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.

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Netroots Nation brings back Elizabeth Warren and Pramila Jayapal for 2020 Friday keynote

The world­wide coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has meant a lot of changes for the 2020 edi­tion of Net­roots Nation. The sum­mer con­fer­ence — Amer­i­ca’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sives — is tak­ing place entire­ly online rather in Den­ver as orig­i­nal­ly planned, with talks streamed via YouTube, net­work­ing via app, and the Pub Quiz done with peo­ple imbib­ing from their own glass­es at home on Zoom.

But Dai­ly Kos Elec­tions’ “Sea Org” team still won the Chair­man Emer­i­tus’ Pub Quiz for the umpteenth time to its usu­al cho­rus of boos, and Mass­a­chu­setts’ Eliz­a­beth War­ren appeared for the ninth time, on this occa­sion with Heather McGhee.

In addi­tion to direct­ly polit­i­cal con­cerns, like mak­ing sure the next admin­is­tra­tion’s Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment is head­ed by some­one actu­al­ly com­mit­ted to edu­cat­ing stu­dents, War­ren spoke dur­ing the Fri­day keynote about the deeply per­son­al expe­ri­ence of los­ing her old­est broth­er, Don­ald Reed Her­ring, to COVID-19.

“None of us could be there with him,” War­ren said, describ­ing how it was­n’t safe for any of his fam­i­ly to vis­it him after he was tak­en to the hos­pi­tal before dying in April. “I don’t know what it was like at the end.”

“And I did­n’t get to tell him that I loved him.”

War­ren con­nect­ed that expe­ri­ence to the more than 160,000 Amer­i­cans whose fam­i­lies have felt the same pain, most of them unnec­es­sar­i­ly.

“It did­n’t have to be like this. It did not have to be this bad,” War­ren said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2019

Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren par­tic­i­pates in last year’s Net­roots Nation 2019 pres­i­den­tial forum (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute)

War­ren said Don­ald Trump has to be held account­able for his regime’s incom­pe­tence and his indif­fer­ence to the deaths of tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in this coun­try. “The way I get through this is to say, I’d best hon­or my broth­er by get­ting up every day and say­ing, ‘There’s going to be some account­abil­i­ty in this coun­try.’ And in a democ­ra­cy, account­abil­i­ty is what hap­pens on elec­tion day.”

But in the pan­el por­tion pre­ced­ing War­ren’s keynote speech-inter­view, three House mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus talked about the chal­lenges already appar­ent for pro­gres­sive vot­ers giv­en Trump’s admis­sion that a stick­ing point in the recent pan­dem­ic relief nego­ti­a­tions was the Democ­rats’ desire to fund the U.S. Postal Ser­vice to be capa­ble of han­dling the increase in mail-in bal­lots asso­ci­at­ed with Novem­ber’s vote. By being will­ing to not fund the mail ser­vice prop­er­ly, Repub­li­cans have made it less like­ly Trump will leave office.

Netroots Nation 2020 Friday keynote speakers

Net­roots Nation 2020 Fri­day keynote speak­ers: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Katie Porter, Prami­la Jaya­pal, and Bar­bara Lee, with mod­er­a­tor Zer­li­na Maxwell (Cour­tesy of Net­roots Nation)

“This is an attack on our democ­ra­cy,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Katie Porter (D‑California) said. “And sad­ly it won’t be the last one before we are done with him.”

“If you feel like our democ­ra­cy is under attack, I would tell you, yes, hon­or that feel­ing, and ask your­self, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ ”

Porter sug­gest­ed focus­ing on what’s going on at the coun­ty lev­el to pro­tect elec­tion integri­ty, such as sign­ing up to be a poll work­er, because a solu­tion at the nation­al lev­el is unlike­ly to come.

“We’re going to do what we’ve long had to do, which is orga­nize per­son by per­son, com­mu­ni­ty by com­mu­ni­ty,” Porter said.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bar­bara Lee (D‑California) con­nect­ed the recent doc­u­ment­ed cas­es of remov­ing mail­box­es from urban areas to oth­er activ­i­ties aimed at dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ing Black, Indige­nous, and Peo­ple of Col­or (BIPOC).

“It absolute­ly is racist vot­er sup­pres­sion,” Lee said. “It’s also anoth­er form of a poll tax. It also is anoth­er form of try­ing to make sure that peo­ple, espe­cial­ly peo­ple of col­or, are so frus­trat­ed that they just won’t go vote.”

Lee described her expe­ri­ence in 2018’s Geor­gia guber­na­to­r­i­al race where Black vot­ers were made to stand in line for hours after tak­ing a day off from work only to find when they got there their name was­n’t on the rolls any­more.

