NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

LIVE from New Orleans: Netroots Nation gets a warm welcome in the Crescent City

Good afternoon, and welcome back to our continuing live coverage of Netroots Nation 2018, taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After a long day of caucuses, panels, trainings, and screenings, attendees are gathered together in the main hall for the opening keynote.

The Rev. angel Kyodo williams opened the keynote with some introductory remarks stressing the need for unity and love in difficult times, and led everyone through a series of collective quick deep breaths.

Netroots Nation Board Chair Arshad Hasan then greeted the attendees and conducted an impromptu survey to find out how many people are at Netroots for the first time and how many are returning veterans. He emphasized that this year’s convention has the largest attendance in the event’s history.

Hasan then introduced Tom Steyer, the founder of NextGen America, a leading Democratic activist, and one of Barack Obama’s leading fundraisers.

Steyer saluted attendees for their organizing work and immediately launched into a critique of the Democratic establishment concerning its lack of response to the “devastating and obvious truth” of Donald Trump’s corruption.

Steyer lamented that congressional Democrats haven’t mounted a serious effort to impeach Trump. While many Democratic elected officials will say they support it in private, they have been publicly noncommittal or silent, he said.

People are tired of speeches that do not translate to action, he added. NextGen is building infrastructure to change Congress, empowering countless young people to organize and canvass in Republican-held districts in an effort to help flip seats.

Those efforts are yielding results, Steyer said. Youth voter registration is up 100%. 80,000 young people have registered to vote in the past few months.

Steyer emphasized that Democrats need to be bolder in order to win.

Patriotic Americans are honest with the truth, he said.

That’s what it will take to take down Trump and his enablers, bring a more just, inclusive and prosperous era to the United States.

Following Steyer was the current and first female Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, who was elected by the voters in last year’s local elections.

Cantrell revved up the convention hall talking about activism and hope, sharing her pride in the City of New Orleans and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is the twelfth city that New Orleans has visited, and Cantrell told attendees she’s incredibly grateful that the city is able to host this year.

Cantrell exited the stage after introducing her friend Colette Pichon Battle, Esq., founder of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy.

Battle gave attendees a primer on rising sea levels and coastal erosion — both consequences of the climate crisis that are impacting Louisiana heavily.

Unfortunately, in states like Louisiana, climate science is often doubted, making action more difficult. And the impact goes beyond lost coastline. Communities are having to be relocated because of it too.

Battle offered lighthearted shout-outs to organizers in Mississippi and Texas (Louisana’s neighbors to the east and west), where some great work is being done to advance causes like clean energy development by activists whose work isn’t necessarily getting any attention from the mass media.

Battle then turned to the topic of racism and race relations, encouraging white organizers and activists to get involved and get engaged with black communities and leadership. Most organizing does not happen from behind a computer screen, she told the attendees. All progressive activists should make time to sit down, hold face-to-face conversations, share a meal, and really listen.

Dirty forms of energy have led to the deaths of black people, she noted, explaining that there’s a connection between environmental justice and social justice. It is vital that we pay attention to where materials like solar panels are built. “Clean energy cannot pollute black and brown communities,” she said.

Ms. Battle signed off with a call to action to protect the Earth and the Earth’s climate — our common home — for the benefit of everyone.

After she left the stage, attendees were shown a video featuring Ady Barkan, a young father who is dying from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The video, a powerful documentary short sharing the story of his journey as an activist, was addressed to his son Carl.

In it, Ady explained why he’s gone to our nation’s capital, confronted senators, and taken his “Be a Hero” campaign to twenty-two states, challenging everyone along the way to get involved in the fight for a better future.

Following the video, Netroots Nation Board Chair Arshad Hasan returned to the stafe with Sara Robinson to share thoughts from and about the late Joel Silberman of Democracy Partners, a legend in the netroots community who served as the board chair of one of the two organizations that organizes Netroots Nation.

