By Paul Edwards
I can still remember a sense of foreboding when I decided to attend my first convention of the ACB in 1984 in Philadelphia. I had been encouraged to come by Grant Mack, ACB’s then president, who had asked me to chair the resolutions committee. He had even offered a small stipend if I would agree. So my wife, three children and lots of uncertainty boarded the train in Florida to a destination that was to be the beginning of an unbroken series of conventions to today. This means I have now attended some 35 ACB conventions and have had the honor to have served ACB in a fairly broad range of ways for all these years.
Conventions are very much at the center of how ACB determines who we are and where we are going; so, attending a convention is truly the way to come to terms with what ACB is all about.
When the program committee puts together our general sessions, they are providing those who attend or listen with a sense of where ACB is today and where we are planning to go in the future. As ACB debates and adopts resolutions, members can get a sense of what issues concern the organization today. As our constitution is amended, members can get a sense of how our notion of what our organization ought to be is changing.
A whole generation of conventions after my first, a lot has changed. I think I was the first resolutions chair to use electronic braille. We recorded our general sessions on tape but were decades away from digital recordings and streaming. The Internet was still a decade into the future, and we didn’t have a web site where members could get information. Our convention, our national office and “The Braille Forum,” as it was called then, were our primary ways of telling folks who we were and what we wanted. Our conventions were not as large then as they are today and, for a few years after I started coming, our affiliate organizations met during part of the week and the general sessions met later. It was only in the ‘90s that we went to the current morning general sessions, afternoon affiliate meetings schedule.
A big part of being elected to an ACB board or BOP position involved going to caucuses. These were then held in hotel rooms after hours and were quite different from what they are today. Candidates could make a speech if they wanted to, but each state had questions they wanted candidates to answer. After the candidates had spoken and been sent away, caucuses generally spent some time deciding how they wanted to vote. And, of course, at that time there was no such thing as a secret ballot. I can tell you from lots of personal experience that running for office in those days was an exhausting and seemingly never-ending race from one caucus to another. The nice thing about the informality of caucuses, though, was that candidates got to know folks from the various states better because of the informal approach in hotel rooms, often with a libation in hand.
Let me speak of just one other major difference between conventions today and in the past. When I first started coming to ACB, the convention decided where we would hold our future conventions. There were parties held by states bidding for a future convention, and there were giveaways. One year when Tampa was being considered, everybody got horns known as Tampa Tooters and oranges. The oranges were popular; the Tampa Tooters drove everyone crazy by the end of the convention.
When all is said and done, conventions are still, for me, the heart and soul of what ACB is all about. I cannot stress too much how much an ACB convention can bind you to our organization and can make ACB make sense for you! Come to Rochester and see for yourself!