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LIVE from New Orleans: Candidates in tough races take center stage at close of NN18

Welcome back to our live coverage of Netroots Nation 2018.

It’s Day Three here in New Orleans of the country’s largest annual gathering of progressive activists, elected leaders, and advocacy journalists.

The Rev. angel Kyodo Williams started the closing keynote presentation by thanking those who participated in this year’s Netroots Nation and urged getting topics of race and love into our conversations going forward this election season.

“When I look out at you all, I see the future, not the past,” she said. “It’s time for us to build something new. We are not the past. We are a new America and we can do this together. Let’s do it with love and reach into our collective liberation.”

Next up was Arshad Hasan, Netroots Nation Board Chair.

He updated the crowd on the Joel Silberman Memorial Fund, which has already raised $30,000 during the convention. He said he’s “so proud and so happy” and that “the response has been really fantastic, so thank you so much.”

He continued by detailing how “big, beautiful, bold, and progressive audience” at this year’s Netroots Nation is. He also noted that it was the biggest Netroots ever, with almost three thousand attendees. The record turnout is cool, but ultimately, “it’s not about the number, but it’s about who and how,” he said.

He finished by saying that “the new American majority is all of us, and it is you.” Hasan then welcomed Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council; the first Asian-American elected to that governing body.

Gym began her remarks by noting that she is a daughter of immigrants, former teacher, twenty-year community organizer for racial and economic justice. She reminded attendees that Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the United States, referencing a history of policies of zero tolerance for petty infractions and mass incarceration, as well as significant tax cuts for wealthy corporations at the expense of essential public services and the de-funding of education and transit.

Gym continued by speaking about her work in community organizing before announcing that in 2019, Netroots Nation will be held in Philadelphia.

“In 2019 we need Netroots out there winning elections at the local level, all the way to federal,” she said. “So put your Eagles jerseys on… and let’s get ready to make some noise in my hometown. See you in Philly in 2019!”

The organizers then showed a video in which elected leaders like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf welcomed Netroots Nation to Philadelphia.

Mary Rickles from the Netroots Nation staff then briefly took to the stage to tout their goal of showcasing progressive candidates who are bold and visionary running in states that are both red and blue. “Some of those in D.C. think Democrats need to be moderate to win going forward,” she said. “But our way forward for 2018 and beyond is to be unabashedly progressive, making sure we elect those who represent what this country really looks like.”

She then introduced Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin, who ran and won against a longtime Republican mayor in 2017.

Woodfin began by saying, “The future is in this room. It’s people from all around the nation coming together, despite our differences, working toward a common cause. You are the people making change happen right now and you will be responsible for the change we need in November.”

Woodfin then spoke about being elected in Birmingham as the youngest mayor in the city’s modern history. “I am proud to tell you that times have changed,” he explained, “Just a couple generations ago, people turned a blind eye as evil crept across the South… Hatred thrived and consumed a city, state, and region.”

He spoke of his successful campaign for mayor, stating that they knocked on over 50,000 doors and made over 30,000 phone calls because they “believed that [their] time was now and because [they] deserved better.” He explained that they campaigned on a promise of putting people first and created a movement.

And they made history “in a place that has done it before.”

Woodfin continued by saying they “are investing in our communities and proudly stated that “our multiculturalism is the tapestry of America and the blueprint of our future. The struggle before us is bigger than a single person and their Twitter sessions. Everything must be about principle, and not a person.”

He finished by saying that “bottom line, it is time for all of us to go grassroots” and realize that “multicultural coalitions are key to all of our victories. The energy is right here, right now… Principle has been lost in Washington, but it hasn’t been lost in Netroots… Principle lives here tonight. We must fight for opportunity for all.”

Next up was Bill de Blasio, the Democratic Mayor of New York City. “Everyone here has a lot to feel proud and passionate about,” de Blasio told attendees. “With the activism here these last few days, I know things are possible.”

He spoke of championing healthcare for all, ridding our politics of structural racism, and finally making the wealthy pay for their fair share of taxes. “To get there, we have to talk about our strength and stay true to our values,” de Blasio said

He explained that there are three big lies that progressive candidates are told:

  1. Progressives can’t win
  2. Progressives can’t govern
  3. Progressives are a political minority in this country

“I don’t buy any of it,” he said.

