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.