Academics in agony (but still going to the Big Easy)

Exactly how hard can you wring your hands?  This question arises from a pained debate afoot within the International Studies Association.  Once a year, ISA brings together all the IR academics you’ve ever heard of (plus a lot you’ll go to your grave never having heard of) for a mega-conference in a large U.S. city.  Recently, we’ve had Chicago (four days of unmitigated sleet), San Francisco (missed that one, foolishly) and NYC (thousands of foreign policy geeks packed into Times Square like some mad mockery of New Year).  The venue for 2010 looks promising: New Orleans.

So, most ISA members are looking forward to four days of theoretical discussion coupled with 24 hour drinking in America’s sin-iest city.  I for one am dreaming up some utterly fallacious paper on EU-UN cooperation to justify my presence.  But there is a problem.  Louisiana has a  bigoted gay marriage law refusing recognition to gay marriages transacted outside the state.  Some ISA members feel that the Association cannot countenance this – and should, to coin a phrase, call the whole thing off. 

Today, an e-mail was circulated with the innocuous title “Information about New Orleans Convention Site”.  I assumed this would be about parking.  Not so.  Here are the highlights of a very long message from ISA:

There has been some controversy and discussion surrounding the site. Yet, in thinking about options, it is important to remember that New Orleans has been through a great deal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and holding major events there, such as the annual meeting, is one way to help the city recover.

While ISA cannot abrogate the contract at this stage without severe financial loss, possibly leading even to the bankruptcy of the organization, there are a number of ways in which we, as members of the organization, can address the situation. We can work with program chairs and sections to promote panels and roundtables that address Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered/Queer (L/G/B/T/Q) issues.

One option raised at an ISA-New York section meeting was to have T-shirts with a “message” on them. Yet other members have proposed that ISA members actively involve themselves with New Orleans community organizations and support some type of project during the conference that would benefit those most in need. And these are just a few ideas that we are aware of that have been raised to date.

It is incumbent upon us, as members of ISA, to arrive at positive ways in which we can draw attention to the issue without punishing or harming the people of New Orleans who have already suffered, and without jeopardizing the nonprofit status of ISA itself.

Now, I’m in favor of (i) gay marriage and (ii) helping New Orleans in every way conceivable.  But I can imagine nothing better calculated to make the citizens feel their suffering anew than hordes of academics in L/G/B/T/Q-themed T-shirts charging about trying to find a community organization to interface with for four whole days. “Hello, I’ve just finished giving my fallacious paper on EU-UN relations and I just thought I’d pop by to share my rage.  Erm… Sean Penn was great in Milk!

I don’t recall a bunch of ISA members offering to break Chicago’s drug culture or clean up  Wall Street as a little quid pro quo for their visit. Stop this silliness, and indulge in a form of activism that will help New Orleans: eat, drink,  and pour dollars into its coffers.