This was followed by an announcement of the establishment of the Joel Silberman Scholarship Fund. There is a website with all the details at joelsilbermanfund.org, where you can learn more and make a contribution if you wish.

Next up was the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, who is the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in the Keystone State.

Mr. Fetterman shared how his progressive leadership has positively impacted Braddock, which has struggled for many years with poverty and violent crime.

Talking about coming together, Mr. Fetterman described his wholehearted support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, despite having been a Bernie Sanders supporter prior to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was the just, moral, and appropriate thing to do, Fetterman told the convention.

After Fetterman, Netroots Nation heard from Gina Ortiz-Jones, a groundbreaking congressional candidate from Texas’ 23rd District.

Ortiz-Jones shared her background as the daughter of a Filipino woman who came to America to make a better future, starting as a domestic helper. She knew her children could live their best life in America, Jones explained.

She described how critical investments in public housing and meal programs helped her make it to the USAF Academy on a four-year scholarship. She later served her country in Iraq and and around the world and later worked in the White House during Barack Obama’s administration. Her story underscores how the essential public services that supported her early on in her life were investments.

As mentioned, Ortiz-Jones is a groundbreaking candidate. Her candidacy marks a number of firsts for Texas and her district, including her Filipina heritage, being female, being an Iraq War veteran, and being open about being out.

Next up was Amie Allison, Director of Democracy in Color, who addressed the need to continue to seek economic and racial justice — particularly for women of color.

Democrats spent 75% of their 2016 war chest chasing white, swing voters. And Trump won. That playbook is dead. New opportunities are emerging. Women of color are entering races and reaching out to voters who have largely been ignored. Those candidates deserve the Democratic Party’s support, Allison said.

She highlighted the campaign of Stacy Abrams in Georgia, who addressed last year’s Netroots Nation in Atlanta, emphasizing the importance of multi-racial coalitions. Women of color like Stacey are showing that the key to winning in many districts is getting non-voters to vote more than courting potential swing voters.

SheThePeople.org is the group supporting this strategy and candidates like Stacey Abrams. Women of color are leading the way.

Closing out the program was Chockwe Antar Lumumba, activist and mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. (Senator Cory Booker was originally supposed to participate in the opening program, but his address has been rescheduled for tomorrow).

Lumumba started with a strong statement about progressivism and radicalism.

“We need to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be,” he said.

Because the definition of “radical” is “someone who seeks change.”

“We claim this radical agenda. We wear it as a badge of honor.”

Lumumba focused on income inequality and poverty as he continued his remarks, pointing out that we often approach these issues from the perspective of looking for something that has gone wrong, rather than recognizing that it’s often the system working as it was intended by the people who designed it.

The son of two organizers, Lumumba discussed the importance of community, local political organization, and self-determination. People need the power to govern themselves, he said. In Jackson, they have created “people’s assemblies” where people can address their leaders and get beyond political monologue.

Lumumba described a “solidarity economy” that allows people to live with dignity, where people do not go through cycles of failure. Our mission should be to lift people up instead of allowing them to live in poverty.

A big symptom of a broken system is the sheer size of our criminal justice system, which has over-incarcerated people, spending millions on all the people required to keep that system running. And the statistics show this is not making us safer.

This system must be fixed, he declared.

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

– Frantz Fanon

The energy of young people today must play a role in organizing and getting Democratic candidates elected, especially in the Deep South, Lumumba told the convention. The young people of Parkland, Florida exemplify the kind of change we need to see, fighting for sensible gun safety laws everywhere.

“As a black man, I long for the day when I have as many rights as a gun does,” he said to sustained applause.

Lumumba closed with a call to be sincere in our mission to touch the lives of individuals and effectuate the change they want to see.

If progress can be obtained in Jackson, in one of the reddest states in the country, it can be obtained anywhere, he said.

With that, the keynote wrapped up. Day One of Netroots Nation 2018 (with the exception of tonight’s off-site special events) is in the books. We invite you to join us again tomorrow as our live coverage of the convention continues.

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