Thanks so much to the 110 people who filled out our three Left Coast Forum surveys—and to the others who sent separate emails or buttonholed us during the event. Clearly, judging by the warm-hearted feedback, the Left Coast Forum is on track to becoming a growing asset for the Southern California progressive community.
The numerous individual responses will be invaluable tools for the organizing committee we’ll ramp up in coming months—earlier than last year and long before next year’s forum. Contact us if you’d like to take part.
Here are some quick thoughts on what we’ve learned
The strongest responses were the many of you who congratulated us for pulling off this much-needed event at all and the fact that the overwhelming majority said you’d attend again next year.
Sharon’s conversation with Kelly Lytle (“Million Dollar Hoods”) Hernandez drew rave reviews, as did Melina Abullah’s following keynote on Friday night.
A number of panel sessions drew compliments—ones dealing with police brutality, ending white supremacy, clean elections, and sessions on Marx and socialism seemed to be especially big hits.
A lot of you enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and reacquaint yourself with old friends. Someone remarked that it was like a 30-year high school reunion for LA’s progressive community.
Our 2019 planning committee will dig in deeply to all the remarks.
Here’s a recap of the most salient concerns.
Background noise in the main hall: Early on, we had intended to have only one or two keynotes in the main tent and push all panel sessions into the classrooms, some of which can hold 130 or more people. We changed course to put late-arriving panel sessions and workshops outside, which were quite nicely done. But, as we all saw, the lively conversations in the exhibit section drifted over to workshop seats to no one’s advantage.
We had 10 booksellers and 40 organizations. People seemed to really enjoy connecting with all that’s going on there. If anything, we want to build on that, not try to hush people so speakers can be heard.
So, next year we’ve got to have a better solution. Dedicate the entire tent to exhibitors? Put the keynotes in a bigger auditorium somewhere on campus? Build a strong sound baffle to separate the two sections? Something.
Uneven attendance: We had approaching 700 people visit the forum this year—nearly double last year’s attendance. But that doesn’t mean people were on the clock from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
No, there were clearly times during the weekend when many fewer people were on hand, meaning disappointing audiences for some panel sessions, performances, and talks. For example, the sparse audience of organizers and Trade Tech staff for the dynamic hip-hop performance by Rebel Diaz was a real loss for all of us—this from a 70-year-old guy who never was hip and certainly can’t hop.
This year, we moved the start time from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and that seemed to help.
But we also pushed a one-day suggested donation pass, largely because we thought a lot of people would want to hear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talk and we wanted to make it easy for them. She didn’t join us, of course, but that one-day pass very likely encouraged people to pick just one day to attend. So that idea is history.
The bigger need is for better promotion, and several of you offered ideas—and your own time—to make that happen. We did create individual webpages and graphics for each panel and talk, so the panelists could promote their talks to their colleagues and lists. Sluggo Wasserman with Solartopia and Eric Mann and Channing Martinez at the Labor/Community Strategy Center did a bang-up job with those.
But some of that came together late and without strong guidance on how to leverage those tools. We can certainly fix that by starting our planning earlier—and also expand it to include publishers and tabling organizations.
Bigger than that will be to leverage all the groups represented by panelists and tablers. We had 50 panel sessions, with panelists representing probably 150 different organizations, plus those 50 tabling organizations—and then all the other organizations represented by attendees. We’re going to focus a lot of our promotional activities on helping all those people reach their own organizations to build a better event for us all.
KPFK came through gangbusters for the Left Coast Forum, inviting us to appear on a half dozen shows and putting on a very well-received workshop with many of their best known hosts. We’ll build on that as well.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Yes, a few of you noticed that the Bronx wunderkind did not appear as advertised. Okay, more than a few.
We were as disappointed as you when we got the news not seven days before the event that she wouldn’t be making the trip.
Her campaign staff said she’d been under pressure to stay closer to home so she could win her congressional seat, especially since Joe Crowley, the long-time Democratic incumbent she defeated in the primary, would still be on the ballot with the Working Families Party.
We quickly put out the word on this disappointing change in all the ways we had promoted the event, while we worked with her staff to Skype her in during the her scheduled appearance slot or at least get us a video—which, as you saw, whistled past in 90 seconds.
I don’t know what lesson we learned here. “Stuff happens,” maybe.
Refreshments: We did better this year, with more food trucks on hand for longer periods, but we still dropped the ball. The food fair that was supposed to go on across the street on Sunday was cancelled, apparently—we didn’t learn that until, well, Sunday.
Also, the trucks were loud, smelly, and slow to serve. So next year we’re thinking of hiring more vendors who will set up serving lines. Several of you suggested local restaurants that might fill the bill.
We had coffee and fruit and water most of the time. We’ll need to get from “most” to “all” next year.
Party candidates: Early on, we decided not to have candidates for local offices appear on panels or as speakers. If we let one in, how could we keep everyone out in this campaign season?
We did accidently let one candidate appear on several panels, though we didn’t know she was running for office until too late in the game.
But we heard the complaints and will devise a fairer strategy going forward.
Missing topics: We did fairly extensive outreach to include all relevant topics, but our efforts evidently weren’t targeted well enough: we had nothing on LGBT rights, were light on labor, missing on immigration rights (here in the heartland of immigrant reform battles), light on labor, and missing on First Nations issues.
Going forward, if we can attract the needed volunteer energy, we might want to recruit issue leaders who would take charge of reaching out to key groups and individuals on particular topics.
There was more to what you told us through the survey and in the walkway talks that we’ll need to absorb as we plan for next year. But we want to thank you again for helping make this year’s event as good as it was and responding to the survey to tell how to do even better.
Please add your comments below.
Dick & Sharon