a sign reads: "fight today for a better tomorrow"

A letter to APSA leadership

Below is the letter I sent to the American Political Science Association‘s Executive Committee tonight, ahead of their meeting tomorrow to discuss the status of the APSA annual meeting scheduled for Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend. Service workers at Los Angeles hotels have organized to negotiate a living wage (read more about that here and here), resulting in a strike that many political scientists — myself included — are committed to not disrespecting by crossing picket lines.

Many political scientists organized to draft and circulate an open letter to APSA asking them to cancel, relocate, or move online this year’s annual meeting. I am a signatory on that letter, which as of today had more than 700 members attached.

Here’s what I sent to the executive committee tonight:

Dear colleagues and members of the APSA Executive Committee:

I’m writing to express my support for the open letter (which I signed) requesting that this year’s APSA annual meeting be cancelled, relocated, or moved online. Specifically, I would prefer to see as much of this year’s meeting moved online as is practical at this point in time (and, honestly, my preference is for it ALL to be online) — even if that means delaying the conference for some time to make that feasible. 

I am not willing to cross picket lines in order to attend this conference. This is weighing heavily on me as the co-chair of the Political Science Education section with a number of commitments at the conference, including serving on the Community College Status Committee. Although I have registered for the conference and made travel arrangements, I am FAR less concerned about any possibly lost funds. (And, on that note, cancelling my flights would result in a credit that I can use for future travel, which is just fine with me.)

I’m sensitive to the fact that cancelling the in-person meeting would result in financial losses to the association. I’m also aware that doing so would create issues for more precarious members of the association, particularly graduate students and contingent faculty. Perhaps there are ways to defray some of those expenses for the less privileged members, such as offering registration fee refunds for graduate students and non-tenured members who request it.

Separately, I’m also quite aware that holding an in-person conference is still quite the ableist choice. Certainly there are many among us who want to pretend the COVID pandemic is over, but as an immunocompromised member of APSA, I have significant concerns about very large gatherings of people. Moving the conference mostly or fully online would be an enormously more accessible option for MANY within the discipline, particularly those who are most vulnerable because of disability or financial precarity.

However, it’s most important that we center the fact that it is morally and ethically imperative for APSA to stand with organized labor. As political scientists, we have an obligation to vote with our feet, as they say. 

When you meet tomorrow, I ask that you center exactly that — the values our discipline embodies. We will not have the civically engaged, politically active citizenry we ostensibly hope to educate and inspire with our work if we’re not willing to make hard decisions, even when they come at a cost. What is democracy if not exactly this?

All the best,

Dr. Liz Norell

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