The squad at Netroots Nation 2019
Aimee Allison, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Deb Haaland onstage at Netroots Nation 2019 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Good morn­ing! Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute con­tin­ue to par­tic­i­pate in train­ings, dis­cus­sions and ple­nary ses­sions at Net­roots Nation 2019 in Philadel­phia, Pennsylvania.

This third morn­ing of the con­ven­tion was anchored by a ple­nary ses­sion, appro­pri­ate­ly titled Mak­ing Her­Sto­ry: The women who are shift­ing the bal­ance of pow­er in Wash­ing­ton [the Dis­trict of Colum­bia; our nation’s capital.]

Dr. Stephanie Kel­ton, for­mer Chief Econ­o­mist on the U.S. Sen­ate Bud­get Com­mu­ni­ty and an eco­nom­ic advi­sor to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, opened the ses­sion by say­ing that Democ­rats are chang­ing polit­i­cal dis­course and mak­ing strides she did­n’t think she would see in her lifetime.

“This com­mu­ni­ty has bold aspi­ra­tions to take this coun­try in a direc­tion we know we can go and become the Amer­i­ca that we are all striv­ing to become,” she said.

Rev­erend angel Kyo­do williams then returned to the stage to help every­one find their spir­i­tu­al bear­ings pri­or to the intro­duc­tion of the next set of speakers.

Next up was Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sum­mer Lee, the first black woman elect­ed to rep­re­sent South­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia and a mem­ber of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca. Lee defeat­ed a nine-year Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent, Paul Cos­ta, in 2018 with six­ty-sev­en per­cent of the vote. Pri­or to run­ning for office, Lee spent many years as an activist, notably work­ing on the Fight for 15.

She said many peo­ple asked her if she was run­ning to rep­re­sent Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s 34th dis­trict because of Don­ald Trump, to which she respond­ed that she ran to tack­le the sys­tem that cre­at­ed Don­ald Trump, and she was tired of wait­ing for some­one to effec­tive­ly rep­re­sent her community.

She went on to explain that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty needs to make sure it is the big tent that it claims to be. “It’s a big tent that seems to get small­er when loud, proud, pro­gres­sive black women show up,” she said. “A lot of peo­ple of col­or feel left behind by this move­ment. We have to move to focus­ing on the peo­ple who are oppressed by the sys­tems that cre­at­ed Don­ald Trump.”

Lee con­clud­ed her remarks by encour­ag­ing pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions and activists to lift up peo­ple of col­or up who are run­ning for office by active­ly work­ing on their cam­paigns, instead of sim­ply pay­ing lip ser­vice to the idea of diversity.

Next up was Rep­resenta­tive Movi­ta Johnson-Har­rell, whose dis­trict encom­pass­es part of Philadel­phia. She explained that while she may not seem like a typ­i­cal elect­ed offi­cial, her back­ground makes her unique­ly qual­i­fied to rep­re­sent her dis­trict. Many gen­er­a­tions of her fam­i­ly have lived in pover­ty, strug­gled with sub­stance abuse, and suf­fered from domes­tic violence.

She spoke mov­ing­ly of her son, who was killed by gun vio­lence, and reit­er­at­ed her pledge to fight “until her last breath” to com­bat this pub­lic health crisis.

John­son-Har­rell not­ed that she was first Mus­lim woman elect­ed to the Penn­syl­va­nia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and she knows she will not be the last.

“If you are not at the table, then you are on the menu,” she said, repeat­ing a mantra that is catch­ing on in pro­gres­sive cir­cles across the Unit­ed States.

“Wher­ev­er you are, make sure you claim your authen­tic­i­ty and stand proud, but make room for your sis­ters and broth­ers who don’t look like you.”

The vaunt­ed Bar­bara Lee then took the stage. Lee is a vet­er­an Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive whose con­stituen­cy includes Oak­land and Berke­ley, California.

She began by speak­ing about the last time she attend­ed Net­roots Nation two years ago, when there were no women in Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s Leg­is­la­ture. Dur­ing that same con­fer­ence two years ago, Lee recount­ed how she kept hear­ing the phrase “stay woke”, which became a per­son­al ral­ly­ing cry for her.

Lee said that it’s impor­tant to con­tin­ue to “stay woke” in these dark and trou­bling times, where mis­in­for­ma­tion is every­where. “Equal­i­ty and the preser­va­tion of our plan­et is not a rad­i­cal goal and it should not offend any­one,” she argued.

