NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

LIVE from Atlanta: Netroots Nation hears from Ben Jealous and Elizabeth Warren

Good morn­ing, and wel­come back to our con­tin­u­ing live cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2017, tak­ing place in Atlanta, Geor­gia. Atten­dees are once again com­ing togeth­er in the Cen­ten­ni­al Ball­room for a morn­ing ple­nary ses­sion with Eliz­a­beth War­ren and many oth­er dis­tin­guished speakers.

The Rev. angel Kyo­do williams, author of Rad­i­cal Dhar­ma, returned to open the ses­sion and warm up the crowd. She ref­er­enced the news of the weekend’s white suprema­cist march on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia in Char­lottesville, Virginia.

“Acknowl­edge a lot of us are feel­ing some anx­i­ety about what may be going on in Char­lottesville,” ref­er­enc­ing the white racism march on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia there. “We are stand­ing with them.”

Williams said it wasn’t an acci­dent that the right con­tin­ued to use the strat­e­gy of dis­trac­tion to try to split the atten­tion of peo­ple on the left, but warned that it wasn’t pos­si­ble think our way out of dis­trac­tion. “We have to have a prac­tice,” she said. “We have to know what mat­ters to us so we don’t get distracted.”

Williams said those look­ing to resist the efforts of the rad­i­cal right and hate-filled white suprema­cist groups need to “take care of our­selves and we do the work that allows us to be resilient, that allows us to be sustainable.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Stacey Evans then took the stage to speak about her can­di­da­cy for Gov­er­nor of Geor­gia. Evans is com­pet­ing for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion with fel­low State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Stacey Abrams, who was enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly received by the con­ven­tion dur­ing Thurs­day’s evening plenary.

Short­ly after Evans began her speech, pro­test­ers walked to the front to con­front her with signs com­par­ing her to Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion head Bet­sy DeVos and chant­i­ng “Trust Black Women”. In the hall, at the front tables, the pro­test­ers’ chants drowned out the audio of Evans’ speech, but on the livestream, only Evans’ rebut­tals and the larg­er crowd noise were audible.

At first, Evans tried to dis­arm it with a joke.

“Oh, come on,” Evans said. “Bet­sy DeVos is scared of bears. I’m not scared of bears. I’m scared of Republicans.”

That didn’t dis­suade the pro­test­ers at the front of the room, and some in the audi­ence began a spo­radic counter chant of, “Let her speak! Let her speak!”

Evans made attempts to con­tin­ue with her speech, appeal­ing to Demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues “Do we want to drown out each oth­er, or do we want to drown out Trump?”

But even with the micro­phone, she spent the first five min­utes of her time with­out con­trol of the room of abil­i­ty to con­tin­ue her pre­pared speech.

“The South has her prob­lems,” Evans said, “but I can think of anoth­er move­ment that start­ed right here,” ref­er­enc­ing the civ­il rights move­ment of the 1950s and 1960s. How­ev­er, she drew a con­trast with the pro­test­ers in front of her, who she char­ac­ter­ized as unwill­ing to engage in dialogue.

Evans did even­tu­al­ly return to her pre­pared remarks, deter­mined to fin­ish her speech and offer­ing a bio­graph­i­cal sketch. Evans comes from rur­al Geor­gia, uti­lized a schol­ar­ship to go to law school, and first won elec­tion to the state Leg­is­la­ture in 2010. She spoke of unit­ing despite dif­fer­ences against com­mon enemies.

The Rev. williams then came back on stage to ease the ten­sion stirred up in the con­ven­tion hall pri­or to the intro­duc­tion of the next speaker.

“This is what democ­ra­cy looks like, y’all,” she said, while not­ing she would have con­front­ed Evans dif­fer­ent­ly (and more respectfully).

“That is peace­ful protest, and that’s all right.”

Williams made an effort to bring the two sides togeth­er, point­ing out that Repfdxd­ngz­gi d Evans, a white woman, didn’t ask to have the pro­test­ers removed as they demon­strat­ed, and she point­ed out they were right to ask to trust black women. But if there was going to be a con­flict, it was a sign that a con­ver­sa­tion need­ed to hap­pen between groups who might be from dif­fer­ent styles of dis­agree­ment as much as dif­fer­ent values.

“We need to con­flict well.”

The next speak­er, Vice Pres­i­dent of the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion Becky Pringle, was not inter­rupt­ed and pro­ceed­ed to give a very pas­sion­ate speech.

Pringle remind­ed the crowd that the NEA is the largest union in the nation before going on to list some of the worst threats to edu­ca­tion (both exist­ing and loom­ing) com­ing from the Trump/DeVos regime, which took pow­er in ear­ly 2017.

