The Hidden Figures panel at Netroots Nation 2018
The Hidden Figures panel at Netroots Nation 2018

Wel­come back to our live cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2018.

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

This after­noon, Net­roots Nation heard from a group of speak­ers orga­nized by Aimee Alli­son dur­ing the con­ven­tion’s sec­ond ple­nary session.

The pan­el dis­cus­sion, pre­sent­ed under the title Hid­den Fig­ures: How Women of Col­or are Mak­ing His­to­ry in the Midterms, high­light­ed women of col­or who are work­ing to devel­op polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, ener­gize vot­er turnout, and build polit­i­cal infra­struc­ture in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or through­out the South and beyond.

The pan­el’s first speak­er was Dejua­na Thomp­son, the cre­ator of Woke Vote, a pro­gram designed to mobi­lize the vot­er turnout of black youth and faith based vot­ers. Woke Vote (along with her oth­er orga­ni­za­tion, Think Rubix), were influ­en­tial in mov­ing over one hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple of col­or to the polls to help elect Doug Jones, the first Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Sen­a­tor from Alaba­ma in decades.

Thomp­son empha­sized the need to build off of the work done in Alaba­ma last year by expand­ing polit­i­cal infra­struc­ture and pro­gram­ming in black com­mu­ni­ties. She remind­ed atten­dees that black women have been sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly polit­i­cal­ly ignored in this coun­try despite being some of the most reli­able Demo­c­ra­t­ic voters.

The pan­el dis­cus­sion then moved to Vir­ginia and Texas, where Tram Nguyen’s orga­ni­za­tion New Vir­ginia Major­i­ty and Crys­tal Zer­meno’s Texas Orga­niz­ing Project have been help­ing to orga­nize com­mu­ni­ties of col­or to trans­form and devel­op pro­gres­sive lead­ers and vot­er engagement.

LaTosha Brown of the Black Vot­ers Mat­ter Fund spoke of the need to invest in rur­al polit­i­cal infra­struc­ture, areas that are too often ignored in polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. She men­tioned the impor­tance of tap­ping into the exist­ing social infra­struc­ture of rur­al com­mu­ni­ties, such as church­es and com­mu­ni­ty groups, instead of try­ing to rein­vent the wheel and build polit­i­cal infra­struc­ture from scratch.

Sayu Bho­jwani, founder of New Amer­i­can Lead­ers, was the pan­el’s final speak­er. Her orga­ni­za­tion helps to recruit and train first and sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can lead­ers to run for office. The orga­ni­za­tion helps break down soci­etal bar­ri­ers for new can­di­dates and works with elect­ed lead­ers once they are in office to ensure they stay true to pro­gres­sive val­ues and remain con­nect­ed to the movement.

For­mer Michi­gan State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Rashi­da Tlaib, is a past mem­ber of their pro­gram who is run­ning for Con­gress in the midterms.

This after­noon’s ple­nary ses­sion also fea­tured pow­er­ful speech­es from two high pro­file pro­gres­sive lead­ers who are con­sid­ered poten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates: Mass­a­chu­setts Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Cal­i­for­nia Sen­a­tor Kamala Harris.

In her speech, Eliz­a­beth War­ren took her audi­ence back to the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis, detail­ing how our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress repeat­ed­ly put the inter­ests of pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions and banks ahead of work­ing people.

“Who does the gov­ern­ment work for?” she asked rhetor­i­cal­ly. “The rich and pow­er­ful prof­it when gov­ern­ment does­n’t work for work­ing people.”

In order to keep con­trol of pub­lic pol­i­cy, she argued, the rich and pow­er­ful engage in pol­i­tics of divi­sion, pit­ting work­ing peo­ple against each other.

“They want us point­ing fin­gers at each oth­er so that we won’t notice their hands are in our pock­ets,” War­ren said. “The pol­i­tics of divi­sion may be the one thing that Don­ald Trump is actu­al­ly good at.”

War­ren stat­ed over­turn­ing Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, lock­ing the revolv­ing door, get­ting big mon­ey out of pol­i­tics, and fight­ing back against ger­ry­man­der­ing and vot­er sup­pres­sion are nec­es­sary steps towards mak­ing gov­ern­ment work for all people.

When Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris took the stage, she took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reit­er­ate the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage from the Hid­den Fig­ures pan­el discussion.

“Black women were crit­i­cal for Doug Jones’ vic­to­ry,” said Harris.

“We should be elect­ing women of col­or as those lead­ers, not just thank­ing them for help­ing to elect others.”

This after­noon’s dis­cus­sion and keynote speak­ers were inspired and impas­sioned, high­light­ing incred­i­ble women who advo­cate every day for poli­cies based on the log­ic of pro­gres­sive val­ues that will strength­en our communities.

If the pro­gres­sive move­ment is suc­cess­ful in field­ing a diverse field of can­di­dates for office across the coun­try, it won’t be long before pio­neer­ing women like Thomp­son, Nguyen, Zer­meno, Brown, and Bho­jwani will be hid­den fig­ures no longer, but instead rep­re­sent­ing us at the local, state, and fed­er­al level.

Want to see this keynote in its entire­ty? Play the video any time on demand here.

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