Bernie Sanders waves
Bernie Sanders waves to attendees of Netroots Nation (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Orga­niz­ers for Net­roots Nation this after­noon released a state­ment respond­ing to the events that tran­spired dur­ing this morn­ing’s pres­i­den­tial town hall in Phoenix. For those who weren’t there and weren’t watch­ing the livestream, the town hall was sup­posed to be a civ­il con­ver­sa­tion with for­mer Mary­land Gov­er­nor Mar­tin O’Mal­ley and U.S. Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, but turned chaot­ic when a group of Black Lives Mat­ter pro­tes­tors entered the room to voice their anger and frus­tra­tion with sys­temic racism in Amer­i­ca from the floor of the con­ven­tion hall.

Many atten­dees were expect­ing that the pro­tes­tors would ulti­mate­ly march out after hav­ing made their point, but they stayed in place for the dura­tion of the event and con­tin­ued to peri­od­i­cal­ly shout and chant, pre­vent­ing mod­er­a­tor Jose Var­gas from respect­ful­ly fin­ish­ing up the con­ver­sa­tion with O’Mal­ley and then ham­per­ing Var­gas from facil­i­tat­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Sanders.

Net­roots Nation orga­niz­ers released a state­ment in response, saying:

Net­roots Nation stands in sol­i­dar­i­ty with all peo­ple seek­ing human rights. With today’s Town Hall, our aim was to give pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates a chance to respond to the issues fac­ing the many diverse com­mu­ni­ties rep­re­sent­ed here.

Although we wish the can­di­dates had more time to respond to the issues, what hap­pened today is reflec­tive of an urgent moment that Amer­i­ca is fac­ing today.

In 2016, we’re head­ing to St. Louis. We plan to work with activists there just as we did in Phoenix with local lead­ers, includ­ing the #Black­Lives­Mat­ter move­ment, to ampli­fy issues like racial pro­fil­ing and police bru­tal­i­ty in a major way.

It is nec­es­sary and vital to con­tin­ue this con­ver­sa­tion. We look for­ward to doing so in the com­ing year.

It’s impor­tant to know that this is hard­ly the first time a Net­roots Nation event has been crashed or dis­rupt­ed. For instance, last year’s keynote by Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden was inter­rupt­ed by DREAM­ers and pro­test­ers seek­ing jus­tice for new Amer­i­cans. The con­ven­tion’s response to those activists was to bring Net­roots Nation to Phoenix and make immi­gra­tion reform its 2015 theme.

But pre­vi­ous dis­rup­tions have gen­er­al­ly been tem­po­rary. In this case, the event real­ly did­n’t get back on track after being crashed. Mod­er­a­tor Jose Var­gas seemed unsure of how to han­dle the pro­tes­tors. It’s unfor­tu­nate, because the whole point of the town hall was to hear O’Mal­ley’s and Sanders’ vision for our coun­try, includ­ing their respons­es to ques­tions from the community.

In 2007, when it was known as Year­lyKos, Net­roots Nation had a fan­tas­tic Pres­i­den­tial Lead­er­ship forum that drew all but one of the declared Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates. It’s unfor­tu­nate that this con­fer­ence did­n’t have a forum like that.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Netroots Nation organizers respond after presidential town hall disrupted by protest”

  1. It’s a pity the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment does not know how Bernie Sanders was fight­ing against the dra­con­ian Clin­ton crim­i­nal laws that declared Open Sea­son On Black Peo­ple, since 1991 when too many black lead­ers were prais­ing the bill

  2. There is clear­ly fury, grief and a groundswell of resent­ment for trag­ic events over the years (decades, cen­turies…). The “meet­ing” became a mess as two com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mis­sions col­lid­ed — a group that want­ed to be heard, and peo­ple who want­ed to have a dis­cus­sion. I felt let down as nei­ther par­ty was served — it did not feel like progress. Yet the room was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly filled with pro­gres­sives. The orga­niz­ers and pro­test­ers col­lec­tive­ly dropped an oppor­tu­ni­ty. And the emo­tions are still there, seething.…

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