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, July 11th, 2019

LIVE from Philadelphia: Netroots Nation 2019 opens with a focus on equity, justice for all

Good after­noon! Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute are in Philadel­phia today through Sat­ur­day for Net­roots Nation, where we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in train­ings, pan­el dis­cus­sions, and ple­nary ses­sions fea­tur­ing pro­gres­sive lead­ers and activists from across the coun­try.

Net­roots Nation began in 2006 as Year­lyKos (so named because it was orga­nized by peo­ple who met each oth­er online through Dai­ly Kos) and has been held every sum­mer since. This year’s gath­er­ing in Philadel­phia is the four­teenth.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, the pro­gram­ming on the first day of the con­ven­tion con­cludes with a con­fer­ence-wide open­ing keynote in the evening. And this year was no excep­tion.

There were mul­ti­ple emo­tion­al and engag­ing speak­ers tonight, includ­ing Del­e­gate Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton from the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, who empha­sized the impor­tance of giv­ing res­i­dents of the Dis­trict full, rep­re­sen­ta­tive cit­i­zen­ship (no tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion!), and Jess Morales Rock­et­to from Fam­i­lies Belong Togeth­er and the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Asso­ci­a­tion who spoke about the hor­rif­ic con­di­tions at the immi­gra­tion deten­tion cen­ters at our bor­der.

Rashad Robin­son from Col­or of Change deliv­ered a pow­er­ful speech in which he talked about embrac­ing racial jus­tice and not ignor­ing the impact of cul­ture.

He start­ed by explain­ing the ori­gins of Col­or of Change, which was cre­at­ed in the after­math of Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, the costli­est storm in his­to­ry.

“It was­n’t just the flood, it was the flood of bad deci­sions long before and long after,” he said, which left many peo­ple in pain and cre­at­ed so much loss. There was a real­iza­tion that no one cared about upset­ting black peo­ple. So Col­or of Change was born as a new way for every­day peo­ple to take action and cre­ate change, he said. Their goal was to “cre­ate a less hos­tile and more human world, not just for black peo­ple, but all peo­ple.”

They are work­ing to make sure cor­po­ra­tions are not let off the hook for the “right-wing takeover” and for cre­at­ing a false sense of neu­tral­i­ty. Late­ly, they have been high­ly engaged in push­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies to make changes.

This is con­nect­ed to Robin­son’s point that we need to pay more atten­tion to cul­ture. “We can’t think we are bet­ter than the peo­ple we are try­ing to mobi­lize and engage,” he said. When we ignore the ways that cul­ture pre­cedes pol­i­cy and where and how peo­ple get their views (hint­ing, it seems, at social media as much as tra­di­tion­al media), we make mis­takes of not tru­ly under­stand­ing the way that things are going, he said.

“Cul­ture is pow­er,” he said, “and far too often we give that pow­er away for far too cheap.” He gave the exam­ples of com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in Pride events and rain­bow-clad adver­tis­ing, while donat­ing to anti-gay orga­ni­za­tions and politi­cians; giv­ing lip ser­vice to Black His­to­ry Month; or talk­ing about wom­en’s empow­er­ment when “they care nei­ther about women nor empow­er­ment.”

“Pres­ence does not equal pow­er,” Robin­son said. So while rep­re­sen­ta­tion is cer­tain­ly impor­tant, it is not near­ly enough.

We have to think care­ful­ly about what we cen­ter: “Racial jus­tice wins.”

It is dif­fi­cult to make change issue by issue, but if we work on racial jus­tice, we can cre­ate wins on mul­ti­ple issues, includ­ing health­care, wages, and edu­ca­tion. “Racial jus­tice isn’t char­i­ty, it’s strat­e­gy,” he said. His final point was that it’s not enough to have a list of issues to address if there is not joy to keep peo­ple mov­ing and the infra­struc­ture to make things hap­pen.

Next, Sara Nel­son, Inter­na­tion­al Pres­i­dent of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants, spoke about the pow­er of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing to cre­ate broad pros­per­i­ty. 

Recall­ing when she first start­ed work­ing as a flight atten­dant and did not receive her first pay­check, she talked about how her union “fought for me in a way I could­n’t fight for myself. In our union we are nev­er alone.”

Dur­ing her speech, she remem­bered col­leagues who lost their lives work­ing on the flights that were tar­get­ed in the Sep­tem­ber 11th ter­ror­ist attacks, and telling the sto­ry of the Trans­porta­tion Secu­ri­ty Agency work­er who com­mit­ted sui­cide dur­ing the recent Trump pro­mul­gat­ed fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­downs. 

