Conferencing While Marginalized

By Marlena Okechukwu (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Conferences are big business. In fact, globally, the Meetings industry generates trillions of dollars annually – “business events is a $1.6 USD trillion industry, with a GDP larger than many global economies” (Events Industry Council, 2023). According to IBIS World analysts, the “market size, measured by revenue, of the Trade Show and Conference Planning industry was $20.7bn in 2022” (IBISWorld – Industry Market Research, Reports, and Statistics, n.d.). That number represented a 24.8% increase just two years after the global COVID-19 Pandemic and it is only expected to continue growing over the next five years to $25.5bn. There are distinctions between conferences, conventions, trade shows and industry events. In terms of data, they are often lumped together into one or more categories which accounts for the differences in revenue estimates. That said, it can be agreed upon that while conferences are wonderful opportunities to engage and learn, they also bring in the dough. Due to the fact that they are significant generators of revenue, travel, and tourism to host cities, should conference planners consider political and social climates before committing to host cities? This writer would say yes.

In May of this year, the NAACP issued a formal travel advisory for the State of Florida. African American and other travelers were warned that Florida “is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals” (NAACP, 2023). Imagine being from any of these groups and your professional association announces that the next annual meeting is in Orlando. It would likely give them serious pause before booking a flight. The argument has been made that conferences are planned well in advance and making changes at the last minute can be costly or impossible. This is true and some issues or events can’t be predicted but the social and political climate in many states is longstanding and clear. As librarians, we are advocates in defending the right to intellectual freedom and access to information. As law librarians we are also advocates in promoting access to justice. When we gather in our professional capacities, at the multitude of conferences offered for the profession, we should use all tools at our disposal to agitate for the ideas and values we believe in. One of those tools is withholding or disrupting revenue streams to states that are actively working to limit access to justice and intellectual freedom. With a record number of book challenges over the last year from specific states, legislation that eliminates the reproductive rights of women and attacks on voting rights, to name a few,  we have a duty both collectively and individually to opposition. Although it may not be the best method and indeed, some see it as counterproductive, money is always a motivator.

In June of 2022, a group of economists asked the American Economic Association to relocate its annual meeting in New Orleans due to abortion bans in place in the state. In March of this year, multiple conference planners began pulling out from scheduled conferences in Florida. Within the last month, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning have canceled planned conferences in Florida opting for other cities/states. Actions like this send a strong message to these states, their elected officials and legislators that the rest of the country is watching and responding. I urge anyone on conference or meeting planning committees to consider the social and political environment of potential host cities/states before committing to bring millions of dollars and thousands of people who would be at risk of injury to states or cities that have passed laws that are steeped in racism, bigotry and fear mongering. As Martin Luther King Jr. warned us long ago, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.