Letter to CCCC Members about the NAACP Travel Advisory and CCCC Statement on It

Dear friends and colleagues,

As of this morning, I have seen the good feedback and discussions that several CCCC members have posted in various places on FB and on the G'form I set up to gather your ideas for 4C18 in response to the NAACP's Missouri Travel Advisory. Much of the discussion has been frustration around the CCCC's statement on the travel advisory's lack of concern over people of color's safety, especially black members, in Missouri, that this is yet another version of the way white supremacy works. It prioritizes monetary loss or gain over the very real bodies and lives of people of color. I hear this. From a personal standpoint, I agree. I am one of those bodies. I know, first-hand how traveling in particular spaces can be unsafe, make one feel anxious and unsure about everything. None of this shit is fair. I know, really. I care deeply about our black members and the black communities in Missouri, and painfully realize that any decision we make about our convention site will not change the risks black people take every day. It hurts me physically to write that sentence.

I also feel I need to apologize for a part of the CCCCs statement because of some of the discussion around it already, even though I know it was a statement from the organization at large and not just from me. CCCC has a protocol for responding to such issues in a timely manner, and in that quick process, I was not attentive enough in my choice of language in the official statement. While the statement was reviewed by all the officers and the Executive Committee (EC), as well as NCTE personnel, I feel I need to apologize for the first line in the second paragraph, which says, "We cannot move our national convention." This is not true. We can. I am sorry about this statement. It is misleading. What it should have said was that the conference cannot be moved or cancelled without a vote by the EC to do so. To have a vote by the EC takes time, if that is the direction the EC wishes to go. That EC meeting will happen in the next two weeks. 

Please know that I am still listening carefully and taking notes on your feedback. I appreciate all of it. I have not decided fully all that I feel I can do as Program Chair, and of course, any decisions about cancelling or changing the way the conference is delivered is a decision that can only be made by the CCCC EC. Officers, such as me, only enforce policy, not make it. As I understand things, canceling our annual convention or delivering it in some other way are policy changes. Of course, I do have a say in this decision, but like other executive officers, I do not get to make such decisions on my own. But let me assure you that my first priority in such decisions is to engage in social justice as a practice, and if that means not to have a conference -- even the one I'm chairing -- I will vote to cancel the conference and accept the financial costs to the organization in order to protect black lives and demonstrate to Kansas City and the state of Missouri that they need to change their shit. Black lives are more important than even the existence of our organization. But how does canceling one of the two main things we exist for do social justice work for those in and around Missouri, for all of us? Will it send the message we want, or simply harm us financially? Are there any states currently that do not have just as many social justice problems? Is it possible to relocate the convention without putting CCCC into fiscal jeopardy, risking its very existence? The cost we would pay for cancelling or moving the convention is very high, so high it risks our financial stability. But this is mostly an ethical question, not a financial one. 

Having said all that, I don't want to make any hasty decisions, so I apologize if I've not been decisive enough or quick enough. I am deeply conflicted about what finally to do for my part. I love our convention and the people I get to see every year in the flesh. Chairing Cs is a dream come true, one I take very seriously. I have so much planned for KC. I want everyone, but especially our members of color, LGBTQ, and Muslim members to be safe, to know that their professional convention is taking all the measures it can to protect them and make their travel to and time at the convention safe and rewarding. But I don't think Cs can guarantee safety for anyone when they travel or leave the convention site. We don't control such things. I also worry that if we boycott states like Missouri, we not only abandon members in such places, but we have in effect decided not to do work there, not to try to change those places for the better by our presence, by our language, by our laboring. In doing so, we harm those places, if we think we are agents of social justice. We cannot do our work if we do not go to places that need us to work. And yet, in this case, this is asking our black members especially to take on an extra risk, more risk than the rest of us. This is not fair to ask. And yet still, our black members always take this extra risk every day just living in the U.S. at this historical moment. How can we avoid asking some of our members to risk themselves, knowing that many others do not have to consider such risks, or may take much smaller risks, and some have the privilege of never needing to worry about such risks at all?

I also personally feel obligated to do something in this case, even if some members may feel that it is outside the bounds of what CCCC is about or does. I’m trying to think through how my own personal and ethical stance intersect with my duties as CCCC Program Chair. I do know that we are all connected, and laws, practices, and local aggressions against people of color in the state of Missouri are connected to all of our work and lives, even if we live far away from that place. I do know that Missouri is not alone in its racism and white supremacy, which is one reason why the local Missouri chapter of the NAACP in St. Louis opposes the national organization's position since it suggests that Missouri is unique in its racism. I do know that these issues are real and serious. I do know that this decision is one about people first and only secondarily about a conference. I feel very strongly that #BlackLivesMatter and that CCCC's response will reveal exactly how much the organization really believes that #BlackLivesMatter, and how much money matters. 

I hope you'll have some faith in our organization, the process CCCC's has to make changes and decisions, and in the good leaders who make up our EC, at least for a bit longer -- I know, we are always being asked to wait and I am tried of waiting (yet again) too, but this wait is only a few weeks. The officers had a 90 minute meeting this morning to discuss just this and what we can do. We decided this issue was something that the EC should discuss and vote on. That will happen in the next two weeks. I hope you know that we are trying to be compassionate toward everyone without overly risking the lives of any of our members or the organization's financial solvency. I personally take very seriously my duties as an officer of the organization, one that has been built with care for many decades by good people before me. I try to think first of people, not the organization, but I temper that priority with all the good that such an organization can do, and does for us. We are always stronger together and more potent when we are present as a diverse union. Should we be present for change in order that change may happen in Kansas City? What would such a diverse union of presence actually look like in KC? How would it be any different from previous conventions? If we convene in KC, we cannot just go. Given SB43 and all the historical violence toward blacks in the state, I do not think that going is enough. But I don't know what is.

Please submit all your ideas that you'd like the EC and executive officers to consider in the G'form (http://tinyurl.com/cccctravel) by Sept 1, but we likely will have to act sooner than that, given many other factors controlling the conference and our legal obligations. So please offer what you can sooner than later. I will refrain from entering many FB or Twitter discussions about details, as I want mostly to listen. Once the responses stop coming in (if it is before the Sept 1 closing date of the form), and the EC has had time to discuss and make some decisions from your input, then I will send out a message that lays out our plans for 4C18 that addresses this situation or the decision of the EC, and what you can do to help us. Expect that message shortly after the Sept 1 closing date of the G'form, but it could be sooner.  

We have no good or clear choices to make. Please know that the officers are all deeply distressed about this situation because it affects our valued black members the most. I fear we will let you down. I appreciate your compassion and patience.

Peace to you all,