June 6-7 marked the first Armenia’s and Progressive Politics conference organized by the ARF on the West Coast. By way of full discloser, I was an organizer of the event, so naturally that bias will carry through this article.
Starting last fall meetings were held to organize this conference. Its need was borne out by the turnout, despite somewhat late notice to the public, and enthusiastic response by the attendees. Five sessions consisting of panels composed of three members and a moderator each, constituted the whole program. Details are being published separately, so I’ll spare you recitation of topics.
What was most interesting for me was the level of hunger for this type of fare. Sure, we weren’t going to fill Madison Square Garden with this conference, but the turnout satisfied everyone. Over the course of the entire event, somewhere in excess of 250 unique individuals attended one or more sessions. Many expressed tremendous excitement, requesting more such program. Of course offers of assistance in organizing (or funding, for that matter) were fewer. Another encouraging factor was the youth of the audience. Typically, regardless of attendance, the proportion of white-hairs in the audience at lectures, seminars, conferences, etc. far exceeds that of the natural-colored haired folk.
This excitement also manifested itself in the strong desire by the audience to ask questions and discuss the issues with the panelists. Unfortunately, time did not allow sufficient interaction. This must be remedied for future conferences to bear maximum fruit.
Another weak aspect was the non-Armenian attendance; despite KPFK’s sponsorship, only a few turned out. We probably did not do enough publicity for this circle. And, it is important to get this crowd to participate since part of the point of such conferences is bridge-building with other communities. In this respect, a highlight was the attendance of a labor organizer. He’s involved in a drive to organize and clean up carwashes. In this struggle, there’s a very real Armenian component, as significant numbers of our compatriots work at these establishmen’s. Of course, a significant number of them are also owned by Armenia’s. Thus we have an interesting internal contradiction to confront within the Armenian community. But engaging in this effort will not only better the lives of many compatriots, it will also bridge gaps and reduce tensions with other low-skill, immigrant-labor populations.
The panelists were all well informed and spoke well. None of the droning, sleep-inducing presentations of lore lulled the audience into a stupor. One could sense the engagement in the room, all the time. However, organizationally, their presentations had not been sufficiently guided, integrated to maximize the synergy that might have been attained from the presence of so varied and learned a pool of speakers.
We also decided to solicit written feedback and distributed evaluation forms after each session. How often do you see organizers exposing themselves to massive potential criticism in our community? The feedback on the more than 80 forms received is interesting. From critique of the MC, lack of discussion, and location, to raves regarding content, people made their opinions known. They were not shy about expressing dissatisfaction with a panelist or moderator, but were also fair. One aspect criticized was the use of “foul” language. To me, this is a pass? concern. It certainly wasn’t extensive and was used to drive a point home. Really, I must ask, why is this an issue in this day and age? Let’s grow up.
Of course no event is complete without its organizational frustrations, quirks, and humor. At various points, originally scheduled speakers cancelled for various reasons, relegating the organizing committee to a hair pulling “who are we going to find at this late date” frenzy. Then there’s the reunion of a panelist with an uncle not see in close to four decades that was enabled by the conference! And, we can’t forget the extortionous demand for a Zankou falafel sandwich in exchange for participation nor the preemptive name changing by Lalo Alcaraz and Jerry Quickley to Alacarazian and Garabedian, respectively.
After evaluation, I suspect more is to come. To suggest issues that ought to be addressed, you can contact the organizers via the website, http://www.armenianprogressive.com/westcoast.htm. You can also send in your commen’s if you didn’t get a chance to fill out evaluation forms. You might even have a favored speaker you’d like to hear, send the name in. Act. This is the beginning of a great opportunity for discourse in the arena of fundamental, common human needs and interests that can lead to a better integrated Armenian struggle for socio-econo-political liberation. Be a part of it.