Saturday morning plenary crowd
Saturday morning plenary crowd

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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