Explain­ing how she views Trump, Pringle quot­ed the poet Maya Angelou (“When some­one shows you who they are, believe them.”)

Already, she said, the admin­is­tra­tion had made it clear their agen­da was to destroy pub­lic schools, cut­ting the bud­get for fed­er­al edu­ca­tion dol­lars, as well as deny­ing a safe learn­ing envi­ron­ment for trans stu­dents, jeop­ar­diz­ing Title IX pro­tec­tions, try­ing to pri­va­tize the edu­ca­tion for stu­dents with spe­cial needs, and most ridicu­lous­ly, sup­port­ing guns in class­rooms to pro­tect against griz­zly bears.

“We should have believed them.”

Pringle said that as dis­heart­en­ing as recent devel­op­ments have been, pro­gres­sives have to find a way to mount an effec­tive defense.

“We need you to demand every pub­lic school looks like our best pub­lic schools!” Pringle said. “When they say we can’t afford it, call them up and tell them you could afford it for some of our chil­dren, but not for all of our children.”

Pringle point­ed out that’s easy to feel inspired by accom­plish­ments in the past but it’s much more dif­fi­cult to be inspired in the present.

When Rosa Parks was arrest­ed for not giv­ing up her seat, it was­n’t a quick or easy fight for those who worked to end seg­re­ga­tion and Jim Crow laws.

“For three hun­dred and eighty-one days they walked, and their feet bled. … They demon­strat­ed they were will­ing to do what­ev­er it takes to bring about a bet­ter world,” Pringle said. “It is our time to demand what’s right.”

In order to do that, pro­gres­sives need to sup­port the right to col­lec­tive­ly orga­nize and be the most dan­ger­ous col­lec­tive voice against the regime and the forces that want to slow­ly evis­cer­ate our pub­lic schools (and our col­leges and universities).

“Our babies are depend­ing on us to be wor­thy of them,” Pringle said.

“There’s no turn­ing back.”

Ben Jeal­ous, for­mer NAACP pres­i­dent and a can­di­date for gov­er­nor of Mary­land, fol­lowed, echo­ing Pringle’s sen­ti­ment about need­ing to be strong in the wake of the psy­chic dam­age of the Trump election.

Ref­er­enc­ing the Seren­i­ty Prayer, he said the most impor­tant thing is to know what you can change — because Repub­li­cans cer­tain­ly do.

“They now have enough gov­er­nor­ships [38 of 50] to re-write the Con­sti­tu­tion if they can get their state leg­is­la­tures to go along with them,” Jeal­ous said.

The pauci­ty of exec­u­tive branch con­trol not just at the pres­i­den­tial lev­el but in the state lev­el has result­ed from Democ­rats los­ing their way in what they talk about and care about, Jeal­ous said.

Pro­gres­sive fig­ures of the past like John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. weren’t just on fire for fight­ing civ­il rights injus­tice, “they were also on fire for end­ing pover­ty and expand­ing opportunity”

Their suc­cess­es were cen­tered in eco­nom­ic jus­tice, and in all of the dis­agree­ments look­ing back to the past for the best way for­ward, that mod­el seemed pret­ty clear.

“In oth­er words,” Jeal­ous said, “I would sug­gest that we run as Democ­rats. Repub­li­can-lite just don’t cut it.”

Orig­i­nal­ly from Bal­ti­more, Jeal­ous said that his fam­i­ly was able to go from his moth­er grow­ing up in hous­ing projects to him attend­ing Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty as a Rhodes Schol­ar in one gen­er­a­tion. It took hard work but also a con­text in which hard work could be enough for success.

That includ­ed as afford­able high­er edu­ca­tion for every­one, high school edu­ca­tion that read­ied grad­u­ates for the con­tem­po­rary labor mar­ket, and union jobs that were plen­ti­ful and easy to find so more things could be afford­able for more peo­ple. Now, peo­ple had to be lucky just to get by.

Jeal­ous said this mes­sage would be appeal­ing not just to the peo­ple in the room but across the nation, from down­town Chica­go to the Ozarks where a room’s col­or diver­si­ty tend­ed to be restrict­ed to the camo pattern.

Para­phras­ing his col­league the Rev. Dr. William Bar­ber II, he said, “If some­one is fool enough to ask ‘Is it race or is it class?’… just say ‘Yes’.”

To illus­trate this, Jeal­ous told the sto­ry of speak­ing with a Trump vot­er whose most impor­tant ques­tion was whether Jeal­ous sup­port­ed sin­gle-pay­er healthcare.

When Jeal­ous said he did, the man replied, “I’ll vote for you, and I’ll orga­nize oth­er Trump vot­ers to vote for you, too.”

