend any given conference due to financial and other constraints—we are committed to implementing in Austin (and beyond) live-streaming and/or other virtual conferencing options that will make it possible to participate for those who can’t travel. This long-overdue option will be an expensive proposition (we will allocate up to $100,000 from SAA’s technology fund to get us started), but it is one that we can plan and budget for, that will build the organization’s capacity going forward, and that will open the conference to more members.

Austin has a well-deserved reputation for being a welcoming city. As one example, Austin mayor Steve Adler recently posted a series of tweets inviting transgender people who are dismissed or rejected from the military to apply to the Austin Police Department.  He wrote:  “If you’re qualified to keep our country safe you’re qualified to keep Austin safe.” / “Austin is the safest big city in Texas partly because we know our differences make us a stronger community.” / “If you get kicked out of the service because you're transgender, please apply to join our police force.” 

We can't know what the next two years may bring in state and national politics and legislation. California may lift its ban. Texas may adopt more onerous laws. But we can direct our resources to implementing an outstanding education program, innovative programming that highlights our core values as an organization, and virtual conferencing that enables broader participation by our members.

We will work with our hotel partners, our members in Austin, and the broader Austin community to provide a safe and welcoming environment at SAA’s 2019 Annual Meeting.

As always, please contact me at president@archivists.org if you have questions or concerns.

Tanya Zanish-Belcher
SAA President, 2017-2018

6 Comment(s) to the "An Open Letter to SAA Members Regarding the Location of the 2019 Annual Meeting"
MyNameIs says:
Providential dodge

In light of the week's events, this decision seems providential.  How petty it would seem for a professional organization to walk away from such a committment for this reason, in comparison to the good that will come from being there.  This would not be a good look - especially now.  Texas will need all the economic support from tourism and conventions it can retain.  And two years from now there will still be much to do in the assisting of cultural resource collegaues.  There will be service opportunities within reach.  Oh, and thanks for not flushing the recent dues increase down the toilet, so to speak, on this issue.  Much better use of these funds to help folks directly rather than leave them on the table with a broken contract over a political issue.

pyatt says:
A hard decision

As a former member of Council, I can imagine this was a difficult decision and I am not surprised the vote was close. Initially I was one of those who thought we should move the meeting. But once I read the open letter and understood the impact such a move would have on SAA, my position changed. Having served on boards for several non-profits, I understand how thin the margin is with operating finances. The financial loss would put the organization at risk and make next to no impact on the discriminatory law passed by Texas legislators.

 

I live in a state (NC) that has also suffered economic boycotts due to discriminatory legislation. Those boycotts did not hurt the legislators – they hurt the vendors, hotel staff, and restaurants who lost business from cancelled events and conferences. The impact on their livelihoods would be far greater the political statement made.

 

I imagine this will be an ongoing challenge for the Society as annual meeting contracts have to be negotiated years in advance. In the time between signing the contract and the meeting, legislatures and laws can change; what looks like a safe state to meet in one year could be on the boycott list the following year. What is more important is what we do while we are at the annual meeting. It is much harder to “show up and counter hateful forces” as the letter suggests than to turn away and hope the problem will go away.

 

I want to thank all of Council – including those who expressed opinions on the other side of the issue – for their difficult work. If our politicians with differing views could work together this well, I don’t think Council would have to make these challenging decisions.

Tim Pyatt

McCun7355 says:
2019 Annual Meeting in Austin

I disagree with your decision - it reeks of back-pedaling & justification. It reminds me of parents who threaten their kids with consequences for bad behavior but never follow through....which only makes the kids more disrespectful. 

jchubb says:
Austin 2019

I appreciate what a difficult decision this was for Council and the efforts on Nancy's part to present the options for their consideration. Austin is a wonderful, inclusive city and those of us who call it home will do everything we can to support the 2019 meeting and our fellow members, whether they attend in person or virtually. 

jennyj says:
$ from technology fund

What was the $100,000 in the technology fund earmarked for prior to the discussions about the Austin meeting? It's great to be able to do livestreaming, but what aren't we getting now that this money has been reallocated?

nbeaumont@archi... says:
Technology Fund

We've built the Tech Fund over several years to fund the new association management software system and communities software, both of which are key to our operations infrastructure. We'll be implementing them in the next nine months. It's likely that we won't spend down the Fund entirely on these two important projects and we hope to add to it over the next two years, partially with net gains from the 2017 and 2018 annual meetings. Live-streaming/virtual conferencing has been on our technology radar screen for a long time, but we've had to put the AMS first.