NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Netroots Nation 2020 opens with “biggest, baddest, blackest panel of the summer”

It’s been a hard, strange year for pro­gres­sive activists, and this week’s Net­roots Nation con­fer­ence seems to be rein­forc­ing that sense of strangeness.

Instead of gath­er­ing in Den­ver, Col­orado, as was orig­i­nal­ly planned, the con­fer­ence’s orga­niz­ers and atten­dees are con­gre­gat­ing remote­ly, using a web­site pow­ered by Socio that inte­grates with video­con­fer­enc­ing pow­er­house Zoom.

Thurs­day’s keynote address (which took place from 2 PM to 3:30 Pacif­ic Time) sought to cel­e­brate the vic­to­ries pro­gres­sives have won in recent months and rec­og­nize some of the pow­er­ful Black fig­ures lead­ing the pro­gres­sive movement.

Along­side Arshad Hasan, one of Net­roots Nation’s board mem­bers, atten­dees were wel­comed vir­tu­al­ly by Col­orado’s U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Joe Neguse.

Neguse remind­ed his lis­ten­ers about the vital impor­tance of pro­gres­sive ener­gy in the bat­tle to defeat Trump in Novem­ber, and point­ed to recent elec­toral suc­cess­es by pro­gres­sives as a sym­bol of hope for the country.

“My belief in the promise of Amer­i­ca remains strong,” Neguse said.

The sub­se­quent keynote dis­cus­sion was host­ed by Mau­rice Mitchell, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty, who inter­viewed three “unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Black, unapolo­get­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive can­di­dates” for elect­ed office: Penn­syl­va­nia State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sum­mer Lee, Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bow­man. Mitchell described the group as “the biggest, bad­dest, black­est pan­el of the summer.”

The can­di­dates were asked about co-gov­er­nance, and all agreed that elect­ed pro­gres­sives need to work close­ly with grass­roots activists to succeed.

Both Jones and Bow­man quot­ed U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ayan­na Press­ley: “Those clos­est to the pain should be clos­est to the pow­er.” Elect­ed pro­gres­sive politi­cians offer activists access to the struc­tures of pow­er, and in return activists can exert pres­sure on the streets to pres­sure oth­er offi­cials to work with progressives.

The pan­el dis­cussed a set of top­ics that ranged from repa­ra­tions, recon­struc­tion, white suprema­cy, and the role of Black peo­ple in the pro­gres­sive movement.

Jamaal Bow­man point­ed out that the U.S. has always been “recon­struct­ing” itself in one way or anoth­er through­out its his­to­ry, but that the task is now to ensure that peo­ple of col­or are not “left out of the equa­tion… this is our moment to rebuild our nation into the coun­try we know it is capa­ble of being!”

The con­ver­sa­tion soon moved to the rela­tion­ship pro­gres­sive activists and orga­ni­za­tions have with the estab­lish­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, espe­cial­ly with the par­ty’s expect­ed nom­i­nees for the pres­i­den­cy and vice presidency.

Sum­mer Lee, who has beat­en back pow­er­ful forces to remain in her Pitts­burgh area seat, remind­ed every­one that estab­lish­ment fig­ures who preach par­ty uni­ty  don’t always prac­tice it themselves.

She described being “indoc­tri­nat­ed” against sup­port­ing a pri­ma­ry against an incum­bent once she was sworn in – only to be sur­prised at the fact that the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty refused to endorse her in her re-elec­tion bid.

On the nation­al lev­el, Mondaire Jones open­ly admit­ted that a Biden-Har­ris tick­et “was not our first choice” as pro­gres­sives and promised to lever­age all the pres­sure he could upon Biden as soon as he enters the Oval Office.

He said it was “shame­ful” that the nation­al Democ­rats have not com­mit­ted to basic pro­gres­sive prin­ci­ples, and called on grass­roots activists to hold “self-described pro­gres­sives” in Con­gress to account.

Mitchell asked the pan­elists about the role of Black pro­gres­sives in the post-Trump era, how to not only “change the com­plex­ion of Con­gress, but change the direc­tion of Congress.”