Jeal­ous elab­o­rat­ed that the man, his com­pa­ny’s finan­cial man­ag­er, told him that despite believ­ing in a robust pri­vate sec­tor, he had come to real­ize that health­care must be a pro­vid­ed as a pub­lic ser­vice for the ben­e­fit of all.

That Trump vot­er gets it. If we con­tin­ue to rely on large, for-prof­it com­pa­nies, we will have a health­care sys­tem that serves the few instead of the many. Small busi­ness own­ers need health­care pro­vid­ed as a pub­lic ser­vice to con­trol their costs.

With that as an exam­ple, Jeal­ous said rather than run­ning toward the right or the left on the issue, to win he was going to “run toward the people.”

That includes get­ting more peo­ple involved and rep­re­sent­ed. Jeal­ous list­ed mar­gins in close states Hillary Clin­ton lost in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, then point­ed out those mar­gins are exceed­ed by the num­ber of unreg­is­tered peo­ple of col­or in each of those states, some­times by a fac­tor of more than twice as much.

“The anti­dote to mas­sive vot­er sup­pres­sion has always been mas­sive vot­er reg­is­tra­tion,” Jeal­ous said. “So let’s go do it.”

When Sat­ur­day morn­ing’s keynote speak­er U.S. Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren came up on stage, she echoed Jeal­ous’ theme of run­ning towards the peo­ple.

War­ren pushed back against a New York Times opin­ion piece that argued that in the wake of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and con­tin­ued minori­ties in Con­gress, Democ­rats need­ed to “return to the cen­ter” and ditch iden­ti­ty politics.

She said, that thanks to the efforts of pro­gres­sives like the 3,000 cheer­ing Net­roots Nation atten­dees in the room with her, the par­ty isn’t going back to mil­que­toast cen­trist poli­cies like gut­ting assis­tance for the needy or luke­warm sup­port on wom­en’s repro­duc­tive choice or grov­el­ing on Wall Street for cor­po­rate scraps.

“We want­ed a move­ment, and now look around,” War­ren said.

Pro­gres­sives are now the heart of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, but War­ren said there didn’t need to be a choice of either the dis­af­fect­ed white work­ing class or Black Lives Mat­ter, or a run to the cen­ter to split the dif­fer­ence between them. The same mes­sage of pro­tect­ing peo­ple from over-pow­er­ful forces already spoke to both.

“We can care about the dad who’s wor­ried that his kid will have to move away from his fac­to­ry town to find decent work and we can care about a mom who’s wor­ried her kid will get shot at a traf­fic stop,” War­ren said.

“The sys­tem is rigged against both of them and against their kids.”

In all of the eco­nom­ic games of recent decades, most peo­ple haven’t seen those ben­e­fits. Rather than being a place where every­one can get a fair shot, the feel­ing is that our nation’s insti­tu­tions on Capi­tol Hill only work to the ben­e­fit of the rich and pow­er­ful. War­ren con­tend­ed that’s why Trump was able to appeal to lots of peo­ple who should have been Demo­c­ra­t­ic voters.

But the sys­tem is rigged even more now more than it was before Novem­ber, War­ren said, includ­ing against those more vul­ner­a­ble than work­ing class whites: LGBTQ+ Amer­i­cans, immi­grants, Mus­lims, women, poor peo­ple, peo­ple of color.

“Spare me the argu­ment about whether we ought to be try­ing to bring back folks who vot­ed for Don­ald Trump or turn out peo­ple who stayed to home,” War­ren said to rous­ing applause. “We can’t do either of those things until we show that things change and that we will fight to change them.”

“We have to show peo­ple that when we get the chance to lead, things will get bet­ter. And that starts by show­ing we have back­bone — not just back­bone when we stand up to Don­ald Trump, but back­bone when we put for­ward our own agen­da.” (In oth­er words, hav­ing the courage to cam­paign on our own ideas.)

And what are our ideas?

War­ren was gen­er­ous with her exam­ples. She men­tioned strength­en­ing the basic social con­tract on labor, demand­ing for equal pay for equal work, pro­tect­ing access to repro­duc­tive health ser­vices, allow­ing every­one to pur­chase afford­able pre­scrip­tion drugs, and hav­ing a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem where peo­ple’s lives won’t be ruined by a bag of mar­i­jua­na or end­ed by a traf­fic stop.

“We don’t have to tip­toe anymore.”

And, pos­si­bly chan­nel­ing for­mer Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Vicente Fox, War­ren declared: “Mr. Pres­i­dent, we’re nev­er, ever, going to build your stu­pid wall.”

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One Comment

  1. As far as I’m con­cerned, these two are a future Gov­er­nor and a future President. 

    # by Courtney Latour :: August 30th, 2017 at 5:06 PM
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