The 2019 AAA Business Meeting

The 118th American Anthropological Association (AAA) Business Meeting was called to order by President Alex Barker on November 22, 2019, at 6:24 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, British Columbia. Voting cards were distributed at the door to voting members of the Association. Close to 60 cards were distributed, which is fewer than the 250 cards required for a quorum, and thus it was determined that no quorum was present to conduct business. Members in attendance continued by suspending the rules and met as an informal gathering. Any motions adopted by this body would be sent to the AAA Executive Board as advisory recommendations.

President Barker announced the recipients of the AAA awards, presented at a luncheon earlier in the week. President-Elect/Vice President Akhil Gupta read the names of anthropologists who had passed away since the previous meeting and conducted a moment of silence.

Next, a number of reports were presented. The first report was from the president, Alex Barker, who provided a brief overview of his written report (which can be found on the AAA website). Points included the introduction of the OARR: Open Anthropology Research Repository, the virtual meeting pilot project, reduction in member dues, the second edition of RACE: Are We So Different®, and the launch of a new peer-reviewed journal, Feminist Anthropology.

The executive director, Ed Liebow, reported on the health of the Association noting the talented staff who serve our members and advance the field of anthropology. He detailed our work with the Smithsonian Institution, and the sale of our small museum exhibit for the Association’s RACE project. He discussed the Department Leaders Summer Institute, which will now be held every other year, and the Association’s new fundraising initiative.

The president-elect, Akhil Gupta, remarked on what he hopes to accomplish as president, which include making our discipline more inclusive, diverse, and equitable.

AAA secretary, Elizabeth Briody, noted concerns with encouraging members to run for leadership positions and the low turnout for our elections.

AAA treasurer, Doug Henry, noted the continued good financial health of the Association, which allows us to invest in things such as the career videos, a director of development, the Department Leaders Summer Institute, and infrastructure.

The Annual Meeting program co-chairs (for AAA and CASCA), Nicole Peterson, Pamela Downe, and Martha Radice, provided an update on events and the success of the 2019 Annual Meeting.

Members’ Programmatic, Advisory, and Advocacy Committee (MPAAC) chair, Tricia Redeker Hepner, provided a report on the structure of this committee and the nature of its work. She noted the creation of the AAA Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault as one of the big accomplishments of the committee’s first year. She also reported that MPAAC is working to conceptualize and draft a new AAA Statement on Anthropology and Human Rights.

Sol Katz read the resolution that he had submitted 30 days in advance of the meeting. There was strong support for the resolution among the members present. As there was no quorum for this meeting, the resolution will be forwarded to the Executive Board as advisory.

The resolution is as follows:
A resolution on Behalf of the American Anthropological Association in Light of TIAA’s Accumulation of Farmland Affecting Communities and the Climate.

Whereas, a large percentage of members of the American Anthropological Association are participants in TIAA, and expect TIAA to engage in socially responsible investment practices through all of its funds and subsidiaries;

Whereas, TIAA has acknowledged that it is the largest manager of farmland in the world and is expanding its land holdings;

Whereas, the AAA is a proponent of human rights, social justice, and action to address the threat of climate change;

Whereas, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, adopted in 2018, recognize threats to the land base of indigenous peoples and rural communities and require the protection of their land rights;

Whereas, TIAA invests in large-scale agricultural monocropping that many experts consider to be climate damaging, and socially unsustainable;

Whereas, TIAA defends its investments with Principles for Responsible Investment, which TIAA itself drafted, and which are not adequate and not monitored by any independent party;

Whereas, TIAA is accumulating farmland in regions of the United States and other countries where black farmers and other communities and peoples have been dispossessed in recent history;

Whereas, TIAA circumvented the intent of Brazilian law to limit the scale of land ownership by foreign investors;

Whereas, as TIAA’s land acquisitions in northeast Brazil are in states and municipalities where the community land rights to forest and grasslands have been ignored, where public land has frequently been converted to private by corrupt means, and where Harvard University recently lost $200 million by buying false land titles;

Whereas, TIAA’s due diligence in northeast Brazil was limited to paper trails of recent ownership claims, rather than an on the ground verification of land rights with local communities;

Whereas, communities in northeast Brazil report that TIAA farms are part of soybean plantation expansion in the Cerrado region, which is denying them access to their common lands, drying up and poisoning their sources of water, and threatening their right to food;

Whereas studies indicate that deforestation occurred on 180,000 acres of land in northeast Brazil acquired by TIAA since 2000;

Whereas, TIAA’s investments in the northeast Brazilian Cerrado have fueled land-grabbing, deforestation, conflict, and also fires which were more intense than usual this year in both the Cerrado and the Amazon;

Therefore, be it
Resolved, That the American Anthropological Association recommends that TIAA place a moratorium on additional acquisition of farmland and acknowledges that farmland accumulation by large scale investors and institutions risks unsustainable outcomes, and that regulation is required to prevent the loss of access to land and water by local farmers and communities;

Resolved, That the AAA requests that the TIAA Board of Trustees meet with an AAA appointed committee to seek advice about beginning a dialogue with communities, civil society organizations, and family farmers’ organizations in the regions where TIAA has acquired land, including discussion of a fair process of returning land to local control, prioritizing access to land for groups that have experienced farmland loss and dispossession of community commons, and that the TIAA trustees report the results of this dialogue back to the AAA;

Resolved, That the AAA suggests that TIAA prioritize investment in businesses and cooperatives that increase the opportunities for family and small-scale farmers to produce and market a diversity of crops, also keeping in mind their responsibility to their account holders.

The president adjourned the meeting at 7:15 p.m.

Kim Baker is the AAA’s organization and governance manager.

Cite as: Baker, Kim. 2020. “The 2019 AAA Business Meeting.” Anthropology News website, March 2, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1361

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