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.
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.