The 48th annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, held May 20-22, 2016, in Portland, was well received based on word-of-mouth comments and evaluations completed by 30 of about 125 participants, including 114 paid registrants.
What did participants like best? One respondent summarized the feeling of many by praising “the interaction, friendliness and openness” of the conference. Another appreciated “the atmosphere of sharing, learning and solidarity.” Still another commented on how the content “related to contemporary issues.” Another liked the “great mix of scholars and activists [engaged] in lively and fruitful dialogue.”
What did they like least? More than one respondent complained that there were too many good presentations to choose from. Some complained that there was not enough diversity: “Overall, it’s still a very white-person focused perspective, I can see that there’s an effort being make to change that, but [there’s] a long way to go.” Others said the conference needed more youth involvement. One suggested that the PNLHA sponsor a scholarship for high school and university students to attend the conference. Another proposed an essay or speech writing contest with the winner coming to the conference.
Workshops, plenaries rated high
Twenty-six respondents gave the presentations an overall rating of “excellent” or “very good.” One respondent said they were “top notch” and another said they were “worth the price of admission.” Some were disappointed that they could not attend all the presentations.
Sharing top honors for the favorite presentation were British Columbia filmmaker Neil Vokey’s U.S. premiere of Goodwin’s Way, University of Colorado (Denver) instructor James Walsh’s presentation on the Romero Theater Troupe, and University of Wisconsin scholar Andrew Wolf’s “The Living Wage and the Articulation of Working-Class Citizenship, 1920-1970.” The climate change roundtable discussion, the literature of labor, “Labor history: old style and digital style,” also won praise as did Gwen Trice’s presentation on African-American loggers, Steve McQuiddy on conscientious objectors in Waldport, Oregon, during the Second World War, Pacific University’s Larry Lipin on class and wilderness management, and PNLHA trustee Ryan Wisnor ‘s “The Trees Saved Them,” a unique angle on the historic 1934 longshoremen’s strike.
Program events highlights
Oregon First Nation’s leader Carolee Morris, a member of the Cowlitz First Nation tribal council, welcomed participants to our Friday night reception. She was followed by Portland band General Strike that brought the evening to a close with a rousing round of Solidarity Forever.
Both the Saturday and Sunday plenaries were well attended and received favorable comments. Saturday’s keynote session garnered the most votes for “favorite presentation.” Sunday’s plenary won praise both for Washington State Labor Council president Jeff Johnson’s incisive comments on the need for labor to work for positive answers to climate change problems, and for the use of Skype to allow labor/environmental author Jeremy Brecher to respond.
About 100 participants attended the banquet and awards ceremony. Participants applauded the food and the unionized staff that provided it. They also enjoyed Bellingham, WA, musician Dana Lyons who set a positive and participatory tone for the evening with his first set, featuring his trademark Cows with Guns song.
The awards ceremony was interrupted when Dick Edgington, a co-recipient of the Ross Rieder Person of the Year Award, lost his balance and fell while mounting the stage to accept the award from PNLHA Oregon trustee Jim
Strassmaier. Conference participant Dr. Larry Morgenstern attended to Edgington along with nurse Maurge Dulaney as well as presenter Joanne Ursino. An ambulance team also examined Edgington and reported only minor injuries. The unfortunate incident disrupted the evening but a second musical set by Dana Lyons provided some tension relief for the remaining conference attendees.
Edgington’s co-recipient Senator Dianne Rosenbaum was to receive her award on June 3. A future date will be set to present the History Maker of the Year Award to the Rural Organizing Project.
Cultural program applauded
Three musical groups – Portland’s General Strike, Eugene’s Monday Morning Denial, and Bellingham, WA’s Dana Lyons were all applauded. As one evaluation noted, “The incredible music programming conveyed not only entertainment, but also the integral part it has played in the history of the labor movement.” Oregon trustee Nathan Moore, working with sound technician Dennis Soper, also playing harmonica with Monday Morning Denial, ensured that the music was technically excellent. Nathan also worked closely with Oregon trustee Ryan Wisnor who acted as liaison with the conference facility staff.
Fundraising results encouraging
There were 28 co-sponsors, three of which came after the conference ended. In-kind contributions included union photocopying of the kit materials by SEIU Local 503 members from the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon as well as the free printing of the colorful conference brochure that appeared in all conference kit folders. Thanks to Portland’s union printer, Morel Ink. A poster with the names of conference co-sponsors was displayed throughout the conference and several announcements were made to thank them. The names also appeared at www.pnlha.org.
Exhibitors’ displays added color
The conference hosted about 10 exhibitors, including several booksellers, a photo display, a solidarity quilt raffle, and a Columbian workers table. Choosing to have the exhibits arranged around the Friday reception room added much color to the proceedings.
Kudos to conference organizers
The conference strongly benefitted from the volunteer work of the following people: Program coordination – Marcus Widenor; Venue/catering – Lane Poncy; A/V-Internet-Skype – Ryan Wisnor; Awards – Jim Strassmaier; Registration – Bruce Nelson and Carolyn Matthews; Exhibitor displays – LisaMary Wichowski; Photography and design – Leola Jewett-Verzuh; Music coordination – Nathan Moore; Overall coordination, fundraising, publicity, and conference kit development – Ron Verzuh.
A final word of thanks
Judging from the written evaluations and verbal comments during the conference, the event was a programming success. Several participants were inspired by the proceedings and have pledged to attend future PNLHA conferences. The accident during the awards ceremony represented a flaw in the management of the event. As noted on several evaluation forms, needs of the elderly must be fully addressed in future. The conference was an overall financial success and all conference volunteers deserve a vote of thanks as do all our co-sponsors.
Note: More conference photos will be posted to a gallery section of our site.