But Nel­son also spoke force­ful­ly about the pow­er of unions, and twice quot­ed famed union leader Moth­er Jones, includ­ing her state­ment, “You will fight and win. You will fight and lose. But above all, you must fight.” 

Nel­son also encour­aged peo­ple to join, build, and lead unions in their com­mu­ni­ties, say­ing that it is a great way to build pow­er and cre­ate change, no mat­ter where we are in an elec­tion cycle.

She not­ed that Amer­i­cans like to feel in sol­i­dar­i­ty, and that dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down, some TSA agents noticed how sup­port­ive the trav­el­ing pub­lic was of their sit­u­a­tion. The threat of a strike that would shut­down the nation’s air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem forced Trump’s hand, giv­ing him no choice but to back down.

“Sol­i­dar­i­ty and the courage of work­ing peo­ple is the great­est force for good in his­to­ry,” she said. “Change comes fast when risk becomes to great for those in pow­er.” So build your union, build pow­er, shift the bal­ance, and cre­ate change.

Nel­son then intro­duced Kat Payne, a Philadel­phia Mar­riott work­er, who is fight­ing to form a union. Nel­son pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion for a direct action tomor­row in sup­port of the work­ers. Payne came to the stage wear­ing her house­keep­ing uni­form and a large red flower in her afro. She said she is part of the “often silent and invis­i­ble army that makes this city thrive,” not­ing that hos­pi­tal­i­ty is largest-grow­ing indus­try in the city of Philadel­phia.

She also explained that Philadel­phia is the poor­est big city in coun­try. That’s part of why she and her cowork­ers are work­ing with Unite Here to union­ize, argu­ing that one job should be enough.

Payne her­self works two jobs: house­keep­er at Mar­riott dur­ing the day, and bar­tend­ing at night. Mar­riott, she not­ed, is the largest hotel com­pa­ny in the world, so they should be able to pay their work­ers a decent wage.

Payne fin­ished her speech by say­ing that there is a rev­o­lu­tion in every gen­er­a­tion. “I am a proud rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Let’s make his­to­ry togeth­er.”

She then intro­duced Rev­erend Gre­go­ry Hol­ston, a local leader in Philadel­phia, who has worked with her and oth­er orga­niz­ers with UNITE HERE.

Hol­ston is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of POWER, a coali­tion of eighty-three con­gre­ga­tions in and around Philadel­phia work­ing to cre­ate change in Penn­syl­va­nia. They have mem­ber con­gre­ga­tions that are Mus­lim, Jew­ish, Chris­t­ian, and Human­ist, and in com­mu­ni­ties that are urban, rur­al, and sub­ur­ban, and with peo­ple of all races. They have worked with unions, are part of an edu­ca­tion coali­tion, and in the crim­i­nal jus­tice reform move­ment.

“When we stand togeth­er, we can change our sys­tems, he said, not­ing a near­ly twen­ty-five decrease in prison pop­u­la­tion in Philadel­phia in the last year.

He then reflect­ed on the high pover­ty rate that Philadel­phia expe­ri­ences (26%, which equals about 400,000 peo­ple, about half of which are in deep pover­ty).

For the last fifty to six­ty years, Hol­ston said, peo­ple who call them­selves pro­gres­sives have run the City of Philadel­phia, but things have not got­ten bet­ter for many peo­ple. So who are the real pro­gres­sives, he asked.

Who are the peo­ple that are real­ly gonna stand up and cre­ate progress?

“If we’re not mak­ing progress, than you can’t be a pro­gres­sive.”

He said the prob­lem is that peo­ple don’t attack the real issue and real­ly don’t under­stand the depth of racism and how it affects the nation.

Echo­ing Robin­son’s com­ments, Hol­ston said that peo­ple try to take on issues, but end up try­ing to treat symp­toms instead of address­ing the under­ly­ing caus­es.

You can’t talk about eco­nom­ic jus­tice with­out talk­ing about repa­ra­tions, or you’re not a real pro­gres­sive, he said. You can’t talk about mass incar­cer­a­tion if you don’t talk about vacat­ing all records and pay back wages to peo­ple that were wrong­ful­ly con­vict­ed or were vic­tims of the “War on Drugs”.

You can’t talk about cli­mate jus­tice with­out stand­ing up for black and brown kids with asth­ma and black and brown peo­ple with can­cer who have been dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by the sit­ing of envi­ron­men­tal­ly dam­ag­ing waste dis­pos­al and oth­er projects.

