Speakers say association model shows path forward to bridging political divide
August 12, 2019
By Walt Williams
COLUMBUS, OHIO—ASAE opened its 2019 annual conference over the weekend with a call for associations to lead by example in bringing civility to public discourse and by acknowledging the notable absence of longtime CEO John Graham.
Graham stepped back from day-to-day management of ASAE in June after being diagnosed with cancer. He is currently seeking treatment. The CEO has been a fixture at ASAE and the group’s annual meeting for 16 years. He was not present at this year’s event, but the opening speakers made sure he was not forgotten.
“John is definitely one of the true visionaries in our field,” Sal Martino, CEO of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and outgoing chair of the ASAE board of directors, told the assembled attendees during his opening remarks. “Those of us who’ve been around for a while remember ASAE before John. It was a fine organization, but it was not nearly the innovation powerhouse, the model of member focus and the untiring champion of our profession that it is now.”
The annual conference kicked off Saturday with a series of small events and a party at the city’s science and arts museum COSI, where attendees enjoyed food and drinks while touring exhibits filled with dinosaur fossils and Muppet characters. The event shifted into high gear on Sunday with a keynote presentation about the changing dynamics of power structures in the social media age.
Before that, Martino used his opening address to highlight ASAE’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, pointing to his own experience as a gay man leading a major association. But a new theme this year was a call for associations to help political leaders overcome the gridlock that has brought policymaking to a standstill.
“This incivility, this constant invective, is spilling into society as a whole and standing in the way of progress,” Martino said. “Associations, as we all know, exist to foster connections and common purpose between people. We fight for diversity and inclusion and we get things done.”
ASAE is holding its annual conference this year under an increased security presence, with the event taking place roughly a week after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, also in Ohio. ASAE Interim CEO Susan Robertson acknowledged the tighter security in her remarks, but she also pointed out that the city’s visitors’ bureau—Experience Columbus—had provided around 600 volunteers for the conference. And she reiterated that associations can provide a model for bringing people together at a time when those of different political persuasions are seemingly drifting further apart.
“As association professionals, we can set an example for others who must come together to achieve meaningful results for society,” Robertson said. “We can show how people from different backgrounds, different cultures (and) points of view can be heard and solutions can be devised. This is the association model.”