Saturday, October 23, 2004

Response to Dr. William O Beeman’s email defending the AAA Board’s decision to move the AAA conference to Atlanta

Prof. Beeman, thank you for your quick response. No offense was intended to anyone, but we have different perspectives on what constitutes the moral thing to do (the word was used appropriately I argue). In fact, in my first email, I wrote; “Does the AAA-Hilton contract state that AAA is committed to uphold the contract despite the negative publicity to AAA and the respective participants personally from crossing the picket line? In other words, in signing the contract with Hilton, did it mean that the legitimacy of AAA as a “moral, ethical organization” should be disregarded? Why should AAA take the flakfor the collapse of Hilton’s labor-management relations?”

It is understandable that being in the AAA Board, your and the Board’s primary concern were the interests of the AAA and the participants to the conference. On this point you and the Board have done well and I have publicly acknowledged that in my first email last week.

However, the lockout of 4,000 minority, women, and immigrant workers living on strike pay with a bleak future (and a freezing one at that) and unaffordable insurance plans is no trivial matter. That the strikes and lockouts are spreading across the country shows that the conflict between hotel industry giants and labor is deep seated.

Principles should be consistent at all levels. The war on labor and collective rights is just as important as an unjust war. Afterall, the union and most of us are also against the war in Iraq.

Shifting the financial burden to participants (despite the planned financial assistance) rather than the organization is also a moral choice, which you and the Board decided on, and which we disagree with.

Before I wrote the previous email, I was wondering if all the emails that were going around were reaching the right people. The environmental and medical anthropology list serves, as well as the graduate listserves were filled with numerous suggestions and strategies for a “win-win” approach to the situation (including comments on the propriety of the survey/vote). My first two emails raised questions and suggestions similar to and pre-dated Rob O’brien’s comments. These were based on Tom Sheridan’s forward of the AAA Board’s request for comments and suggestions.

Why all these emails, including the offers from San Jose and the request of the Union to support their struggle and move to San Jose, did not presumably reach you and the Board should be explored.

Thus, as you and the Board are dismayed by our counter-actions, we who are against the move to Atlanta and the Board’s decisions were also surprised and dismayed to read about the process and timing of the Board’s decisions. As you know, the Board’s decision reflects on all anthropologists, especially those engaged in women, labor, health, human rights, public anthropology etc. studies.

I disagree that we move on and prepare for the next “battle”. Contrary to what the Board thinks, the move to Atlanta seriously compromises the integrity of the conference and the credibility of the organization. The fact that it is a non-unionized hotel during this time of hotel industry-labor conflict makes it even worse.

As I wrote, by force of circumstance and not of it’s making, the organization (and the conference) was placed in this moral dilemma. It should rise to the occasion. The AAA needed to tread carefully by ensuring that the consultative and decision-making processes are transparent and as participatory as possible.

The AAA indeed faced considerable time constraints, but all parties concerned understood that there were extraneous factors at work. The pressure most likely would have come from the Hilton, but the Board should have had more faith in the support that the anthropological community could have given it. Not doing so will only sow internal conflict not only with the organization but also in the wider anthropological community. A boycott and picket movement is being launched and already someone has emailed suggesting a class action suit against the AAA for the planned move to Atlanta.

The anthropological community needs to come together in this instance, but it needs to come together in support of minority, women, and immigrant labor rights. These are our friends, relatives, and countrymen. We should help them in their struggle for their rights.

Lastly, you may want to read the attached email from a MESA-graduate student complaining about the lack of transparency in the MESA Board regarding the same issue. Should you wish to read my previous emails, these have been posted at


Hecky Villanueva

Date: Sat, 23 Oct 2004 14:23:26 -0700 (PDT)From: Afra Al-Mussawir Subject: [GRADFORUM:2076] RE: mesa conference in nov in sfTo: newhall@u.arizona.eduCc: MESA , aaamessnl ,
mlowder@EMAIL.ARIZONA.EDU,, Gradforum ,,,,, self

Dear Dr. Newhall,

Thanks for your prompt response!I am dismayed that I had not heard anything about this situation fromMESA and would not have been aware of it except for my participation inAAA. Many student members of MESA were apparently equally in the darkabout this, and I’ve even heard from a professor who was not aware thatthe Hyatt Regency in SF is one of the hotels being struck, though hecares very much about this issue.

