Thank You for Saving the Conferences!

We expect an outstanding 2018 conference.

A Letter from Dan Sullivan, CGO President

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Dear friends and colleagues,

Last year was the first time we made a serious plea for money, and we got a wonderful response, raising over $6,000 – far more than we had ever received from personal donors before. Outstanding donations came from Nic Rosen ($1,250) and Mason Gaffney ($1,000). Mason encouraged others to give by matching the first $50 of each donation, and we got more than the 20 donations he had agreed to match. After learning of this level of personal support from donors, the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation increased its support from an average of $6,000 in recent years to $10,000 last year. If not for these donations and increased support from Schalkenbach, we would have been precariously close to running out of the funds needed to continue. Although we still don’t have the funds we once had, we are out of our immediate financial crisis and ready to host two excellent conferences. As I noted in last year’s appeal, this past summer’s St. Louis conference had already been planned, and donations would make more of a difference beginning with this coming year’s Baltimore conference, which I will describe below.

This year we are going to ask you not only for money but for your participation. It’s wonderful if you can give both, but many people have either time and little money or money and little time. Before we ask for either, I want to let you all know where we are, what we are doing, and why.

The St. Louis Conference

Although the St. Louis conference was not well attended, we got very good reviews for our award presentation to Fred Harrison and Anthony Werner, for theoretical aspects presented by Lindy Davies and Nic Tideman, for implementation ideas by Don Killoren, John Kelly, Alanna Hartzok, Joshua Vincent, Brendan Hennigan and me, for an exposé of The Niger Delta situation and the eco-village concept by Gordon Abiama, who came here from Nigeria specifically for the conference, for a launching of the new Progress and Poverty, annotated with essays by modern economists, and for the Georgist link to the campaign for a universal basic income, by Karl Widerquist. However, the presentation that stood above all the others (and got a cheering, standing ovation) was Mike Curtis’s banquet speech.

Conference Videos

Those of you who missed previous conferences, or who want to see a conference session again, can view all of last year’s presentations and many presentations from earlier years by going to http://cgocouncil and clicking on “Conference videos.” Paul Justus has done an excellent job of preparing and uploading these videos, putting in many hours of volunteer time. We hope to produce shorter edited highlights from these videos as well, which will require even more volunteer time.

The Upcoming Baltimore Conference

We are spending a bit more money to make the conference better and the CGO stronger, but the big difference is that we have people in and near Baltimore who have already done advance work and are doing more. Our Florida conference lacked local speakers because we had no presence in Florida, and because many of the best prospects had left Florida for the hot season. We are now making a point of “going where the action is,” i.e., going where we have Georgists engaging the community. It seems to be working well.That difference is already paying off.

Joshua Vincent, Walt Rybeck and others have been working for over a decade to help the City of Baltimore get the land value tax option it so badly needs. In 2005, they were invited to present their ideas to the Baltimore City Legislative Delegation of the Maryland State Legislature. As they began explaining LVT to the delegation, Clarence Davis, the head of that delegation, gently interrupted to say, “This sounds like Henry George. I’m on board; I’ve wanted to help Henry for a long time.” [quoted to the best of Josh’s memory.] Delegate Davis later explained that Progress and Poverty made an impression on him when it was part of his curriculum at Morgan State University. He showed Josh a copy of P&P that he kept on the bookshelf behind his office chair.

Throughout the legislative process of that year and the next, delegate Davis kept trying to push LVT through the Ways and Means Committee, but the chairwoman was unalterably opposed. Delegate Davis is now retiring as head of the Maryland AARP, and has remained as an ardent supporter of our cause. He has agreed to speak to our conference wherever he can best serve us.

Lorenzo Gastañaga is a Cuban exile and a long time analyst of Jose Martí and his single-tax-inspired revolution against Spain in the 1890s. He is a leader of the Maryland Libertarian Party, and got them to put an endorsement of land value tax in their state platform. Professor Steve Hanke is Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise in Baltimore, MD. He has written papers on the real estate cycle citing Georgists Fred Foldvary and Mason Gaffney.

