Hope and ener­gy for the future were the cur­rents run­ning through the open­ing ple­nary ear­li­er today at Net­roots Nation 2021, dur­ing an hour and a half long ses­sion that served as the book­end to the con­fer­ence’s first day.

First to speak was Jaime Har­ri­son, the Chair of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee. Har­ri­son did­n’t mince words in his sum­ma­tion of the state of the polit­i­cal land­scape in Capi­tol Hill. He spoke of Repub­li­cans’ con­tin­ued efforts to block vot­ing rights leg­is­la­tion, dis­re­gard health and safe­ty, and pan­der to an extrem­ist Right-Wing base. But rather than let rage and anger con­sume us, he urged lis­ten­ers to let their actions be a call to action.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “We can hit these clowns where it hurts. At the bal­lot box.” He encour­aged lis­ten­ers to unite around “shared values.”

He closed his speech with the fol­low­ing words: “Our mot­to as activists has to be while I breathe, I vote. That, my friends, is how we bring hope.”

The ple­nary also fea­tured a Q&A host­ed by Maris­sa Moli­na with U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Joe Neguse of Col­orado’s 2nd District.

Over the past four years, the Trump regime undid a num­ber of pro­tec­tions for undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple and immi­grants, includ­ing fin­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and the rejec­tion of new DACA appli­ca­tions. How­ev­er, despite the dan­ger these actions left Dream­ers across Amer­i­ca in, Neguse expressed con­fi­dence in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to offer a path­way to citizenship.

Neguse also addressed the racist vio­lence towards Black Hait­ian immi­grants at the border.

“Amer­i­ca is at its best when we are a bea­con of hope and lib­er­ty to folks across the globe,” he said. He added that these hor­rif­ic actions “are not con­sis­tent with what Amer­i­ca is and must be.”

He said that he will con­tin­ue to pres­sure Sec­re­tary Ale­jan­dro May­orkas to ensure that this vio­lence will not con­tin­ue, and ensure the dig­ni­ty of these individuals.

Next to take the stage was Joe San­berg, co-founder of Aspiration.

He deliv­ered a sober speech about our ongo­ing cli­mate cri­sis, char­ac­ter­iz­ing the atti­tudes of the Joe Manchins of Capi­tol Hill as “the wall of ‘It’s Too Expensive.’ ”

“We’ve all heard time and again, it’s too expen­sive,” he said. “But COVID has revealed that’s always been a lie. We can afford Wall Street and the for­ev­er wars.”

​He went on to describe the num­ber of myths per­pet­u­at­ed by the oppo­si­tion to impede progress on reforms from rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to can­celling stu­dent debt. Reliev­ing the finan­cial bur­den on the aver­age Amer­i­can lib­er­ates the econ­o­my rather than bur­den­ing it — and what’s more, we have the money.

“We can’t get that big, bold gov­ern­ment action until we tear down the wall called ‘It’s Too Expen­sive,’ to pro­tect a cheat­ing econ­o­my, built on the twin pil­lars of fear and cor­rup­tion,” San­berg said.

Man­dela Barnes, the cur­rent Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor of Wis­con­sin, fol­lowed San­berg with a mes­sage of mobi­liza­tion. He echoed the sen­ti­ments of Har­ri­son and Neguse, shar­ing his sto­ry of run­ning for office at the ear­ly age of twenty-five.

Barnes told con­ven­tion­eers that Wis­con­sin faces a num­ber of chal­lenges, includ­ing hav­ing the high­est income gap along racial lines in the nation.

But these haven’t been rea­sons to despair, he said.

Wis­con­sin has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do better.

“We have done bold things before, and it’s time to do bold things again,” he said.

“Orga­nize here, over Zoom, wher­ev­er we have to…until all our insti­tu­tions are reflec­tive of the peo­ple we’re sup­posed to serve.”

Fol­low­ing Barnes was Michi­gan’s U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rashi­da Tlaib.

