Why We Must Go to the 2012 APSA Annual Meeting in New Orleans

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Why We Must Go to the 2012 APSA Annual Meeting in New Orleans
A Petition

Contact Christopher Malone ([email protected]) if you wish to have your named added to this petition.

Over 500 of our brothers and sisters in the American Political Science Association have signed on to a petition approving of a boycott of the 2012 APSA conference which will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The boycott letter can be found at http://www.danpinello.com/Boycott.htm.

We, the undersigned, understand the reasons behind the call to boycott the annual APSA conference in New Orleans; we agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment behind those reasons. Discrimination of any kind is odious to a democratic society; laws forbidding the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons relegate those individuals to the same second-class citizenship status which African Americans suffered through for a full century after three hundred years of slavery came to an end. Today, those laws are EVERYWHERE regarded as morally, ethically, socially, philosophically, and politically wrong. We firmly believe that soon the same laws which discriminate against the LGBT community will be regarded EVERYWHERE as wrong. And we will fight every moment until that day has arrived.

The signatories to the aforementioned letter give several reasons for calling for the boycott. Their arguments fasten on several general points: 1) those who wish to help New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina should do so now, not seven years after the devastation occurred by generating economic activity with the conference; 2) APSA may terminate its contract with New Orleans hotels due to its anti-discrimination policy; 3) contrary to perception, New Orleans is not a gay-friendly city, and hence LGBT members of APSA and their partners would not receive equal treatment or, in the case of an emergency, equal medical treatment at local hospitals and emergency centers; and 4) discrimination against other groups would simply not be tolerated.

All of these points may be valid; yet they miss several fundamental countervailing reasons why APSA should hold its annual conference in New Orleans in 2012.

First, it is true that New Orleans is still in recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Any economic activity that the citys tourist industry generates may eventually assist in the citys rebuilding however tangentially, however unequal in its distribution. But this argument altogether mischaracterizes the reason why the largest gathering of political scientists in the world needs to be in to New Orleans in the post-Katrina era.

By now it is widely recognized that Hurricane Katrina was not just a natural disaster; it was as much, if not more, man-made. More specifically, it was a failure of government at all levels. Shoddily-built levees by the Army Corps of Engineers going back forty years lulled the people of New Orleans into a false sense of security about the ability of those levees to withstand what was essentially a Category 2 hurricane by the time Katrina hit the city. Except for the levees protecting the Lower Ninth Ward, which were topped due to the surge up the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), all other failed levees simply crumbled. The Army Corps of Engineers has admitted its malfeasance, and just recently a US federal court ruled that the creation of the MRGO was the cause for the flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward. After the storm hit, federal authorities were criminally slow in bringing relief to the tens of thousands of New Orleanians stranded across the city most of whom were black, most of whom were poor. While Hurricane Katrina was unavoidable, the devastation it visited upon New Orleans and her people were. It didnt have to happen.

As political scientists, the study of government is at the core of our discipline. Why government failed at all levels in New Orleans both pre and post-Katrina should be concern to any political scientist who studies the consequences of public policy on race, class, economic inequality, etc., and the consequences of race, class, economic inequality, etc., on public policy.
In other words, we should use New Orleans in 2012 to produce more knowledge about this tragic event, and to highlight its causes and consequences. The impact of such a concerted effort leading up to New Orleans 2012 and coming out of it could be quite significant. And yes, if there are some of us so inclined to use this opportunity to advocate for a certain set of policies, then so be it.

Which leads us to the second reason why we should go to New Orleans. Our colleagues who have signed on to the boycott have advocated for a course of action - they have chosen an economic boycott of New Orleans as their tactic. Boycotts have a long history in social movements and have proven quite effective in the past. Boycotts are a valid means of raising awareness of a problem or a cause. But let us be clear: a boycott is but one of many tactics a group can choose. Another tactic is direct confrontation through non-violent civil disobedience, i.e., peaceful social protest.

We ask: why would those of us who wish to protest the discriminatory laws of New Orleans and Louisiana do so by simply staying away? Wouldnt it be better to have the 500+ signatories to this boycott join hundreds if not thousands of others in some type of civil protest action in New Orleans during those 5 days in the summer of 2012? What about joining forces with anti-discrimination groups in New Orleans? How about a letter writing campaign to local officials? Or, how about we agree to only visit New Orleans establishments restaurants, music venues, hotels, shops, etc. that have signed on to some anti-discrimination statement put out by the members of APSA? Economic patronage can have the same consequences as an economic boycott. Imagine the potential for local and national press if there was a list of New Orleans establishments that were considered acceptable to hundreds if not thousands of APSA goers. Such a move would essentially link this effort to the people of New Orleans in a way a boycott never could. We believe that changing the policies of Louisiana could just as legitimately be achieved by OUR PRESENCE as by our ABSENCE.

Third and related, we understand the legitimate concern the signatories to the boycott have with their own protection and well-being, as well as the protection and well-being of their partners who may accompany them to New Orleans for those 4 or 5 days. However, we find it problematic that our colleagues nowhere mention any solidarity with the members of the LGBT community in Louisiana. After all, these are the individuals who must live under the tyranny of discrimination day in and day out. Self-interest lies at the core of many a political motive; solidarity is what builds a movement. Is not the statement injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere as true today as it was on April 16th, 1963 when Martin Luther King wrote those words in defense of his presence in Birmingham, Alabama? It begs the question: does a boycott of New Orleans by those who have the luxury of not living under its laws actually do anything for those who dont? If we are advocating for a cause, dont we have a duty to expose how discriminatory policies affect everyone it touches not just those it will touch for a few days?

For these reasons, we believe that it is vital that APSA hold its annual meeting in New Orleans in 2012. Our presence in New Orleans and the fight for equal rights are not mutually exclusive things. As academics, we should be there to study such social problems and their causes. As advocates, so much more can be accomplished if we were there. We urge those who have chosen boycott to rethink their positions. Our discipline and our membership would be the better for it. And we hope that our brothers in sisters in New Orleans who need a hand in their struggles would also be the better for it.