Alanna Hartzok is organizing panels on the morality of property in land, featuring Charles Avila, author of Ownership: Early Christian Teachings. Avila was an adversary of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and then the mayor Tanauan, and an official in the Corazon Aquino administration and a leader of the Free Farmers Federation. He is coming from the Philippines specifically to attend our conference. He will be joined by Dr. Quisia Gonzalez, who has championed the rights of the Garifuna people of Honduras, and has taught courses on human rights at Henry George School of New York. She is also an NGO representative to the United Nations for the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade.

John Kelly, author of The Other Law of Moses, will be speaking with them. Those of us who have seen his presentations know him to be an outstanding speaker on the morality of the Georgist message.

The conference is being held in the heart of Baltimore at the Holiday Inn Inner Harbor. This is a major improvement over isolated hotels where we have held conferences in the past. It makes getting meals off-site much easier, and it means people can take short walking tours instead of a bus tour where people spend more time riding than touring. Even Fort McHenry, inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is only a three and a half miles from the hotel. Such tours are also far less expensive, as there is usually a five hour minimum for chartering a bus.

The 2019 Pittsburgh Conference

Henry George’s 180th birthday falls on Labor Day in 2019. In honor of that, and of the fact that the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of

Labor originally campaigned for taxes on land values, we are holding our 2019 conference from July 24-28 at the Sheraton Station Square, a union hotel directly across the river from Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. Pittsburgh is a big labor city and home of the nation’s biggest Labor Day Parade. As with Baltimore, we are right in the heart of the city. There are good places to eat right in Station Square, ranging from inexpensive to upscale.

The hotel shuttle will take people anywhere in a three mile radius, which covers the most interesting places in the city. The shuttle will also pick people up from the downtown stops of the Airport bus.

We had intended to hold the conference over Labor Day weekend, but we found not only that our academic members could not attend on that weekend, but that labor leaders would be very busy with preparations for the parade and for after-parade parties. We hope that local Georgists and a few traveling Georgists can come to Pittsburgh again to either march in the parade or hand out leaflets to people who are waiting for the parade to start.

To that end, I have prepared brochures designed to showcase George as a champion of labor, and have been in touch with union leaders who are very interested in our conference. Mayor Peduto, who supports the land value tax, has also offered to help. I have about a year to line up speakers from the labor movement who will address our conference, and nearly a year and a half to generate interest in attending the conference. I am looking for Georgists in the US and Canada who have or are willing to seek labor connections in their own localities. PDFs of the brochures will also be available at the CGO website. I intend to get them printed at a union printer. If you copy the brochures and print them on a home printer, be sure to add “labor donated” front or back page. Union members look for the union bug, but they will accept “labor donated” as an alternative. I can also modify the brochures to include your local contact information.

Better, Not Cheaper

When CGO initially took over conference duties, we were able to put on a first-rate conference with volunteers for far less money than it had cost when the work was done by paid staff.

Our only paid work is done by Sue and Scott Walton as conference administrators. Some of us have scouted hotels for them, reducing their travel costs and hourly fees. Paul Justus and Scott Walton have put many hours into video production and editing, and a number of people have put in hours of effort prior to and during the conference – finding speakers, organizing conference schedules, composing brochures, promoting conferences, registering attendees on site, managing AV equipment and writing letters like this one. Using volunteers has worked fairly well. For several years, CGO’s bank balances had increased due to the money we saved through volunteer labor, and we were able to maintain quality with minimal price increases. As institutional support has dwindled, we have put more and more of the load on volunteers, and they have risen to the occasion. One of the reasons our conferences have suffered is that we have been cutting corners to save money. Until this year, our focus had been on keeping the conference as inexpensive as possible, and quality has gone down as inflation out-paced our budgets.

Even in the worst locations, rooms in decent hotels now cost at least $109 per night. It turns out that, because of our thorough searches, advanced bookings and Sue’s skillful negotiations, we have been able to book hotels in prime locations that don’t cost much more than the isolated ones. That’s why our Baltimore and Pittsburgh conferences are in prime locations. Room nights in these hotels are $119 and $129 respectively. (Hotel taxes are higher in Baltimore than in Pittsburgh. We should do something about hotel taxes, eh?)