You mentioned in this email to methat “Members will be informed of the situation” but I do believe thatthis should be done in a timely manner ñ i.e. now! ñ to give peopletime to make their decisions about whether to attend (i.e. cross picketlines), to change their hotel plans (especially if they had intended tostay in one of the hotels being struck), or even “just” to discuss thesituation and the ethical questions involved. The sooner we makecancellations/ changes, the less we are personally liable for.

I fully appreciate the situation MESA finds itself in; as youmentioned, a lawsuit and huge financial penalties could destroy theorganization. I truly do not want that to happen as I think MESA hasplayed and will continue to play an important role ñ especially as wehave seen in recent times ñ in combating prejudice(s) within governmentand within the public (e.g. as regards federal funding and oversightissues) and in taking official positions on certain issues (e.g. therestriction of visas to the US for academics who are not citizens orpermanent residents of the US).

And yet, MESA also has an important role to play in thesecircumstances. I find that our “right to choose” (your own words!) asindividual members of MESA in this case has been compromised by MESAorganizers’ lack of forthrightness about the situation; we cannot”choose” if we do not know there is a “choice” to be made! I wouldheartily appreciate an official and public statement of disclosure fromMESA ís Board of Directors on their position and decisions, as well asthe reasons for those decisions and an explanation of thedecision-making process.

You and other MESA officials should be aware of measures that have beenrecommended to AAA to avoid getting caught in such a dilemma in thefuture, and MESA should consider adopting similar policies, including:

-to favor living wage municipalities and unionized hotels in choosing future meeting venues,-to seek a strike cancellation clause in future contracts with meeting hotels, and;
- to purchase cancellation insurance to cover future meetings.

To this list I would add:
-for MESA to make major decisions and decision-making processes (such as involved here) public to its members,
- to adopt some policy regarding collecting input from MESA members on such issues, and,
- to alter MESA’s no-show policy so as not to penalize those who boycott the annual meeting(s) for matters of principle such as this.I feel this last point is important.

While you state that individualshave the right to choose whether or not to attend this year’s annualmeeting, MESA’s policy states that a no-show on the part of a presenterwill be penalized by not being allowed to present in the followingyear’s meeting; if a proposed presenter at this year’s meeting decidesto boycott this year’s meeting at the Hyatt in San Francisco, wouldhe/she still be penalized as a no-show?

While I am well aware that MESA plans for and contracts for annualmeetings several years in advance (and so enacting these recommendedpolicies may not have real effect until years into the future), Ibelieve that consideration of and adoption of these measures wouldimprove the ethical position of our organization. At the very least,it will clarify MESA’s position to our members and to managers/ ownersof potential meeting sites.I hope to hear from you on these points, and I feel that a generaldiscussion ñ of both the long-term and the short-term issues ñ isdesirable right now.Eagerly awaiting your reply,


Afra Al-Mussawir
Graduate Student in Anthropology and The Americo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies
The University of Texas at Austin

cc: MESA-GSO listserve AAA listserve for students in the Anthropology of the Middle East (AAA MESSNL), Mark J. Lowder, MESA, (mlowder@EMAIL.ARIZONA.EDU)"MESA" ( graduate student listserve for Anthropology students Professor IanManners, Chair of UTís Department of Middle East Studies( Kamran Aghaie, UTís Department of Middle East Studies( Kamran Ali, UTís Department of Anthropology ( Sam Wilson, Chair of UTís Department of Anthropology(


Prof. William O. Beeman's reply

I am writing you as an individual, not representing the board, since no one else seems to be on line right now.

When the board made its decision on Thursday, none of the offers from the SJ convention and visitors bureau were on the table-I only heard of this $450,000 offer today, and I don't even know if it is a legitimate offer. Certainly we have not heard anything about it from AAA headquarters. To whom was the offer presented and under what circumstances? Moreover, the room arrangements for San Jose were due to expire on Monday--and we have heard nothing at all about an extension of that deadline. These last minute deals could possibly have made a difference on Thursday, but they are coming too, too late!

