Report from the 2014 SAA Convention in Los Angeles

By Dan R (Vancouver Intergoup Rep.)

The convention in Los Angeles was a fabulous opportunity for me to experience recovery and represent the Vancouver fellowship. I was able to attend workshops, SAA meetings, banquets as well as participate in SAA business at the conference. I felt a lot of challenges to my recovery as people asked about my sobriety, relationship, and tools of recovery that I’m working. I could see that there are a lot things that are lacking in my recovery and more things that I could be doing to improve my life and stay sober. I faced some difficult feeling and also got triggered in Los Angeles as well. Twice I met women and had friendly normal conversations but then got stuck in obsession for hours after.

Useful Workshops

I went to an interesting workshop called “rug work.” It was a little strange but very interesting. The 2 leaders talked about their history of addiction and being ‘unable to feel.’ In recovery they came up with a technique to force the feelings out. Basically they choose a quiet place in the house and force themselves to cry and scream with their face in a pillow. Then they attempt to journal, do something nice for themselves and relax for the rest of the evening. They gave us worksheets describing how to use the process. I tried this process because I had a very upsetting incident at work when I came back to the convention.

Another workshop that I went to that was very helpful to me was about Couple’s contracts. It was co-facilitated by a recovering couple in SAA and COSA. They described how they problem solved and made written agreements in their relationship. Most of the agreements were not about sex; they were about things the other person does that drive them crazy: even stuff like loading the dishwasher. They had many practical things worked out like if one person says they’re triggered anytime anywhere then they immediately come up with an action plan.

Conference Motions

At the conference we got right to work dealing with a motion on how a new process for electing members of the ISO board of Trustees and literature committee. Currently what happens is the delegates have a caucus at the conference in their respective regions. They ask for nominations and choose their ISO board member, alternate and literature committee member and alternate. We did that this year at a caucus of our region: Pacific Northwest, which includes Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and San Francisco. There were about 30 people at our caucus.

The motion was for a change to the Bylaws (our legal document) where the board members and literature committee are elected from nominations that come from a slate of candidates that come from the membership at large. Therefore regions might not be involved at all. Also the candidates could be voted off the committees as well if they aren’t doing their job. The rationale for this motion was the committees had gotten somewhat large, delegations from the membership at large may produce the best possible candidates, and that some of the members did not follow up after they agreed to join at the annual conference. This motion would lead to smaller committees with members who had more service experience and would be more committed. This was actually passed at the 2013 convention and we were voting to ratify it. The motion passed only by about 60%. The main problem with the motion is that the new process of nominating people and voting on the slate of delegates had not been spelled out and that was concerning. Also, as someone on the literature committee pointed out, it’s actually good to have the literature committee be large and diverse, with alternates, so perhaps the literature committee was fine as is. The changes will take affect slowly, starting next year, as current members of the literature committee and board of trustees fulfill their 3 year terms and are replaced by candidates using the new system.

The next motion was to change the composition of the ISO conference: to have delegates selected differently. It was mentioned many times in the proceedings that the new area system has not been worked out yet which left many people concerned. However I slowly pieced together the following: instead of the current structure of 8 “regions”, 40 smaller ‘areas’ will be drawn up. For example, the Vancouver lower mainland would likely be one ‘area’. Groups will be able to apply to have themselves designated as an area. The idea is to have about 50 groups per area. The logic of all that would be to have better representation at the convention from individual groups, better informed, but fewer delegates at the convention.

The areas will be intermediate service levels and representatives from individual groups would get together for meetings. From that body, a group service representative would be elected to go the conference as a delegate. This is much the way our current intergroup works and so there is likely to be little change for us.

The motion passed last year and this year we ratified it by a small majority (64%). Many people argued against it because they thought there weren’t people willing to be area representatives and the new system may not work. Intergroups on the whole of SAA are rare, and the mandating of ‘areas’ may not change that. As well, exactly what the ‘areas’ will do at their semi-yearly meetings is not clear.

An SAA member woman gave us a presentation about the minority view which was the view in opposition to creating the new area structure. Her presentation was very persuasive. She said a small number of outspoken people on the ISO Board of Trustees want this new structure and that has dominated the meetings this year without considering other options. She pointed out that one rationale for this new area structure is to encourage more participation and member involvement, but we have never asked individual groups why they don’t participate more. The new areas will need to be financially self-supporting as well but nobody has a plan for how to make that happen. She suggested that tweaking the current system, like separating the conference and the convention may serve the membership better than overhauling it with this new system of areas.

Both sides had very persuasive arguments and I couldn’t make a decision clearly, so I abstained from the vote. One proviso to this motion was that the new process will take place slowly. The first area meetings will happen in 2015/2016 service years and the first conference made up of area delegates will be May 2017. One good thing, a mitigating factor, was that individual groups can still send a member to the conference to observe the proceedings, but they probably can’t participate, ask questions or vote.

There was another motion for us to adopt the new charter which was written by volunteers on the Charter Committee over the last year. For the first time the SAA convention has a conference charter which is a document specifying what the conference does and it’s principles and how they relate to the 12 traditions. Everyone was very appreciative of the work that was done to produce this important document. It is said to be spiritual document in contrast to the Bylaws which are legal requirements. The only problem with the charter was that the convention was the first time that many of us had to look at it. It highlighted an important problem with the convention: often the motions are not released until the last minute and many people don’t have time to go over motions with their groups prior to dealing with them at the convention.

There was also a motion considered that would allow any delegate to make a motion to postpone motions on the floor to the next year. Some people were concerned that postponing motions could cause unnecessary delay and hijack the meeting. As it is now, all motions that are unsuccessful or not talked about die at the end of each annual conference. Ian B. and I got to participate in that discussion by asking questions at the mike. The only got about 40% support and did not pass.

Notes about the conference

During the conference it came out that the membership continues to grow by about 5-10% per year. The 1500 meetings listed on the ISO website contain 100 telemeetings which I found surprising.

There was some interesting dialogue at the conference about the presence of many newcomers (30-50%) of the delegates). While it does lead to a lot of uninformed questions, and repetition each year, there are benefits of having so many newcomers as well. Often it is the newcomers’ first exposure to high-level service work in the fellowship, and provides newcomers with exposure to the conference that they otherwise might never have.
The structure of ISO is somewhat complicated. Previously the paid Board of Directors had a lot of influence over the course of the convention and committees, but now they are shifting more of that work to the committees. The Board of Trustees are elected volunteers who make decisions about the conference and direction of ISO, including decisions about money. The Steering Committee is another board of volunteers who decide on the procedure and content of the conference. The roles of those committees overlap to some degree and they don’t always work together smoothly.

I was very fortunate to attend this year’s SAA conference and be able to participate in so many things. I hope that other members can have the same opportunity as me next year and in the future to learn more about ISO and engage deeper in the program.

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