“I was not supposed to get this job… they wrote my political obituary the day I announced my campaign.” He went on to explain that in his race, he did not water down his message and once he won, he moved speedily to implement progressive policies. “The voices of opposition will gather quickly, but if the people feel progressive change, they will want a whole lot more,” he said.

In his first six months as mayor, universal preschool was introduced in New York City and 70,000 children now get all day preschool for free.

De Blasio also advanced criminal justice reforms. The city subsequently got safer and saw 100,000 less arrests than four years previously.

The Mayor exhorted attendees to “ignore the bad advice because the things we believe in can be done. Our authentic message and values are exactly what will move everyday people in this country.”

He finished by remarking: “We make change with a bold, positive, progressive vision — not by talking about Donald Trump all the time. I’m more optimistic today than I was when I first started. I’ve seen progressive ideas take flight and become action. I’ve seen people’s lives change. I am genuinely optimistic because of you. We are unapologetic and we are bold.”

The keynote continued with a speech from United States Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who had previously spoken as part of two panels earlier in the day.

Ryan denounced Donald Trump’s baiting of legendary basketball player LeBron James over James’ most recent pledge to donate $41 million to a school in Ohio. (James is a native of the state Ryan represents and has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for much of his career, although he is leaving Cleveland.)

Ryan then moved on to discussing his time visiting poor and dangerous neighborhoods in his district and beyond, where one constituent could only sell her house for $4,000 and was ultimately stuck in her unsafe neighborhood. “These issues aren’t in a particular geographical location, they are everywhere,” he stated.

He spoke of a friend who was detained and ultimately deported by ICE, even though he had lived in the U.S. for decades and owned a small business.

“Our systems are broken across the board, we have to fix it,” Ryan said.

He stressed that it starts with understanding the history of our broken economic system, our climate system, as well as our healthcare system and others. He went on to discuss the need to rewrite our trade agreements, make an actual livable minimum wage, and immigration reform that takes care of Dreamers.

He added that we need to “go big on protecting the environment.”

Ryan finished by quoting Mohammed Ali: “I’m always up, or I’m getting up,” before stating, “Well, the progressive movement is up my friends!”

Next up was David Garcia, the candidate who Democrats hope will reclaim the Arizona governorship for their party this year.

Garcia told attendees that he is a product of Arizona’s public schools, the first in his family to go to college, an army veteran, a father and a professor. He explained that the national rhetoric that is anti-people of color and anti-immigrants, unfortunately started in Arizona. “But it’s going to end in Arizona, too,” he said.

Garcia went on to say that “the strength of our adversity is going to make us rise to the top. It’s time for our most vulnerable to have their voices heard.”

He continued by saying: “We need leadership that reflects the people, all the people.” His campaign is “a grassroots effort that is taking over the state, block by block. In the Arizona heat, [our] team is knocking on 12,000 doors, completely volunteer. A victory in Arizona is going to be a direct rejection of Trump.”

He finished by saying: “As we come together to close Netroots, let’s take a second and imagine a brand new day in Arizona and across this country. A day where we’re all going to stand up, lean in, and speak up in English, Spanish, or any other language we believe in and give Americans something to vote for again.”

He said he’s looking forward to November 7th, 2018 — the day when he hopes that “Trump opens up his Twitter account and sees that in Arizona of all places, the good people elected a guy named Garcia as governor of Arizona.”

Paulette Jordan, the Democratic nominee for Governor of Idaho, spoke next.

“As an indigenous woman,” she said, “I am proud of the ancestry that I stand from. It is a legacy of leadership. Once we are governor of Idaho, people will see what it truly means to love our land and our people.”

Jordan said she looks forward to driving “more than politics into our community.” She hopes to drive “love, compassion, and humanity – that deserves to be in our governance.” She finished by saying that “we need a representative that is truly of this land. We are flipping our state for the better. Not to be blue, or purple — we’re doing it for the greater good.”

“We are truly about reflecting the good of the people,” she stated. “We will show everyone that we can take back the country. We are the new America.”

Kevin de León, who is challenging Dianne Feinstein for the United States Senate in California, was the next candidate to take to the stage.