“I’m look­ing for a move­ment, I’m look­ing for real change,” he said. “Incre­men­tal change is not chang­ing the lives” of peo­ple who real­ly need it, he said.

Net­roots Nation Board Chair Arshad Hasan, who had wel­comed every­one to the con­ven­tion ear­ly in the evening’s pro­gram, then cam out to announce that next year’s Net­roots Nation will be held in Den­ver, Col­orado.

Hasan explained that dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two years, Net­roots Nation was held in Atlanta and New Orleans, as it was impor­tant to build pow­er in the South, and that now the Con­ven­tion will be head­ing to the Rocky Moun­tain West, a region that pro­gres­sives have been fever­ish­ly work­ing to turn blue.

He then announced the final speak­er of the evening: Ali­cia Garza, co-cre­ator of Black Lives Mat­ter and the Black Futures Lab.

Garza dis­cussed how Black com­mu­ni­ties are reg­u­lar­ly left out of the pro­gres­sive move­ment, “at our own per­il.” She said the black com­mu­ni­ties are often used as “win­dow dress­ing,” to make the move­ment look diverse, but that the issues and needs of the black com­mu­ni­ty do not fac­tor into the agen­das of the cam­paigns. They are “sym­bol­i­cal­ly but not sub­stan­tive­ly includ­ed,” she said.

Many can­di­dates and elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives say that they love and respect black com­mu­ni­ties, she said, but how much are we actu­al­ly invest­ing in them? There are “too many fried chick­en pho­to ops and not enough town halls,” she said to applause, and “too many of us are pro­vid­ing cov­er for this kind of non­sense.”

Recent­ly, the Black Futures Lab con­duct­ed a black cen­sus, the largest sur­vey of black Amer­i­cans in over one hun­dred and fifty years. Some of their find­ings includ­ed that 85% of respon­dents sup­port a $15 min­i­mum wage, and 90% believe it is the role of gov­ern­ment to pro­vide health­care for all Amer­i­cans.

Black com­mu­ni­ties want the same things that most of Amer­i­ca wants, she said, yet we can’t say with any cer­tain­ty that Amer­i­ca wants those things for black com­mu­ni­ties. The most com­mon thing they heard from respon­dents in the sur­vey was that no one had ever asked them what they want­ed for their future.

Black com­mu­ni­ties are being impact­ed by the same issues as oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, but often more intense­ly (as we saw in 2015 in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri). 

“Stop telling us to ignore iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics and instead to the work to dis­man­tle the dis­par­i­ties,” she said, after list­ing some of the ways that black peo­ple are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by issues like low wages and health­care. Instead of using us as win­dow dress­ing, con­sid­er that Black com­mu­ni­ties are the por­tals to the future,” she said, and can be a more sub­stan­tive part of the move­ment.

Final­ly, turn­ing to the 2020 elec­tion, Garza said it “can­not be won by play­ing it safe or play­ing to the mid­dle.” The cur­rent regime has stripped mid­dle of all mean­ing, she said. “Democ­ra­cy can only be real­ized if every­one can par­tic­i­pate. More is pos­si­ble when we do bet­ter by all of us,” she con­clud­ed.

Garza was then joined on stage briefly by the Rev­erend angel Kyo­do williams, who has become a fix­ture at Net­roots Nation over the years.

Kyo­do williams (who had pre­vi­ous­ly deliv­ered the con­vo­ca­tion) asked how to respond to white peo­ple that ask ques­tions about what they are sup­posed to do in response to mes­sages about focus­ing on issues that affect black com­mu­ni­ties.

Garza replied emphat­i­cal­ly, “Black peo­ple’s issues are your issues too!” and then repeat­ed it again a sec­ond time to fur­ther dri­ve it home.

Kyo­do williams then spoke about shame and how it is built into cul­ture to make peo­ple silent. She asked what peo­ple, includ­ing white peo­ple who might expe­ri­ence shame around racism, can and should do to work through that shame.

“We have to trans­form that shame into deep and abid­ing love for one anoth­er, Garza said, elab­o­rat­ing that we have to keep show­ing up, as shame is often what keeps us from show­ing up. Even when you are expe­ri­enc­ing chal­lenges with one anoth­er, “Keep turn­ing towards each oth­er,” she said.

Garza and Kyo­do williams’ con­ver­sa­tion con­clud­ed the open­ing ple­nary ses­sion, bring­ing an end to the first day of Net­roots Nation pro­gram­ming.

NPI will con­tin­ue to offer cov­er­age through­out the next two days of the con­ven­tion, right here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, as well as on In Brief.

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