[URBANTH-L]Opportunities for Change (Crumley)

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Wed Nov 3 11:48:30 EST 2004

[I've encouraged everyone to avoid excessive crossposting to UrbAnth-L.
However, in these difficult political times I believe that Carole Crumley's
letter (below) warrants circulation -AJ]

From: Carole Crumley <crumley at email.unc.edu>
Date Written: Mon, 1 Nov 2004

I wish to offer an alternative way of seeing the current situation.  AAA
is a relatively large (circa 12,000 members) social science professional
organization.  Like the Queen Mary, its path cannot be altered in the
length of an Olympic swimming pool.

When I joined AAA in 1973, the Association had just been through an uproar
over Vietnam.  The issue was not about the war itself  everyone was
against it  but whether it was appropriate to use the voice of the
Association to speak out.  That time, those whose opinion was that members
should work individually and not implicate the Association prevailed.  I
disagreed, but understood their position: many had lived through the
McCarthy years and had taught in the chilly Cold War academic climate and
were unwilling to see their Association and themselves targeted.

I thought then, as I do now, that we should not just study change but be
it, and regretted the lost opportunity for an organized community of
like-minded professionals to speak out against a great wrong.  Over thirty
years later, AAA has been faced with a decision that again places the
Association in an important global struggle.

This time, I believe that the membership is better prepared to join that
struggle, both as individuals and as an Association.  I expect that
members' opinions may vary as to how, on short notice, Association
finances should be committed and plans changed.  This was indeed AAA's
October Surprise, as the leadership learned of the lockout during the
second week in the month, with little time to poll or plan.  But finally
the step has been taken, and the Executive Board committed the Association
to respecting the lockout, the first time (to my knowledge) that a
professional group has taken this position.

Yet it would seem, at first glance, that the Queen Mary has plowed into
the dock.  I would like to argue that this need not be so.  As an
Association, we still have a powerful voice to raise for workers' rights,
along with other pressing issues.  Let us not forget that the injustice is
being committed by the hotel industry and that AAA can work to reduce
constraints on future responses.  Of course, we have some preparation to
do ourselves: I assume that those who would lead us will have eschewed
Wal-Mart, fast food, and sneakers from China.  The rest of us must follow
as best we can.

Successful organizations - including heterarchical, democratic
organizations - must have a solid infrastructure and fiscal health if
they are to serve their members.  A truly progressive organization is not
ex cathedra by a distant elite, but serves a knowledgeable membership
whose commitment and participation give legitimacy to its elected

AAA is not perfect but it is responsive.  One example is from the spring
2004 meeting, where the Section Assembly's motion to meet only in
municipalities with living wage ordinances and in unionized hotels was
strongly supported by the Executive Board.  A combined SA/EB working group
was formed and is scheduled to report to the Board at the fall meeting.
In the face of the Hilton lockout, the Board felt strongly enough about
the issue to act without the protection of a legal clause in our current
contracts, which were negotiated in 1996 (San Francisco) and 1998
(Atlanta).  While this may seem hopelessly slow and woefully inadequate to
some, it is nonetheless a democratic and responsible way to redirect our
big ship.

In the past few weeks we have seen the power of the internet and the
willingness of individuals and groups to think creatively.  We have also
seen ways that the connections between our elected representatives and the
members can be improved and our goals clarified.  Everyone must become
more active in the Association, standing for election and nominating
colleagues willing to serve on committees in Section positions.  It is the
responsibility of all of us to participate in improving the effectiveness
of AAA.  One example would be to investigate ways that the Association can
protest labor practices that negatively affect our own members.

Most importantly, we must not lose touch with the underlying purpose that
unites our discipline: to speak for those who cannot.  We must persist in
being inclusive, by recognizing, respecting, and discussing differences of
opinion as regards strategy and tactics, and eschewing personal attacks.

I ask you to join me in supporting an organization that has enormous
potential for internal growth and the power to effect change in the world
around us.  On Tuesday, important decisions will be made that affect our
country and the planet.  Turn for a moment from our internal discord.
Leave your computers and drive an old person to the polls, monitor
elections, vote.  Then let us begin again, in solidarity - old members
and young ones, those with established positions and those without,
and practicing professionals - to build a AAA for the twenty-first century
to meet both novel and sadly familiar challenges.

Carole L. Crumley
AAA Executive Board, Archaeology Seat
Students for a Democratic Society (Ann Arbor, 1964)
Teaching Assistants Association (Madison, 1967)

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