It’s a beautiful day in the Northwest, but we’re taking you to Atlanta, Georgia for our live coverage of Netroots Nation 2017. For the closing plenary this evening, attendees are hearing from former Vice President Al Gore, labor leader Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, NextGen America founder Tom Steyer and DACA recipient Pamela Chomba.
Starting the evening, Angel Kyodo Williams brought the audience together, urging for healthy disagreement, an emphasis on love and the voices of the people, and clear minds. By stating, “We move together with love and with justice.”, she beautifully called for unity and prepared the audience to not only listen to the closing speakers, but to move forward as a movement.
Netroots announced a vigil after the plenary in honor of a counter-protester who died following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia this afternoon.
Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley came out, following the announcement, and led the crowd in a moment of silence to reflect on those killed or injured in Virginia this afternoon. Durley reflected on his work with MLK, noting that 57 years later, we are still in the same struggle so many years ago.
Quoting the preamble, Durley called out the President and his administration by stating that “we the people” have been put on the back burner, even stating that the country is run by men “who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing”. Durley went on to empower the room by asking, “Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?” If so, he said, it is time to stand against, resist the opposition, and sacrifice.
In his closing, Durley delivered a riveting explanation of his phrase, “Our resistance must be persistence”, and shared that the environment is his new battle to wage as a fighter of justice.
Next up, the room welcomed Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen America. Steyer also called out the administration for framing the discussion around, “Who is American? Who is worthy of diginity? Who is human?” while refocusing on the history of how these questions were answered in American history and acknowledging the significant names that redefined the answers to those questions in this nation.
Steyer noted that our democracy has been corrupted by corporate interests, mentioning issues from the Dakota Access Pipeline to the predatory practices of pharmaceutical companies.
He moved on to suggesting a game plan, starting with investing in the American people through universal healthcare and education.
Secondly, he stated we need to protect citizen’s rights by ensuring the protection of voter’s rights, labor unions, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+.
Thirdly, Steyer urged the audience to reclaim a clean America, while noting that failure to act on climate change will not only make us healthier, but will get people higher wages and better jobs.
Following Steyer, Pamela Chomba took the stage, starting with her personal account of ICE coming to her door, with guns and SWAT agents. “I’m muslim, undocumented, Latinx, and I am unsafe”, Chomba stated, “I’m unsafe.”
She said that as a DACA recipient, she felt safe, but under the new administration, DACA recipients are now being detained. “As activists we shout, ‘undocumented and unafraid’, but I am so afraid.”, she stated in tears.
She noted that killing the DACA, as many Republicans have suggested, would take 8,000 workers and thousands of homeowners out of the American economy. Chomba went on to say that immigrants from Haiti, South America, and Mexico are in danger, and that our leaders want to recreate the country in their image.
She then introduced Dolores Huerta to the stage. Huerta stated that, “Racism comes from the stain of slavery on our history.” But that all humans are from Africa, and that the KKK could do be reminded of that.
She went on to state that immigration is not a crime, but that immigration as a crime is important to those in power because it fills prisons and the history of racism in this country. Education, she noted, needs to be our focus. Knowing that African Americans built the schools, Asian Americans built the roads, and Mexican Americans built the infrastructure of this country changes how one sees the nation. Quoting a philosopher, Huerta stated, “If you do not have an educated citizenry, the corrupt and the criminal will govern”.
Huerta pushed the audience to start organizing at the local level, in school boards and recreation boards and water boards. She also urged them, saying, “if we do not do it, no one will.”
Next, Huerta pushed to end the school to prison pipeline, to offer free education and free health care. But she mentioned that the people do not own their natural resources, corporations own them, making it hard to pay for what the nation needs.
Huerta also mentioned that all groups must march together, essentially urging everyone to show up for all causes. Using the poorest people, Mexican farm laborers, coming together against power and winning. But they won because they worked together.
She closed by quoting a Cuban poet who wrote, “They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the spring.” She then led the audience in a chant, “Who’s got the power?” to which the audience responded, “We’ve got the power!”
Heading towards the end of the Plenary, Huerta introduced Al Gore and Mustafa Ali to the stage. The discussion started with looking at the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s famous movie about the battle for environmental protections, “An Inconvenient Sequel”.
Mustafa asked Gore, “Why is this movie so important right now?” Gore responded by noting that people are seeing the same problems today, but in global proportions. While discussing some statistics regarding the proportions of atmospheric pollution, Gore also mentioned the major environmental disasters that the world is facing right now.
Yet, the major problem is, according to Gore, that those most affected by pollution are defenseless against major corporate polluters, causing violence against those who are poorest and most defenseless.
Mustafa also questioned Gore on the importance of marches and other displays have in this issue. Gore stated that those displays of organization are extremely important, but that building personal connections with people is also a major motor of change.
Referencing the Sanders campaign, Gore also mentioned that the campaign proved to everyone that campaigns can be successful without taking money from billionaires, special interest groups, and lobbyists, giving hope to Americans.
But Gore also detailed the crisis of American democracy, that politicians spend most of their time campaigning for money from the wealthiest people. In turn, they represent those who are wealthy in legislation. Gore pushed for an end to this system, stating that we must to reclaim our democracy.
Mustafa continued by asking Gore about the Paris Agreement and what it would mean to leave the agreement. Gore sounded hopeful, noting that the American people are dedicated to protecting our environment and that any new leadership in our future may easily rejoin the agreement. Gore stated, “This could just be a speed bump in the plan.”
Finally, Gore discussed the framing of climate change as a moral issue, as asked by Mustafa Ali. Gore stated that it never should have been a political issue first, but that the younger generations will question why we left them with the problems we did; that in itself is a moral issue.
Gore, like Steyer, continued to discuss how the alternative is better: that climate change can be mitigated by innovations that will revolutionize our economy, pay our workers more, and will save our younger generations.
Gore and Mustafa also discussed the need for diversity in the environmental movement.