De León, who has the endorsement of the California Democratic Party, explained that his mother cleaned the homes and worked to the bone to give her family a better life. “She crossed a national border against a wave of bigotry,” he said.

De León told attendees that he is the first Latino leader in the California State Senate in more than a century and authored some of California’s, and the country’s, most progressive policies on environmental responsibility and net neutrality. He was also involved in making California the first sanctuary state.

“Because of that law,” he explained, “Jeff Sessions sued the great state of California. To which I said: Bring it on.”

“I’m not just a proponent for the American Dream… I am a product of it,” he said. “I, like you, have never backed down form a fight.”

“We’re engaged in a battle for the soul of our nation,” he added.

León wrapped up by declaring: “Big progressive policies should not end at state borders. More than at any other time in our nation’s history, every one of us has to take our fight to Washington. A new, bold generation of leadership is needed in Washington, driven by values and not power. We’re not doing our best unless we are out in the streets getting our friends and loved ones excited about voting.”

He explained the Democrats’ message of inclusivity is what gets people excited to vote, and that we can’t move our policies forward if those in our nation’s capital keep resisting the progressive resistance.”We are not going to let one electoral aberration reverse decades of progress,” de León proclaimed.

Activists involved with the Black Lives Matter movement then made an unannounced appearance on stage to lodge a few grievances regarding how Netroots Nation 2018 was organized and scheduled.

They lamented that speakers were asked to pay to participate (instead of being compensated with honorariums) and that complimentary registrations weren’t made available to people who live and work in New Orleans.

They also told attendees they want more positions in conference and leadership and a say over programming, with one of the activists declaring: “We will no longer be tokenized by so-called white allies.”

The Rev. angel Kyodo Williams then returned to the stage to celebrate the importance of allowing protest at Netroots Nation (and indeed, as our Executive Director can attest, programming interruptions have long been a facet of the convention), before introducing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. House in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

“After spending the last two years knocking on doors, we’ve learned a lot of things,” Cortez said after receiving an enthusiastic welcome. “We’re not going to beat big money with big money. We’re going to beat it with big organizing.”

She explained that swing voters don’t vote for for timidity. “They vote for authenticity, for the person who is championing them the most.”

Referring back to the last election cycle, she added: “It’s no secret that [the Democrats] lost a lot of seats, but that’s alright. It’s always the darkest before the dawn. We need a burst between now and November. We need to realize the consciousness of the Democratic Party and I believe it’s time for us to come home. When people realize we will fight for them the most, they will fight for us too.”

Cortez spoke of her successful campaign and finished by saying that “the future of this party is to rediscover our soul. It’s time to realize we are the party of King, Roosevelt, those who went to the moon, who electrified the nation. We created Medicare and Social Security and the economic and scientific basis of our greatest accomplishments. There is no district too red for us to flip.”

Closing out the speaking program was Julián Castro, the sixteenth U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development under Barack Obama from 2014-2017.

Castro explained that in his life, he has been a beneficiary of progressive policies. He spoke of his brother’s opportunity to get to go to Stanford, something his grandparents could never have imagined. He said that this was one of those “moments in your life where you’re so happy that your dreams are coming true.”

But then he described the moment his family got the tuition bill.

Castro went on to explain the benefits of grants and working loans, saying “our country is its best when we invest in our people.”

He went on to say that “change does happen,” but “sometimes progress takes time” and it “takes our dogged commitment.”

He closed with an impassioned appeal.

“If you want leaders who unite our country, who are honest, who listen to the people instead of close circle of lobbyists, who want children in better classrooms instead of cages, an America that can move forward and progress, instead of backwards — the way we’re headed now — don’t waste a minute of your time feeling daunted that Donald Trump has a base of die-hard fans.”

“Richard Nixon did before he resigned, Roy Moore did before he lost, and so will Donald Trump before he loses,” Castro pointed out. “Mobilize the strong majority of Americans who want change right now in 2018.”

“Remember that we’re doing this because we know we live in an awesome and great country. But we also live in a country that can be better, more equal, more inclusive, and more prosperous for every individual.”

“You can make progress happen. We’re counting on you.”

And with that, Netroots Nation 2018 came to an end.

Thanks to all who followed the convention from home with us here on the Cascadia Advocate — we hope you enjoyed our coverage!