Tlaib talked about the dis­con­nect between many mem­bers of Con­gress and the lived expe­ri­ences of their con­stituents which, in her view, imped­ed the progress for life-chang­ing leg­is­la­tion such as Pres­i­dent Biden’s Build Back Bet­ter plan.

“Many don’t under­stand what it means to be under­in­sured or unin­sured, or what it is to send their child to a school with­out clean drink­ing water,” she said.

Suc­cess­ful pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy solu­tions, she said, were tar­get­ed towards alle­vi­at­ing these pain points, whether by mak­ing it eas­i­er to under­take home repairs, build­ing an infra­struc­ture around cli­mate resilien­cy, or expand­ing health cov­er­age to include things such as den­tal and vision care.

Bring­ing these real-life nar­ra­tives to Con­gress, she said, was the key to cre­at­ing the sense of urgency nec­es­sary to get such leg­is­la­tion passed.

The final seg­ment of the ple­nary was an ener­giz­ing pan­el mod­er­at­ed by Dr. Mustafa San­ti­a­go Ali, fea­tur­ing White House Nation­al Cli­mate Advi­sor Gina McCarthy and Sec­re­tary of Ener­gy Jen­nifer Granholm.

The pan­elists tout­ed the planks of Pres­i­dent Biden’s robust Build Back Bet­ter plan, break­ing down how the poli­cies are root­ed in the log­ic of the coun­ty’s pro­gres­sive val­ues. Granholm echoed Tlaib’s state­ments on the neces­si­ty of pass­ing the larg­er Build Back Bet­ter bill through rec­on­cil­i­a­tion along­side the bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture bill. “One alone isn’t enough to turn the ship on cli­mate change,” she said.

Ali turned to McCarthy to build off Granholm’s state­ment, ask­ing what she would tell some­body in Appalachia what Build Back Bet­ter would do for them.

McCarthy reeled off a long list of pri­or­i­ties, from invest­ing $27.5 bil­lion in renew­able ener­gy, fund­ing career train­ing for dis­lo­cat­ed work­ers, clean­er and qui­eter trucks, increased air qual­i­ty mon­i­tor­ing, cool­ing cen­ters in schools, bet­ter hous­ing. These, she said, are just a few of the ways the Biden admin­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to improv­ing the lives of the Amer­i­can people.

The pan­elists agreed that there need­ed to be account­abil­i­ty with respect to the expen­di­tures. McCarthy explained that there were incen­tives built into the design of the invest­ments to ensure that once states received the fund­ing “it would not go to waste,” as has been a risk in the past.

Pro­gres­sives in the White House, she said, want to make sure these funds are “spent in a way that rec­og­nizes our com­mit­ment to cli­mate justice.”

Granholm cit­ed the enforce­able clean ener­gy incen­tive plan built into the Build Back Bet­ter bill as an exam­ple of this state account­abil­i­ty in action.

McCarthy went on to say that the chal­lenges fac­ing com­mu­ni­ties and orga­niz­ers are not inci­den­tal, but “sys­temic disinvestments.”

The goal is to reverse that through sys­temic investment.

Ali wrapped up the dis­cus­sion by ask­ing: in the face of the uncer­tain­ty and crises Amer­i­ca has weath­ered over the last sev­er­al years, but espe­cial­ly last year, how do they stay optimistic?

The admin­is­tra­tion is laser-focused on enact­ing poli­cies, Granholm replied, that invest in the future through address­ing cli­mate dam­age. The devel­op­ments she sees around her in the White House give plen­ty of rea­son to hope.

“It is a priv­i­lege to make it happen.”

McCarthy sec­ond­ed this, adding that: “diver­si­ty in the com­mu­ni­ty will make all the dif­fer­ence in the world.”

Peo­ple are ask­ing: “What things can we do in gov­ern­ment to help people?”

She said that she is inspired by hope­ful, ener­getic, and youth­ful vot­ers and ful­ly invest­ed in car­ing for the Earth, our shared and com­mon home.

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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