The AAA board was under tremendous time pressure to both satisfy the numerous individuals who refused to cross picket lines, and to be stewards of the AAA finances and of the integrity of the annual meeting. Taking a 1.2 million dollar hit was an option, of course, but such a drastic financial action could not responsibly be taken by the board without approval of the entire membership, and there just wasn't time to poll any more than we did. As it was, we took a very audacious financial step in moving to Atlanta. We moved forward with the Atlanta plans with real trepidation because of the financial burdens it would impose on our least wealthy members. The board has moved to set up a special fund for graduate students, foreign visitors and I believe adjunct faculty to offset the costs of moving. I will be the first to contribute.

Added to this was the logistical dilemmas and the additional costs imposed by the San Jose venue, which would require the meetings to be spread over five properties--meeting rooms revised, the whole program reprinted, etc. The AAA staff was reeling at the prospect. Having organized several large meetings, I can tell you that this is not a trivial affair. Just the need for thousands of rooms alone restricts the venues we can consider. The Atlanta venue relocates the meeting to a single property, just like San Francisco, and is scheduled for the same days of the week, just like San Francisco. If we had an army of volunteers to aid the AAA staff, that might have also made a difference in the Atlanta decision, but again--no time to see if it was possible.

Finally, you should all know that the union in San Francisco was satisfied--even pleased by our action, and that no matter where we went or what we did, we would have to use the facilities of the hotel chains that were locking out the hotel workers. We would have had to use Hilton property in San Jose as well, along with the properties of all the other big chains participating in the lockout. No moral victory there!

I seriously suggest that everyone channel their energy into fighting the next battle. You can bet that we will be discussing these plans most earnestly at the meetings. This struggle will not go away. We will now face it every year. Robert O'Brien made some excellent suggestions for policy changes that will protect our organization and our integrity, including revising our meeting schedule (planned a decade in advance!) to reflect corporate labor policy. This strike could not have been foreseen when the original contract with Hilton was signed.

I am living in San Jose this year. I love the city, ink it is a fabulous place for a convention with lots to do, great restaurants and easy access. It also has some very enlightened civic policies. I suggested it as an alternative venue immediately, but the problems in moving here were just insurmountable.

Finally, please be careful with the word "immoral." Once you use it inappropriately against your colleagues who are doing nothing more than trying desperately to act in the best interests of all, it loses its force for things that are truly immoral, like the war in Iraq.

William O. Beeman
Professor, Anthropology; and Theatre, Speech and Dance
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Tel: (401) 863-3251
(2004-2005 Visiting Professor, Cultural and Social Anthropology,
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305)

Protest actions on the AAA decision ot move the AAA conference to Atlanta

This weekend provides a window of opportunity for those who believe that the AAA conference should be held in San Jose as a sign of support to the struggle of labor to protect their collective rights. Although the AAA Board and its officers have informed us that it has agreed to the Hilton proposal to move the conference to a non-unionized hotel in Atlanta in December 2004; most probably no contract has been signed yet (If ever one was signed, contracts can be broken too). A massive show of displeasure at the AAA Board for hastily deciding to relocate/ postpone the conference needs to be achieved.

Further, and I am risking myself by saying this, the discussion, at this point, needs to be expanded to include constituents of anthropologists and this means labor, health, educational, media, academic etc. sectors. Pressure must be laid to bear now not only on the SF Multi-Employer Group (MEG) but the AAA Board to do the moral thing NOW. As already stated/ emailed to you, please support the protest actions by doing the following:

1. Organize ourselves. Many anthropological sections and e-groups/listserves exist. For those that I am participating in, many have voiced opposition to the relocation/ postponement. However, these messages are not reaching the wider anthropological community and the general public.

· Rob O’brien has set up a blog to consolidate all messages. Please visit the blog at, leave your comments and suggestions and vote on the mini-poll they set up. These will be forwarded to the AAA Board.

