HISTORY OF A. A. INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS
Here is a presentation given to the 1984 Gen. Service
ConferenceŠ on the History of International Conventions.
April 13 1984
By Sarah P., G.S.O. staff
Prior to the first International Convention, the Cleveland Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous hosted a Big Meeting in June 1945 to celebrate AA's tenth anniversary. The speakers, of course, were Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Twenty-five hundred people were in attendance, from 36 states and two Canadian provinces, and one from Mexico. So it wasn't surprising that the Cleveland Central Office wanted to sponsor the first International Conference in 1950, in observance of A.A. 's 15th anniversary.
To finance the Conference, the plan was that the Cleveland/Akron groups would underwrite half of the Convention and the Alcoholic Foundation (now the General Service Board) the other half. The program for the weekend would be a closed meeting at which the proposed Traditions and other pertinent subjects would be fully discussed, followed by an open mass meeting in the Public Auditorium, addressed by Bill and Dr. Bob.
Between 6,000 and 8,000 people attended that weekend. Every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada was represented, as well as such far-off spots as South Africa, the Marshall Islands, and Saudi Arabia. That weekend, the Twelve Traditions were adopted.
When I looked back through our files on this Convention, I found a portion of a delegate's report that I would like to share with you on the Big Meeting at that Conference. It read:
The first speaker was the co-founder of A.A., Dr. Bob, (affectionately called "Smitty" by Bill Wilson). Few people at the meeting knew that Dr. Bob is dying of cancer and for the past seven months has rarely left his home.
He spoke only ten minutes, but delivered an intensely interesting, humane talk. After he finished and Bill Wilson began to speak, he quietly left. He showed his great desire to see perpetuated in A.A. what he had worked so hard to accomplish.
Bill Wilson closed the meeting, speaking for an hour. He reviewed A.A. from its beginning to the present time and expressed belief that this Conference cemented all A.A. groups into one vast enterprise, and that the important thing is not the single group, but their combination.
It was impossible for anyone to attend this Convention without coining away with the awareness of how insignificant all of us should be in this work, but yet how important it is that we as individual members never, by word or thought, should do anything to detract from the work.
Our one thought must be: How can I repay a little of so much that has been given to me?
After the 1950 International Conference, the General
Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous and its standing committee(s) assumed the
entire responsibility of organizing and planning for A.A. International
Our 20th Anniversary International Convention was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1955. At this historic Convention, Bill W. declared that A.A. had come of age. It's when the leadership of A.A. was turned over to the General Service Conference, the structure to which local groups, area committees, and Conference delegates expressed the collective conscience of Alcoholics Anonymous. The paid registration was 3,800, although it was said that probably about 5,000 were actually there. The Convention incurred a net loss of $l6,000-an enormous amount of money in those days.
But this financial loss did not discourage the Northern California group of representatives. In September 1955, they asked that the 1956 Conference approve a proposal that anniversary Conventions of Alcoholics Anonymous be held every two years, that the location be shifted geographically to permit a maximum number of members to attend, and that the 1957 Convention be held "somewhere in California." On a voice vote, the proposal was defeated overwhelmingly. Later in the same Conference session, following a stirring comment by one of the California delegates, the Conference voted unanimously to recommend to the General Service Board that the next Convention be held in California. So the 1960 International Convention was held in Long Beach. The California AA's sponsored the show and dance which were a great success, and the proceeds were turned over to the General Service Board, resulting in a net income for that Convention.
In 1965, we moved to Toronto. Approximately 10,500 were in attendance for the Fellowship's 30th anniversary. And it was at the big Saturday night meeting that AA's from around the world declared individually and in unison: "When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible." This Convention was also self-supporting financially.
At our 35th Anniversary Convention in 1970 at Miami Beach, Florida, 10,700 were present, almost 300 more than in Toronto. This Convention was a success Fellowship-wise and financially. And it was there on the stage Sunday morning at the Spiritual Meeting that our co-founder Bill W. made his last public appearance.
The size of our International Conventions was continuing to grow. In 1974, the trustees' International. Convention Committee recommended that a convention consultant be hired to assist us in dealing with convention bureaus, convention centers, decorators, bus companies, etc. Time has proved that this kind of expertise pays for itself by keeping expenses down.
What happened in the early 1970's with the proliferation of alcoholism agencies and treatment centers is history, but could not be foreseen when planning for our 40th Anniversary Convention in Denver. We had anticipated an attendance of 14,000, but when July 4, 1975, came, 19,300 had registered. Three times during the weekend, fire alarms went off due to the smoking and overcrowding, and the entire Denver Fire Department showed up, fully equipped with axes, hoses, and screaming sirens. And the surplus of funds from this weekend was $83,000-an embarrassing amount of money when you're aiming to more or less break even.
Our 45th Anniversary International Convention was held in New Orleans, with A.A. members from over 30 countries. This time, for a number of reasons (the major factor being inflation), we experienced a net loss of $203,000. The Convention itself was a fabulous success, with a record registration of 22,500. In 1981, there was a Conference action recommending that all future events of this type be self-supporting.
Within the next month or two, we will be in full swing planning for our 50th Anniversary Convention in Montreal. We have booked 13,000 rooms, the Olympic Park Stadium and the Convention Center in preparation for our celebration. We have also hired a completely bilingual convention consultant, who has been of great assistance to us in working out contracts with the Olympic Park
Stadium and the Convention Center.
As I mentioned earlier, the General Service Board of A.A., through its committees, is entirely responsible for running the International Convention. And one of its responsibilities is to choose a local Host Committee chair- person who would be willing to take on the inordinate task of organizing and coordinating approximately 1,000 volunteers to assist us with on-site registration, languages, decorating the two halls for the dances, etc. Two years ago, Denis L., Panel 30 delegate from Southwest Quebec, accepted this appointment. Members of the G.S.O. Planning Committee had an initial meeting with Denis and the chairpersons of the various committees that he has appointed. We plan to meet with them and their full committees again next June to go over the operational procedures. We know they are really looking forward to preparing for and welcoming the thousands of AA's who will be attending AA's 50th Anniversary International Convention. Incidentally, this should not cost the local Host Committee a penny. All reasonable expenses incurred are reimbursed by the General Service Board of A.A. up to the established budget.
And I would just like to reassure those of you who have asked: Practically everyone in Montreal is bilingual and can speak English as well as French. The Convention is international. English will be the principal language spoken at the Big Meetings, with simultaneous translations in French, Spanish, and German. There will be workshops, panels, and alkathons held in these four languages. Registration forms will be sent to all the groups around the world in late September and early October. We hope that everyone who can possibly be there will come to Montreal to celebrate A.A. 's golden anniversary and be part of the greatest Convention we've ever had.
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