“We’re not just spin­ning our wheels right now [in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives], we are show­ing peo­ple who we are and why pro­gres­sive poli­cies win with the Amer­i­can peo­ple [even if the bills will not pass Mitch McConnel­l’s Senate].”

She then tout­ed a num­ber of the bills that have advanced out of the Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-con­trolled House since Jan­u­ary, includ­ing the crit­i­cal elec­toral reforms includ­ed in H.R. 1, pro­tect­ing net neu­tral­i­ty, imple­ment­ing uni­ver­sal back­ground checks on gun pur­chas­es, and equal pay for women.

There is still work to do, she observed.

Lee asked for the move­men­t’s sup­port as the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives acts to defend repro­duc­tive rights, research pos­si­ble repa­ra­tions for descen­dants of slaves, and move towards legal­iz­ing and decrim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na.

She end­ed by say­ing we need to stand up to injus­tices every­where and asked the more than three thou­sand atten­dees of Net­roots Nation if they were all in.

Lee left the stage with chants of “All in!” from the crowd.

She the Peo­ple founder Aimee Alli­son walked out moments lat­er to intro­duce the last seg­ment of the ple­nary ses­sion which was a pan­el made up of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Deb Halaand, Rashi­da Tlaib, Ayan­na Press­ley and Ilhan Omar.

The squad at Netroots Nation 2019
Aimee Alli­son, Ilhan Omar, Ayan­na Press­ley, Rashi­da Tlaib, and Deb Haa­land onstage at Net­roots Nation 2019 (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Alli­son said that these four trail­blaz­ing women rep­re­sent­ed not just four con­gres­sion­al votes, but also for mil­lions of peo­ple, they rep­re­sent gen­er­a­tions of the strug­gle for rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “They rep­re­sent the best of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy and yet, they have faced attacks all year from the right wing and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­er­ship,” she said before wel­com­ing them to the stage.

Alli­son began the pan­el by ask­ing the quar­tet about these attacks, includ­ing Nan­cy Pelosi’s recent com­ments. Tlaib said that in their roles, they have to be authen­tic and defend the com­mu­ni­ties they were elect­ed to protect.

“I have to be unwa­ver­ing,” she said. “That’s what peo­ple sent me to Con­gress to do. I have to nev­er back down. I have the third poor­est con­gres­sion­al dis­trict in the coun­try, and that is what con­tin­ues to inspire me and move me forward.”

Omar agreed and con­tin­ued by explain­ing there is a con­stant strug­gle with those woh have pow­er and over the shar­ing of that pow­er. “We have to con­tin­ue to resist and insist on poli­cies that push our coun­try for­ward,” she said.

The dis­cus­sion then tran­si­tioned to the cri­sis at our south­ern bor­der — where fam­i­lies are being cru­el­ly and unjust­ly torn apart by the Trump regime — and what the rep­re­sen­ta­tives wit­nessed when they trav­eled to deten­tion centers.

Press­ley said that “this is a time to be inten­tion­al with our move­ment and our coali­tion build­ing.” She explained that these camps should be thought of as a “pilot pro­gram” that reveals what Trump and his cronies (like Stephen Miller) have in mind for the coun­try’s incar­cer­at­ed pop­u­la­tion. If the regime can get away with pri­va­cy and human rights vio­la­tion at the bor­der, it will scale up.

Halaand drew com­par­isons to the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of Native Amer­i­cans, say­ing “these issues have been hap­pen­ing for a long time. You have more con­trol over peo­ple when you sep­a­rate them. It did­n’t work then, and it is not work­ing now.”

Omar, pick­ing up on her col­leagues’ ear­li­er com­ments, remarked that instead of com­ing to the table, pro­gres­sives should shake the table. “We nev­er need to ask for per­mis­sion or wait for per­mis­sion to lead,” she said. “Every sin­gle vote we take and agen­da we push forth is about mak­ing sure no one is being left behind.”

Tlaib drew per­haps the largest applause of the ple­nary ses­sion when she declared in response to a ques­tion from Alli­son that Don­ald Trump would be impeached.

“We’re going to impeach!” she told attendees.

The squad (as Omar, Press­ley, and Tlaib, plus Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez have become col­lec­tive­ly known as) left the stage with Alli­son and Haa­land to a sus­tained stand­ing ova­tion, paus­ing first for a photo.

Lat­er today, atten­dees of Net­roots Nation 2019 will hear from four pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates: Kirsten Gilli­brand, Julian Cas­tro, Eliz­a­beth War­ren, and Jay Inslee. That ses­sion will close out this year’s convention.

NPI will con­tin­ue to offer cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation through­out the day right here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, as well as on In Brief.

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