· Vanessa deKoninck [mailto:
vdekoninck@UCDAVIS.EDU] has also set up a petition online website. Please visit this site at, vote, and leave your comments.

You need to visit BOTH sites. The blog will also be a future reference for anthropologists who want to review and study the actions of the AAA and anthropologists during this period of moral dilemma.

2. The messages you will leave at both sites should also be sent to the following:

· AAA Executive Board

President:Elizabeth M Brumfiel-
President-elect:Alan Goodman-
Archaeology Seat: Carole Crumley-
Biological Seat: Linda Wolfe-
Cultural Seat:Deborah Heath
Linguistic Seat: William O. Beeman-
Minority Seat:Norma Mendoza-Denton-
Practicing/Professional:Dennis W Wiedman-
Student Seat:Jason González-
Undesignated #1: George Marcus-
Undesignated #2:Judith Temkin Irvine-
Undesignated #3:Linda Bennett-
Undesignated #4:Andrea
Undesignated #5:Geoffrey A Clark
Ex-Officio/Section Assembly Convenor: Dan Segal-

Ryan Adams ( has just emailed saying the offer of financial consideration from the San Jose Visitors Convention Bureau has been increased to $450,000. The AAA must seriously consider their offer!

For ease in pasting, just copy and paste the following:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

· UniteHere labor organization- Statement of Support or provide them a copy of your statement. They are under siege now and need any kind of support.

Chris Chafe,
Amanda Cooper,

3. The labor crisis is becoming systemic. Lockouts and/or strikes / sit-downs have occurred in SF, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Boston among others. LA hotels unions are voting whether to strike. It seems the conflict is classic industry giants vs. labor and vulnerable groups. Hence, the media nationwide should be appraised of what is happening. Please send them a copy of your comments as well. Also write your local newspaper, alternative magazine, and other blogs. The following have written articles about the labor incidents. The others are suggested papers to write to. If you have other email addresses to include please send them to us.

· Boston Globe: Diane E. Lewis can be reached at
· Philly News: Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 856-779-3810 or SF Chronicle.E-mail George Raine at
· LA Times c/o Ronald D. White at . (for other LA Times writers, email them using )
· SF Examiner at
· SF Chronicle: E-mail is best. Send to and put "For Open Forum" in the subject line.
Jenny Strasburg, Chronicle Staff Writer:
· Tucson Weekly: EDITOR:
Jimmy Boegle:
Jim Nintzel:,,,,,,,,

4. Interest groups: If you are a member of a minority, immigrant, or women’s group, inform them of what is happening. Send them a copy of your comments. Below is a brief profile of the UniteHere Local 2 workers.

From the article: Workers at a glance
Local 2 represents 4,000 locked-out hotel employees in San Francisco.
Total membership: 12,000 (9,000 in San Francisco, 3,000 in San Mateo County)
Average age: 41
Average wage: $26,000, for non-tipped workers such as housekeepers, cooks and dishwashers.
Ethnicity: One-third Asian, one-third Latino, one-third other (including African American and white)
Average tenure at current job: 11 years*
Average workweek: 35 hours
* For career hotel workers, excluding temporary and transient workers
Source: Unite Here Local 2, San Francisco

Compare this with the Hilton Hotels Corp. a publicly traded corporation (HLT), which had revenues for the first six months of 2004 rising 9% to $2.06B, with net income rising 78% to$112M. It forecasts continued growth until 2010. Stephen F. Bollenback, Co-Chairman and CEO of Hilton earns $3.1 M a year with stock options of $34Million. Hilton’s President and COO, Mathew J. Hart, earns $1.12 Million a year with millions as well in stock options. They can well afford healthinsurance.

Hilton Contact details:
Corporate Media Inquiries/Community Affairs
Hilton Hotels Corporation - Beverly Hills, California

Kathy Shepard - Vice President - Corporate Communications-
Candace Hollis - Manager - Corporate Communications

The window of opportunity exists for anthropologists to act. By force of circumstance, anthropologists have been placed in this situation. What are our priorities, financial security or social justice? Can a middle ground be reached? As Melina Magsumbol writes, anthropologists need to "walk the walk and talk the talk". We are all accountable for our statements, actions, and silence on this issue. History will judge us severely if we do not act.


