Challenge Corporate Power Conference a Huge Success!

The Des Moines branch has found a way to Challenge Corporate Power and Assert People's Rights in front of a large, enthusiastic audience--an example that might inspire other branches to follow suit. Over the past two or three years the branch has conducted the ten-session WILPF course fifteen to twenty times for groups of six or seven participants. The course was well received, but many potential participants found it impossible to commit so much time to the endeavor, and entreated the branch to condense the material.

On Saturday, November 5, 2005, the branch responded by offering a day-long conference on corporate power that attracted over 180 registrants. The conference took place in the centrally-located, well-respected Plymouth UCC Church, which has a new fellowship hall that seats 200 around inviting round tables. Registration began at 8 a.m. The conference started at 8:45 a.m. with several invited speakers who covered the rise of corporations in terms of history, legal chronology (the timeline) and economics. The issues selected were tailored to both local and national interests. The speakers were chosen for their general expertise in those fields, but were able to focus on the corporation by means of the WILPF course materials furnished in advance by the branch. The proceedings were punctuated by screenings of pertinent segments from National Public TV's "NOW" show. A band provided by a donor performed music composed by Cheryl Sypal, one of the organizers. Participants ate lunch in the hall using nondisposable dishes, cups, glasses and cutlery. Conference co-chairs Maggie Rawlands and Sherry Hutchison worked hard to stay on message, as evident in the avoidance of disposable table settings and the patronage of a union print shop and an independent book store.

After lunch there were several 55-minute breakout sessions on media, agriculture, health care and labor, each conducted by a presenter well qualified in his/her field. These sessions took place in classrooms located above the fellowship hall. They were followed by a lively wrap-up session, attended by 85 animated participants. The conference concluded a little after 5 p.m. Those who organized and conducted the conference commented on the geographical diversity of the participants and their close, absorbed attention to the proceedings.

Speakers contributed their services, but will receive transportation reimbursements and gift certificates. The registration fee was $15, which included lunch. Twenty co-sponsors helped defray the cost of the conference, and were recognized in print and at the conference. Income exceeded expenses, and the difference will enable implementation of some of the actions suggested from the wrap-up session.

How did Des Moines make it all happen? Publicity played a key role.
Those on the publicity committee built rapport with reporters and followed up repeatedly on the details. Announcements placed in surrounding and nearby communities brought people from 24 small towns around Des Moines as well as Des Moines. Union-printed notices were posted in coffee houses, co-ops and book stores. Co-sponsors sent out the trifold announcement of the conference to their own members. Another 1,667 trifolds went out to a mailing list compiled from various sources, including farm and peace organizations.

What would the organizers have done differently? They would have reminded attendees to fill out the evaluation sheet, which would have included a question on how the participants heard about the conference. They would have made sure the food came from local organic farmers, the coffee from fair-trade suppliers. And they would have asked the speakers to submit printed copies of their speeches.
What next? Organizations in Cedar Rapids and Davenport have asked the Des Moines branch to help them stage a similar conference in their own communities. A number of participants, after hearing about the ten-session course, have indicated interest in taking the course. The Des Moines branch stands ready to help other WILPF branches with the planning of such a conference. And Des Moines would like to know what other branches are doing in the Challenge to Corporate Power. The omission of several topics, such as education, the military industrial complex and global trade, and the need for a fuller converage of agribusiness concerns in Iowa, may lead to additional conferences.

The conference proceedings were filmed; a branch member hopes to edit the footage and commit it to DVD. Stay tuned. We have not heard the last of Des Moines .

All praise and admiration to the organizers of the conference: Maggie Rawland and Sherry Hutchison (co-chairs), Diane Krell (emcee and branch president), Judy Lonning (registration), Cheryl Sypal and Susan Temere (publicity), and Marybeth Gardam and Mary Hanson Harrison (leaders of the wrap-up session).

Authors' note: We are grateful to Mary Zepernick, who suggested that we conduct the interview on which we based this report about the Des Moines conference.

Jim and Tomi Allison, Bloomington, IN Branch, Nov. 21, 2005

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