What a difference two years makes!

Only about 1% of the AAUW members ever attend convention, but many more are extremely interested in what happens.  As someone who’s been on communications teams at the branch and state level, I’ve been passionate about getting information out “to the folks back home” since my first convention in 1999. At first (1999, 2001), I was concerned about posting information of my personal activities (e.g. IT 2001 campaign), but then I started documenting the North Carolina delegation (2003, 2005, 2007). Those were mostly posts I did from my room after all the events were over.

In 2007, in response to the culture change to have more information immediately available, we also tried using twitter to get information out from the floor of the convention. Louse (@weegspin), Kate (@skeggy), and I (@nes49) were pretty much shouting into the void, though — there was no real way to get the word out to the members that another information stream existed. See the report on that experiment.

This year, however, there was a rich “twitter stream” on all aspects of the convention. Staff and members both contributed, and while there was limited “conversation” with the folks back home, at least the word got out to many who were able to follow along. See the transcript.

What changed? Here’s my list:

  1. Facebook happened. In the spring of 2007 a student from Alabama had started the first (and still the largest) AAUW Facebook group. After the 2007 convention, a second group was started by students from Illinois Iowa to help unite the younger members.  Starting in the fall of 2007, Facebook started attracting the “not so younger” members who were able to find each other, and they started conversations on how to use Facebook to advance the mission. The 2009 convention itself had a group.
  2. AAUW started a blog in early 2008. The staff’s use of “web 2.0” technology to raise awareness and support conversations legitimized the use of “putting unfiltered information into the public domain” in addition to the tightly controlled e-mail lists and the properly more formal research reports and www.aauw.org in general.
  3. In late 2008, AAUW committed to sponsor the Feminism 2.0 conference, and that conference in February, 2009, demonstrated the possibilities of both blogging and micro-blogging to forge connections and build support for a wide range of issues on the feminist agenda.
  4. So by June 2009, we had folks with blogs, facebook profiles, twitter, flickr and more who were ready to report back to the members at home about all that was going on. More than that, they could find each other and share photos, comments, and updates. I don’t know all that went into the staff’s decision not to publish a daily “newspaper” about the convention — but I think the coverage was pretty good without that extremely labor intensive project. Of course we’re still using e-mail lists and other tools to gather information for state newsletters and web sites, and more will be coming out in the next few weeks. But I think we did a credible job of getting the flavor of convention to those who couldn’t attend but were engaged enough to follow the information stream.

Again, I’m just seeing part of the elephant, but I have to give credit to Linda Hallman who took over as ED in January 2008 for supporting a culture that allowed this experimentation by the staff. Thanks, of course, to all the staff members and volunteers who participated. After such a big disappointment with twitter in 2007, this 2009 information sharing has been great.

I wonder what things will look like in 2011…

Twitter tools #aauw09

There are fewer than 1000 members who will be attending the AAUW convention in St. Louis this weekend — but the interest around the country is amazing. So some of us are planning to tweet, blog, post on Facebook, and otherwise get the word out as the convention evolves.

I’ll be traveling with my trusty laptop — this is old faithful’s fourth convention (knock wood). [See posts from 2003, 2005 and 2007.] But because Internet connectivity at convention is limited, I won’t be lugging that with me during the day — no e-mail or web (or Facebook), but I will have twitter.

On twitter we’re using the “hashtag” #aauw09, and folks at home can follow that at

If you want to post a comment or a question from home, some of us will be “listening” for that. You can post general comments to the #aauw09 twitter stream, but you can also send targeted messages (use “D <twittername>”) to reach a particular person. No promises, of course — there will be times when phones are turned off and we’re concentrating on the interactions with the wonderful members we see once every two years. But it may be a way to reach out to convention attendees and add your voice to the conversation.  You may just want to ues e-mail or Facebook to post your comments — some people will be staying in touch all day, and others will pick up those messages over night.

If you’re going to be in St. Louis and will depend on your phone for access, you have lots of options if you’ve entered the age of the “smart” phone. But if, like me, text messaging is the limit of your phone connectivity, how do you follow the #aauw09 conversation from the floor of the convention? Again, you may not want to keep up with all of that — but I’m exploring some options and if you have a suggestion, let me know. If any of my experiments pan out, I’ll let y’all know what I’m using.

Where’s the urgency?

We’re about three weeks away from a historic vote that will change the structure of AAUW and update some of its practices. This week, we released a voter guide for the election of the board members who will give life to the new bylaws — see election2009.bbvx.org.

Reading those comments makes me believe that the board really was divided on some of the issues that are in the new bylaws — the open membership, in particular. While several of the candidates speak strongly in favor of one-member/one-vote, there is a “whatever the delegates decide” attitude towards dropping the degree requirement for membership.

OF COURSE, the delegates will decide – that’s the only way to change the bylaws. But that wouldn’t have prevented the leadership from saying “this is the right thing to do for the organization, and here’s why…” But they haven’t.

Back last fall, the only argument for that stand that made sense to me was: “If the issue is left open, more people will register for convention, and it will be less likely to lose money.” But now I have to think that there has been real dissension at the board table on this issue and the compromise “let the delegates decide” was the only way to move forward.