Transfer of AAA conference to a non-unionized Hilton hotel in Atlanta and the SF hotel lock out

A stakeholder’s influence on a firm depends on the former’s power toinfluence the latter, the legitimacy of the stakeholder’s relationship, andthe urgency of the stakeholder’s issues vis-à-vis the firm. Further, stakeholders mobilize to emphasize individual or group identify and/or protectvested interests. Overlapping membership across relevant stakeholder groupsaffect degree of mobilization. The presence, absence, and intersection ofthese stakeholder attributes determine the degree of stakeholder salience.

Could the AAA Board and officers, its members, and those attending the AAA 2004conference have leveraged its stakeholder salience vis-à-vis the SF hotelworkers lock-out? The future will hold us, as individuals and anthropologists, accountable for how we acted when minority, migrant, and women workers practically asked for the institutional help of the anthropological community in their struggle to protect their rights to organize, secure living wages, and health benefits.

If the hotels could organize the SF Multi-Employer group and lock out theirhotel workers when one hotel went on strike, then why cannot hotel workersalign their collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) nationally? If hotel chains can organize themselves internationally, why can’t workers organize themselves nationally?

Hilton Hotels Corp. a publicly traded corporation (HLT) had revenues for thefirst six months of 2004 rising 9% to $2.06B, with net income rising 78% to $112M. It forecasts continued growth until 2010. Stephen F. Bollenback,Co-Chairman and CEO of Hilton earns $3.1 M a year with stock options of$34Million. Hilton’s President and COO, Mathew J. Hart, earns $1.12 Million a year with millions as well in stock options. They can well afford health insurance.

As I previously wrote, pressure should have been laid to bear on Hilton. Afterall, with an estimated 5,000 participants to the AAA conference, the AAA and the anthropological community, is a formidable sector. It has national and international scope. It has credibility and some form of influence.Anthropologists have families, friends, and relatives who they can also requestto support just living wages and benefits.

The AAA is an aggrieved party as the lock out compromises the integrity of theconference. Moving to a non-unionized hotel during the thick of a hotel labordispute that is becoming systemic nationwide sends the wrong message thatanthropologists, harbingers of society’s norms and actions, are insensitive to the plight of minority, women, and immigrant workers. A nuanced approach should have been undertaken before reaching a decision. This is not a "win-win" approach.

As Cristine Holmberg noted, anthropologists could have been “subversive” without AAA suffering a financial loss. For example, AAA could have clarifiedwith the Hilton what is the minimal usage allowed for it not to sue. The facilities could have been then turned over to labor organizers, activists, and anthropologists engaged with the labor sector to discuss the issues. Therented facilities could have been provided to activists and researchers to dotheir thing or even for press conferences, or debates and town hall meetingsbetween pro and anti lockout views. Paid for hotel rooms could have beenprovided to locked out workers, families who may be spending money shuttlingto and fro the “war zones”. SF will be chilly in November.

The AAA could have then pressured Hilton to agree to the transfer to San Jose using Hilton facilities. After all, the union agreed to the San Jose relocation proposal.

The AAA Board perceives a tight coupling between AAA and Hilton and otherconference sites. Hence it sees little room for strategizing. This tightcoupling should not have been set in the first place had human and labor rightsbeen in place in selecting conference sites. This tight coupling as represented by contracts should be loosened immediately.

Further, the silence of AAA, the Board and its officers, and the anthropology community (as an institution) on this hotel worker lock out is deafening.

The decision to move the conference to a non-unionized Hilton hotel in Atlanta shows how pervasive capital indeed is and how it can manipulate the temporal-spatial continuum.

MAKI BAKA! HUWAG MATAKOT! (Join the struggle! Do not be scared!).