“In addi­tion to vot­er sup­pres­sion, we know that there’s for­eign inter­fer­ence,” Lee said, which are also tar­get­ing Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties to turn com­mu­ni­ties against each oth­er. Lee preached skep­ti­cism when read­ing things online, par­tic­u­lar­ly when a mes­sage was espe­cial­ly divi­sive, and start from the assump­tion that some­one say­ing it was a bot.

Our own Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal (D‑Washington) fol­lowed up by claim­ing that sim­i­lar activ­i­ty was hap­pen­ing in the phys­i­cal world.

“We already know that there were poseurs brought in to the Black Lives Mat­ter protests in Min­neapo­lis and that some of those peo­ple were paid to come in by con­ser­v­a­tive groups,” Jaya­pal said, mir­ror­ing the more famil­iar right wing talk­ing point about paid left-wing agi­ta­tors being respon­si­ble for move­ment, though in both cas­es, it was­n’t clear where the claim was com­ing from.

All three rep­re­sen­ta­tives, along with inter­view­er Zer­li­na Maxwell, author of “The End of White Pol­i­tics”, expressed opti­mism for pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s selec­tion of Cal­i­for­ni­a’s junior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris, with Maxwell tak­ing a point to dis­agree with those who regard­ed the selec­tion of a Black woman of South Asian her­itage as being a “safe” choice rather than some­thing rad­i­cal and inspir­ing hope.

“In what world is pick­ing a Black woman for your pres­i­den­tial tick­et in a coun­ty where we’ve nev­er had any women win the vice pres­i­den­cy — or the pres­i­den­cy?” Maxwell said. “That’s not the safe choice; that’s the bold choice.”

Lee men­tioned that Har­ris was actu­al­ly born in Lee’s dis­trict in Oak­land, so she knew the sen­a­tor well and helped stump for Har­ris in 2020 Har­ris’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry run, but for Lee, the moment of suc­cess­ful­ly Har­ris join­ing the tick­et con­nect­ed all the way back to Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shirley Chisholm’s run for pres­i­dent in 1972… a cam­paign which con­vinced Lee to get involved in Chisolm’s cam­paign and ulti­mate­ly into elec­toral pol­i­tics itself.

“I thought then, that was the begin­ning of the end of white pol­i­tics,” Lee said.

Porter focused on Har­ris’s capac­i­ty for growth on pro­gres­sive issues and look­ing for­ward to work­ing with her as a part­ner in the exec­u­tive branch based on Porter’s work with Har­ris while Har­ris was Cal­i­for­ni­a’s attor­ney gen­er­al.

“We all have a role, every one of us, in shap­ing the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion,” Porter said.

Jaya­pal was elect­ed as the House­’s first Indi­an Amer­i­can woman the same year Har­ris was elect­ed as the sec­ond Black woman and first Indi­an Amer­i­can to the Sen­ate. Jaya­pal detailed how she worked on the plat­form devel­oped by Biden and his major pri­ma­ry rival Ver­mon­t’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders.

“We got sig­nif­i­cant foun­da­tion­al pieces of Medicare For All into this plat­form includ­ing that… any pub­lic option would not be admin­is­tered by pri­vate insur­ance com­pa­nies but would be admin­is­tered by Medicare,” Jaya­pal said, also cit­ing poli­cies like auto­mat­ic enroll­ment into the sys­tem if a per­son lost their job.

For Jaya­pal, the argu­ment was not that most of the Net­roots Nation audi­ence had like­ly con­sid­ered Biden their first choice, or that Har­ris’s track record as pro­gres­sive was espe­cial­ly per­sua­sive, but that they were peo­ple who could be worked with and brought along, as with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic plat­form.

Like War­ren, the mes­sage was one of being left with a bina­ry choice, and both tried to tamp down expec­ta­tions by remind­ing the audi­ence that being a pro­gres­sive by def­i­n­i­tion means being out ahead of most oth­er peo­ple on some issues.

The speak­ers all men­tioned that they’re sup­port­ing Biden, but the focus of all the con­ver­sa­tion was remov­ing the cur­rent block­age in the White House so that all of the oth­er nec­es­sary work of chang­ing sys­tems to ben­e­fit the major­i­ty of peo­ple could actu­al­ly begin, inside and out­side of pol­i­tics.

In War­ren’s words: “big, struc­tur­al, change.”

“It is not enough to win the White House,” War­ren said. “We also have to hold the House, we have to take back the Sen­ate, we need to win in states all around this coun­try. We need to put peo­ple at the local lev­el who are pro­gres­sives. We need to put peo­ple in posi­tions where they can enact big, struc­tur­al change.”

Net­roots Nation 2020 con­cludes tomor­row.

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