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The Worldcon is one of the largest volunteer-run conventions in the world. Thats an unusual enough distinction, but in addition, its constitution is managed and maintained by a group of volunteers too. Let me explain.
Each Worldcon is run by the local group that is organizing it. Noreascon Four is being run by Massachusetts Convention Fandom, Inc. There is no over-arching organization running things, so each Worldcon is different. However, there is a common set of rules, managed by WSFS The World Science Fiction Society. Every member of Noreascon Four is a member of WSFS from the end of Torcon 3 to the end of Noreascon Four.
With WSFS membership comes to right to nominate and vote for the Hugos and the right to vote in Site Selection to determine where the Worldcon three years hence will be held. At Noreascon Four, well be voting on the 2007 Worldcon, and right now, the bidders for 2007 are Nippon and Columbus. There is one additional privilege of membership, that of attending and voting at the WSFS Business meeting. Its at the WSFS Business Meeting that the rules under which all Worldcons are run are decided.
By tradition, the WSFS Business Meeting is held Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings for two hours each day, and is open to any member of WSFS. During that time the members who attend hear reports, discuss changes to the WSFS Constitution, and vote on ratification of changes approved the previous year. The Business Meeting is probably best thought of as a New England Town Meeting where everyone who is interested can attend, speak their piece, and vote. (Cue the image shown at the left, of a farmer standing and making his point. [Freedom of Speech, 1943 The Saturday Evening Post, © 1943 The Curtis Publishing Company]).
WSFS Business Meetings are conducted according to Roberts Rules of Order which sounds worse than it is. Since typically 100-150 people attend, fairly strict rules are needed to give everybody a chance to participate and to allow business to be completed in the allotted time. (Contrary to rumor, people who attend the WSFS Business meeting are also interested in attending the rest of the convention!) You dont need to know Roberts to participate; the basic rules are clear enough to anyone who observes for a while, and the officers of the Business Meeting will assist anyone who asks in navigating any intricacies they may encounter. The official WSFS site, www.wsfs.org, contains the WSFS Constitution, the minutes of many Business Meetings and should also contain the business passed on to the next Worldcon for ratification. Or check out the Constitution, the 2003 Minutes (which will be posted real soon), and the Continuing Business (also to be posted real soon) here on the N4 site.
The three days of the Business Meeting are each different.
On Friday, we hold the preliminary Business Meeting, where we listen to some reports, and create the agenda for the next day. The agenda is decided by looking at the business that has been submitted (any member of WSFS can submit new business) and either throwing it out as too hopeless to be worth discussing, or setting a time limit for debate.
On Saturday, we hold the first Main Business Meeting at which we consider ratification of amendments approved the previous year. We also consider any new amendments which survived the previous days scrutiny. Amendments can be amended before theyre passed or defeated.
On Sunday, we finish any leftover business from Saturday, receive and approve the report of the Site Selection voting, and listen to reports from any committees we set up and from upcoming Worldcons. As you might expect, the Business Meetings have an ample supply of dry commentary, legislative drama, brilliant insights and completely boring bits. It also determines in a slow and deliberate fashion such things as what Hugos we vote on, which trademarks will be protected, and rules on bid eligibility.
In 2002, for example, we added a new category to the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
In 2003, at Torcon 3, a motion to reduce the lead time between the vote selecting a Worldcon site and that Worldcon to two years (from the current three) was passed. This motion will be up for final passage during the Business Meeting at Noreascon 4.