Kudos to the AAA Ex. Board and others for their actions, thoughts, andsuggestions. While I sympathize with AAA’s looming legal and financial woesshould the conference be cancelled, I think the sober legal assessment ofAAA’s lawyers need to be taken in context. We actually have more options than we think. My comments:

1. Does the AAA-Hilton contract state that AAA is committed to uphold thecontract despite the negative publicity to AAA and the respective participantspersonally from crossing the picket line? In other words, in signing thecontract with Hilton, did it mean that the legitimacy of AAA as a “moral,ethical organization” should be disregarded? Why should AAA take the flak for the collapse of Hilton’s labor-management relations?

2. The burden of upholding the contract lies with the Hilton and not the AAA. When AAA signed the contract with Hilton, it signed on the premise that thelatter would provide first-class service. It did not include negativepublicity, potential for interorganizational conflict (with labor and supportgroups), safety issues, and emotional distress for AAA and conferenceparticipants.

3. I would like to assume that AAA only does business with legitimatebusinesses. Does AAA have a standard or criteria for businesses it deals with? If there are ethical standards for anthropologists, green standards, etc.,then AAA should have one for business partners as well. Did Hilton violateany of these standards? If so, then the contract should be reviewed with thegoal of reneging.

4. Going back to legitimacy, does the strike now compromise the legitimacy of Hilton? If Hilton’s actions on the strike are deemed immoral, unethical,illegal (by whom?), AAA, as a direct impact stakeholder, should immediatelywithdraw its relationship with Hilton.

5. AAA can demand that Hilton provide another suitable location without thestrike, but then this would weaken the moral stand of the AAA vis-à-vis theworkers. At this point, what exactly is the stand of the AAA vis-à-vis thestrike? If AAA is wary of taking a stand, it can express deep concern andanxiety to Hilton on the crisis, in effect, leaning on them to resolve theconflict in a mutually beneficial manner.

6. The point is, AAA, which has a huge contract signed with Hilton, is in aposition to pressure Hilton to deal fairly with the workers. Will AAA seize this opportunity? AAA has the power, legitimacy, and urgency to do so (withholding the payments and counter-suing, asking all AAA members to boycottHilton, preparing a critical statement, and the other actions alreadysuggested) to do so. It can demand that Hilton do the right thing NOW.

7. There is no easy way out, with negotiations and conflict resolution. AAAshould look into appraising Hilton and the workers of these discussions. Hilton will be pressured while the workers encouraged. I’m sure otherconference clients of Hilton are doing the same. They are also direct impactstakeholders and are concerned at Hilton’s actions.

8. Media will play a key role here. AAA’s actions will be scrutinized. Should it concede to Hilton and cross the picket line, it’s credibility andlegitimacy will be compromised. Is it worth the $1.3 M? I think AAA shouldlook at counter-legal actions and try to break the contract.

9. Lastly, most of the hotel workers are, aside from being from the lowereconomic class, mostly minorities, women, and immigrants. The Roman CatholicChurch as a preferential option FOR the poor, what’s AAA’s preferential option???

10. There are now 14 locked out hotels. Another 26 are on the strike watchlist. Is the crisis becoming systemic? posted the SFExaminer’s report that the SF Fashion Week conference has been scrapped. Surely, AAA wouldn’t want to be compared to the fashion industry regardingdoing what is right. Here’s the quote:

”A dose of high fashion injected the ongoing hotel labor dispute Monday asworkers and owners clashed over the cancellation of The City's first-ever SanFrancisco International Fashion Week.Event promoters pulled the plug on the glitzy three-day event late Friday night,stating that the lockout at 14 major city hotels had "seriously affected" thehigh-fashion affair.Founder and producer Jacinta Law said picket lines would "compromise theintegrity of the event" and instead she would focus on a spring season show inMarch. She said the lockout would affect "designer accommodations, eventheadquarters, pre-event publicity, press junket, awards luncheon, andpost-event parties that were planned in these hotels."

The pressure should be laid to bear on Hilton and not the AAA. In the meantime,another venue should be seriously considered. Anthropologists should be able to put up with the hassles. It’s the least they could do. Cancellation or postponement should be the last resort. Professors of anthropology should also have their students study this moralityplay and write about it.