January 21, 2020
On January 15, 2020, news of a petition signed by 52 archivists adding Kris Kiesling to the 2020 Society of American Archivists (SAA) vice-president/president-elect ballot circulated amongst the archivist community. SAA bylaws permit the addition by petition of a candidate to the ballot, although such action has never been undertaken in the past 28 elections. For more information about the SAA annual election ballot and the conventional candidate selection process, see this SNAP Section blog post from 2016. One of the originators of the petition, a former SAA president, elaborated on their reasoning in an email that they agreed to make public. They also included the original message that circulated with the petition, which noted that the creator(s) of the petition were “unsatisfied with the lack of a choice of two candidates with significant organizational experience posed by the slate recently put forward for the office of SAA vice-president/president-elect … I feel strongly that SAA members need a choice of candidates who have deep, varied experience working for our profession within our national organization, and multi-faceted connections to the concerns of SAA’s leadership.”
Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP) condemns these actions. This petition sends a clear message that the signers believe the vice-president/president-elect candidates should come from one specific background and have a specific type of experience to lead the national organization; one that is rooted in white supremacy and has historically served a predominantly white membership. This is a form of gatekeeping to ensure that people from marginalized backgrounds, as well as those who vocally support them, even if they come from non-marginalized communities, are not able to access positions of leadership. This is especially disheartening after the announcement of the (eventually cancelled) SAA Brown Bag Lunch series featuring an article by former SAA president, Frank J. Boles, which argues against social justice in archives. This article received substantial backlash from the archives community including blog posts by Eira Tansey and Harrison Inefuku, but was still published in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of The American Archivist.
Chair of the Nominating Committee, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, who was elected democratically by the membership, ran on a platform to “put a slate of candidates together that will have a strong portfolio of success in making room for historically underrepresented identities in leadership positions, who advocate for success of these communities and are willing to call out and address discriminatory practices within the profession and in spaces supposedly designed to nurture and support emerging leaders and change agents.” The Committee did exactly that, providing two candidates with very different but impressive qualifications, and who both have committed themselves to advocate for historically underrepresented identities. As noted in the above statement from one of the petition originators, Kiesling had in fact been nominated for the vice-president/presidential slate this year, but was not chosen by the nominating committee to run. This petition is a disservice and an insult to Hughes-Watkins and her committee members. One of the committee-chosen candidates has responded to the petition in a blog post here.
There is currently a fundraising effort to, “…pledge to financially support the participation of archivists and students from historically underrepresented groups at SAA’s next Annual Meeting” to honor Brenda Banks and the work of SAA’s 2020 Nominating Committee. Archivists from underrepresented backgrounds can request up to $500 via at paypal.me/SamanthaRWinn or email firstname.lastname@example.org (or DM on Twitter: @sam_winn to receive financial assistance to attend SAA 2020 in Chicago).
We encourage A4BLiP members and others to donate if they can, request financial assistance through the #52Fund if they need it, have conversations with signers who they know about why their actions were harmful and disrespectful, write to SAA Council, and vote for one of the two candidates selected by the Nominating Committee in the upcoming SAA election if you are an SAA member.