There are lots of reasons I don’t want to go to Orlando, FL, again to attend a conference of the American Library Association (ALA). Most are matters of personal comfort, cost, and convenience, so the good things I’d get from the conference outweigh those annoyances. In 2016, however, there is a compelling reason to stay away from Orlando, especially if you are a young African American.
The Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA) made clear its concerns about meeting in Orlando in light of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and the recent cases in which it has been used to exonerate the killers of young African American men. After discussion of the heavy fiscal penalties ALA would probably incur if the 2016 conference was moved, ALA leadership rejected relocating.
Conferences as large as ALA’s must be scheduled seven to ten years in advance, according to ALA executive director Keith Fiels and ALA president Barbara Stripling. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated in 2000, five years before Florida’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law came about. Canceling all of the convention contracts would result in fines totaling $814,000. Even if the organization was willing to absorb that loss, Fiels and Stripling assert that ALA would not be able to find another site for its late June/early July 2016 meeting at this late date.
“Most troubling,” according to a joint statement by leaders of ALA and its ethnic caucuses, is “the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws.” ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that it would be better to turn the Orlando conference “into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity.” They agreed to a host of meetings and discussions on racial diversity and to make the issue the “major topic of the Membership Meeting at [the 2014 conference in] Las Vegas” and of a Virtual Membership Meeting in June. ALA will support “conversations and actions at the state level,” appoint a Special Presidential Task Force on the issue, direct communications toward the public, and more.
Obviously, ALA members will support that program, but that won’t diminish our deep depression over being forced to go to Orlando. I don’t doubt the facts of the situation, but I resent that to participate in our professional association we must risk visiting a state where gun nuts are acquitted after they shoot and kill innocent youths.
As an ALA member since the 1960s, I remember the many, many times we have been told that ALA’s tax-exempt status would be endangered by actions that were proposed. We were repeatedly told about the penalties to ALA if conferences were moved after contracts were signed. ALA actions and principles have too frequently been overruled by money. That will be on my mind as we continue to contemplate Orlando.
ALA must not continue to be held hostage to such dangers, especially if the only reason is the huge penalties for breaking conference agreements. Surely we can hire the legal talent needed to break contracts that rob ALA of any flexibility to change sites for a decade after they are scheduled, rather than continuing to accept the notion that venues and cities can call the tune no matter what new laws, policies, or dangers they add to the already strong case against meeting there. As well, future contracts should be written to anticipate potential changes. If I go to Orlando in 2016, and I probably will, I will go under protest against the site and, alas, against the ALA officials who accept this sad concession to evil. All the town meetings and palaver available in Orlando in 2016 will not make going to that city palatable. Now, as in the past, money trumps principle in ALA.