Great Conferences have Great Movements

This is a reciprocal function, and it is probably more accurate to say that great movements have great conferences. Our job, however, is to improve the conferences, and one way to do that is to make them tools for improving the movement. We need to get our people directly involved, not only in improving the conference, but in working in a coordinated way to improve the movement. We have seen outreach efforts at the conferences fail to bring people in to those conferences. What we need is targeted outreach efforts before the conferences occur, so people who might attend the conferences are already involved in the Georgist movement. The way to bring a conference to your local is to generate interest for reform there. Our conferences can also be a training ground to help existing Georgists become more effective at reaching those potential supporters. Then some of those supporters will come to future conferences. Each conference needs action agendas so people who attend that conference will have opportunities to work together throughout the year.

Apprentice Leaders Wanted

I had wanted to step down at the end of this term, and Sue and Scott are gradually retiring by cutting back on other clients and focusing on our conference. We also need people to assist Sue and Scott in order that, when they eventually do retire, we can have a seamless transition to new conference administrators. We have no replacements at this time who have worked on the planning committee long enough to adequately understand what we do and how to do it. We need people who not only want to help plan the conferences, but want to work their way up into leadership positions. It’s a lot of work, but doing it well can earn you an opportunity to do even more work. If you want to try your hand at planning improved conferences and doing the work involved, we need your help. Ted Gwartney, Nate Blair and Al Katzenberger have also agreed to continue as vice president, secretary and treasurer.

Help Us with Targeted Outreach

We also need specialized outreach to church groups, labor groups, business groups, civic groups, academics and others who can grow our movement and help lead us to victories. I hope you will either lead or join one of these groups and help us with targeted outreach. If you are part of a Georgist organization you can work through them. Our concern is to connect all the people we have won over from each targeted group so they can reinforce each other’s commitments. We are forming committees for each group to help with these issues. And again, if you do get significant support in your community, we would like to consider that community for a conference.

Recognizing Outstanding Georgist Efforts

If you know of a Georgist who has done outstanding work that deserves recognition at the banquet, let us know. The form below invites you to nominate two candidates for recognition. One is for people who have had great accomplishments, and the other is for people who quietly work behind the scenes to make other people successful. These “unsung heroes” are the backbones of all movements, and they deserve to be acknowledged.

The Polly Cleveland Matching Grant

Last year, Mason Gaffney matched the first $50 of up to 20 donations. This year, Polly Cleveland is doing the same. We hope you will donate as much as you can afford, but our intent here is not just to get more money, but to involve more donors. A donation is the mark of a committed Georgist, and you will find yourself having more of a sense that this is your organization if you give something of yourself to it.

So, the match makes your $25 donation worth $50, and your $50, worth $100. (Membership dues don’t count toward the match.) Although additional donations are not matched, anything you can give helps us improve the conference and the movement. If you represent a member organization, we ask first that you renew your organizational dues of $50. This gives your organization’s delegate a right to both speak and vote at the annual business meetings. You may become an affiliate member as an individual for $25. Affiliate members may speak at meetings but not vote.

Again, as our immediate crisis has passed, we are now working to improve our conferences to get the larger turnouts we need. I hope you value the conference and the effort that goes into it, and that those of you who can afford to do so contribute generously toward its continuation and growth.

I close with the words Mike Curtis used to close his banquet speech:

The feeling that we are not alone, in our yearning to get this program accepted, may well be the most important aspect of our annual conference. We learn things, yes, and most importantly, we get re-energized with the feeling that we are part of something that is far bigger than ourselves. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has.”

“The truth that I've tried to make clear,” said George, “will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it never would have never been obscured. But it will find friends – those who will toil for it, suffer for it, if need be, die for it. That is the power of truth. Will it at length prevail? Ultimately, yes. But in our own times? Or in times of which any memory of us shall remain? Who shall say?”

I needn’t ask you to die for the truth, but I invite you to toil and give money for it.

Sincerely,

Dan Sullivan, CGO president

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