All three pan­elists agreed that pro­gres­sive lead­ers best rep­re­sent the needs and issues of Black com­mu­ni­ties, and also that “prob­lem­at­ic” Democ­rats are far eas­i­er to pres­sure with grass­roots activism than white suprema­cist Repub­li­cans are.

Mondaire Jones made the case that we are liv­ing in “a Black moment and we have to make it per­ma­nent, because when we have more peo­ple for whom pol­i­cy is per­son­al, we get bet­ter policy.”

Jamaal Bow­man wrapped up the pan­el by remind­ing Net­roots Nation that the oth­er side are orga­niz­ing, strate­giz­ing and mobi­liz­ing to stop progressives.

Bow­man’s warn­ing was an apt intro­duc­tion to the next seg­ment of the evening, as Jes­si­ca Byrd of Three Point Strate­gies inter­viewed her old boss and cur­rent leader of Fair Fight Action, Stacey Abrams, who rose to fame in 2018 after her guber­na­to­r­i­al ambi­tions in Geor­gia were thwart­ed by bla­tant vot­er sup­pres­sion.

Byrd start­ed the inter­view by prais­ing Abrams’ impres­sive résumé and polit­i­cal achieve­ments, not least of which was the fact that “you got Oprah to can­vass for you!” (Abrams respond­ed to this remark with a non­cha­lant shrug).

Representative Stacey Adams

For­mer Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Stacey Adams, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leader in the Geor­gia Gen­er­al Assem­bly, explains what needs to be done to turn states in the Deep South blue (edu­cate, acti­vate, and agi­tate!) at Net­roots Nation 2014.

When asked how to inspire Black Amer­i­cans to vote, Abrams launched an elo­quent defense of the pow­er of vot­ing, and tied vot­ing direct­ly to the protest move­ment on the streets, say­ing that “vot­ing is protest­ing at the bal­lot box.”

She expand­ed the dis­cus­sion beyond the realm of vot­ing, implor­ing Net­roots Nation atten­dees to par­tic­i­pate in the 2020 cen­sus and encour­age friends, co-work­ers and fam­i­ly mem­bers to take part too.

The con­ver­sa­tion moved on to a dis­cus­sion of the cur­rent state of the Unit­ed States Postal Ser­vice (USPS), the nation’s mail system.

Abrams not­ed that some ver­sion of the postal ser­vice has exist­ed for as long as the U.S. has as a coun­try, because “the way you knit togeth­er a nation is com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” She blast­ed the Trump regime’s efforts to pri­va­tize the USPS, say­ing “when you hear some­one say “pri­va­tize a pub­lic good,” they want to take it from those who can’t afford it.” Abrams decon­struct­ed the var­i­ous ways that Trump and his cronies have been under­min­ing the USPS, and along with it the 2020 elec­tion, in minute detail – describ­ing Trump and his post­mas­ter gen­er­al Louis DeJoy as “a pyro­ma­ni­ac and an arsonist.”

Abrams used the exam­ple of the Post Office to lay out how the Repub­li­cans attack pub­lic insti­tu­tions: “One of the tricks is to break some­thing and then com­plain that it’s bro­ken… you set some­thing on fire, then com­plain that it’s burning!”

Abrams laid out a sim­ple strat­e­gy to respond to the Repub­li­can attempts to under­mine vot­ing. “Remem­ber that vot­ing by mail starts in September…get your appli­ca­tion in the moment it’s pos­si­ble… the minute you get your bal­lot, find out if your state has drop box­es… we need to make sure they can’t steal it.”

She encour­aged pro­gres­sive can­di­dates with some cam­paign tips.

She said that can­di­dates can’t just plan for sce­nar­ios A, B, or C, but must “plan for sce­nario Z!” She remind­ed can­di­dates that good team lead­ers not only inspire those who fol­low, but set a good pace so that peo­ple can make it to their tar­gets. She also encour­aged every­one to remem­ber that pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics is not about win­ning indi­vid­ual bat­tles, but about mov­ing the front line in a long war.

Byrd wrapped up the evening with a touch­ing reminder to Abrams of the many Geor­gians who love and sup­port her, and want to one day vote for her again.

Net­roots Nation 2020 con­tin­ues tomor­row and will con­clude on Saturday.

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