The key finding of the strategic process: What’s been hurting us is lack of mission clarity. Where is that in our discussions this spring? The lack of clarity wasn’t just because the Association and the Foundation were two separate organizations — many groups have allied membership and charitable organizations. Why did we never articulate the degree requirement as a liability as we try to emphasize the mission of “advancing equity for women and girls” and leave behind the 1899 purpose of “uniting the alumnae of different institutions”. Why do those who cling to the 1899 purpose think we will be able to implement the Phoenix Rising vision of the organization with that requirement in effect?

To maintain our power to effect change we need to be able to say “If you support equity for women and girls, join us” not “If you support equity for women and girls AND you have a degree AND you don’t mind associating with those who refuse to work side by side with those who don’t have a degree, join us”.

I don’t think anyone wants AAUW to remain as it is — those who support the degree requirement, do, I think, see a loose federation of branches with a smaller national organization and a focus on philanthropy rather than advocacy. Those who see advocacy as a 21st century theme that will unite members (branch members and individuals) in the ongoing fight for equity, have no problem with expanding our base to include all who are affected by inequities.

I’ll admit that the first group may have a better long term strategy — philanthropy will always be needed and small groups are a human need. What of the second? Will the second strategy put the organization out of business in 10, 25 or 50 years? We can only hope equity will be achieved, and if so, we can fold in good conscience. On the other hand, for the short term, the drastic declines in membership argue that the first group’s message just does not resonate with the members we’d need to recruit if the organization is to survive as more than a shadow of its current self.

So I’m in the second group, but I realize the delegate body may choose to push AAUW in the first direction. No matter the outcome of the votes on the pieces of the bylaws, I will vote to pass the package — but I may not be around to see how it all turns out.

If you support mission clarity, if you want AAUW to survive, please support open membership, one-member/one-vote and the other bylaws changes that will put the new organization into a position to move forward with one powerful voice.

Other frames

As you may be able to tell (!), I think that dropping the degree requirement is critcal to AAUW’s future. However, there are many members for whom that requirement is deeply embedded in their identity as AAUW members. It will not be an easy change, and I recognize that.

The purpose of these posts is to find different ways to present the change  in order to find one that will help convey why I think it is so important.

At the moment, my “but it has nothing to do with our purpose” argument is most compelling to me — but I realize it may be begging the question.

The “official” recommendation is to simply let people list the reasons for and against the change — with, I guess, the assumption that the light will dawn? Again, this seems even further down the “begging the question” path, though reports are that it works — AAUW members do know that discussion can lead to change.

Another strategy is to list some of the incredible women who aren’t/weren’t eligible for membership under the current requirement: from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lilly Ledbetter, what are we losing if we shut our doors to such potential women?

Yet another talks about how we’ve gradually opened up over the years (widening the list of colleges whose degrees were acceptable, for instance) and broadening our diversity statement a great deal since early in the last century (when it was customary in some branches to have a vote on a new member). Is this change just an incremental continuation of that process?

What are the other ways to think about this? Which ones resonate with you? If you’ve changed your opinion on the degree requirement, what were the ideas that led to that change?

Reframing – Draft 4

While the documents published in Outlook clearly describe the changes to the bylaws as a major endeavor with many ramifications, what I’ve heard of the discussion of the change to the degree requirement (Article IV) seems to assume that this is a continuation of the discussions we’ve been having for years:

  • “We’ve voted on this before. Why do we need to revisit this question?” [Comment at the AAUW NC convention, and, I’m sure, elsewhere.]
  • Everyone’s heard the arguments. We just need to lay them out briefly, and let them sink in. [Approach to considering the membership requirements — Champions’ material]
  • “[T]he members are the ones who should be allowed to make this important decision at the June AAUW Convention in St. Louis.” [October summary of feedback on the bylaws — Strategic Process material; Note: Of course, the members will decide — but without the context of restructuring, this implies a decision like those of earlier conventions.]
  • Postpone the decision until after one-member/one-vote is implemented. [AAUW CA resolution.]
  • Postpone the decision so that opening the membership doesn’t derail the restructuring. [AAUW Champions google group]

Questions/comments like this tend to reinforce the idea that this vote is very similar to the votes in 1999, 2003 and 2005. It’s not. We are considering this change to Article IV in a new context.

What’s different this time is that it’s not just about Article IV. In the change from a 501(c)(4) to a 501(c)(3), we have disconnected from the 1899 charter and dropped the “uniting graduates” part of our purpose.

Our entire strategic process (e.g. Principles of Change, October, 2006, SP Archives) has focused on the need for mission clarity. The proposed bylaws support that clarity. For those who would retain the degree requirement in Article IV, what 21st century purpose would they insert in Article II that would imply the degree requirement?

This change is difficult. Some will not be able to embrace or accept it.  But until and unless we can become an organization with a clear purpose and mission, we are doomed. Thousands of hours have gone into the proposed bylaws — the paper version of a vision for the new organization. Join me as we bring that vision to life, working to advance equity for women and girls, and welcoming all who are willing to help us.