Meetings Industry Associations Thinking is Short Term on Arizona

From Engage – The Official MPI Blog, By Bruce MacMillan, CA May 03, 2010

Recent legislative developments in Arizona are receiving understandable debate from coast-to-coast in the US…and beyond. Unfortunately the effects of the debate are also adversely impacting our industry and members. In light of these escalating effects, I feel it is important to clearly state MPI’s position on the current boycotts surrounding travel and events in Arizona.

Our industry is about connecting people, opportunities and ideas. Using travel boycotts as a political weapon in Arizona (or anywhere) only hurts the local communities and the 200,000 workers in the State that benefit from the meeting and event industry. It also frustrates growth and innovation at a time when its never been needed more. We encourage options for dialogue that don’t sacrifice a $7 billion Arizona meeting and event industry in the middle of an economic recovery.

I have to weigh in on this, I have written about it before but here we are again. Bruce’s comments make sense, and I do understand them (I also like Bruce) but there is a flip side and my thoughts should be a part of the industry dialogue that needs to happen on this subject.

I hope that I am not alone in choosing long-term strategy over short-term goals. It should also be noted that I love Arizona and have done many programs there. I love Chicago as well, but our city government does things that make me angry every day.

The short term view is where Bruce’s thoughts make 100% sense, the people who work in our industry are in need right now. The economy sucks and every meeting or event that happens relieves the stress of losing a job, losing health care or worse. But what we are neglecting to see is the long view and the long view is what we will be left with when the economic crisis passes.

Laws like the one just passed in Arizona must be resisted or they become part of the fabric of a place and there is nothing to stop them. They become mundane and chip away at the America that we all know and love, taking us to a place where we do not want to go, one law at a time, one organization that does not take a stand after another.

To the Washington DC City Council, Joseph A. McInerney, president of the AHLA said “Do the council members know – or care – that they are hurting lower-income workers in Arizona when it pushes something like a ‘boycott’ proposal through its chambers?”. The answer is yes, they do care, and that is exactly why they are proposing a boycott.

To Joseph McInerney,  I would respond, “is it OK that two workers from a Scottsdale Resort lost their jobs because they are sitting in jail because one of them forgot to grab his wallet on the way out the door this morning. Is it OK that Maria lost her ID and is now afraid to go to work so has called in sick three days in a row? Is it OK, that natural born Americans can be stopped on the street and asked for their papers”.

What would the Founding Fathers do…. They would give us all a swift kick in the butt is what they would do. This is precisely the crap they were afraid of and we are starting to fall right into the same trap. They were not afraid to take a stand, we should not be afraid either.

For the record, neither option is good and neither option is fair.

It is not fair to hurt the workers with a boycott and it is not fair that people should be afraid of the police and their own government. One action is temporary, the other is permanent.  So lets pick our evil and get to it because it is time to take a stand and time is-a-wastin.

If the federal government does not have the guts to tackle the immigration issue and organizations such as MPI and the U.S. Travel Association will not take a stand, that leaves meeting and event professionals and their companies the only option… choosing the lessor of two evils.

Because of our governments and our associations refusal to take a stand and voice opinion and opposition, this
is what happens. Meeting and event professionals have only one option, an economic boycott. This is how boycotts work, you stop going to a particular destination and that hurts. It hurts enough that those in power have two choices, don’t repeal the law and loose their jobs in the next election or repeal the law and hope that voters do not remember in the next election.

Although not to this level (yet), this has similarities to an event awhile back. MPI held an conference in Dubai and I also stood opposed to that. My thought was, by holding events in places that condone the restriction of civil rights, the abuse of women and hostility toward those of different religions, you are condoning the actions of the state.

I have heard and respect the arguments “by holding our event in Dubai, we are opening their eyes to our people and our way of life”. While I understand these arguments, my response is this. There are hundreds of international meetings in Dubai where there is a sharing of experiences and connections made, what has changed? Nothing, not one thing. The government still restricts freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of association.

If two years ago, MPI took a stand and other governments and organizations followed suit calling for a boycott of Dubai and other countries with poor human rights records, how might the world be different? Its a shame, we will never know.

Oh, wait…. we do know. If I recall, the international boycott of South Africa may have taken its time and a toll, but it achieved the desired result. In fact, I am going to book an IMEX appointment with the Cape Town CVB.

For those of you who will say, “Keith man, lighten up, How can you compare what is happening in Arizona to Apartheid or the Middle East, that is crazy.”, I direct you to the following history of Apartheid. I would ask you to pay close attention to the last sentence of the excerpt and understand that this took place years before Apartheid was official policy:

The British colonial rulers introduced a system of Pass Laws in the Cape Colony and Colony of Natal during the 19th century.[5][6][7]  This stemmed from the regulation of blacks’ movement from the tribal regions to those occupied by whites  and coloureds, ruled by the British. Laws were passed not only to restrict the movement of blacks into these areas, but also to prohibit their movement from one district to another without a signed pass. Blacks were not allowed onto the streets of towns in the Cape Colony and Natal after dark and had to carry their passes at all times.

Joan Eisenstodt has a quote at the end of every post she writes on the MiForum, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”, the Quote is from Elie Wiesel. The true meaning of this quote never really hammered home until today.

It is time that we all take a moment and realize that by not starting down the path to immigration reform we are starting to turn our own citizens into criminals and turning Americans against Americans. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said “frustration over the Arizona law is understandable, but an election year is not the time to bring up immigration reform“. I would ask Mr. Graham to tell us when is a good time? After we have shock troops on corners with Biometric Scanners? Our politicians, Democrat and Republican were elected and tasked with tackling the tough issues, instead they act like a deer in the headlights. Let’s not do the same, it is time we started acting like Americans.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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