Net­roots Nation 2022 kicked off Thurs­day with a live­ly keynote speech from a long list of elect­eds, advo­cates and activists in Penn­syl­va­nia pol­i­tics. These speak­ers includ­ed state Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Williams, state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sara Innamora­to, state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mal­colm Keny­at­ta, state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sum­mer Lee, Pitts­burgh May­or Ed Gainey, Philadel­phia City Coun­cilmem­ber Helen Gym, The Impact Seat Foun­da­tion’s CEO — Cheryl Con­tee, 1Hood Medi­a’s CEO and Polit­i­cal Direc­tor — Jasiri X & Khari Mosley, respec­tive­ly, and a found­ing prin­ci­pal of the Black Male Vot­er Project — W. Mon­dale Robin­son.

Mr. Robin­son start­ed the keynote by address­ing an issue that was echoed by sev­er­al speak­ers through­out the night: the “hit” Democ­rats are pro­ject­ed to take in the 2022 midterms. Robin­son chal­lenged vot­ers to rethink what is pos­si­ble in this midterm cycle and rec­og­nize the foun­da­tion that has been laid by grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions.

The Unit­ed States has nev­er had an elec­torate as diverse or young as we do now. Young vot­ers have assert­ed them­selves in 2018 and 2020, gift­ing us with some of the biggest gains in pro­gres­sive his­to­ry. Robin­son said, “We must for­get and unlearn all the bull­shit we know about midterm elec­tions.” He fur­ther said that the medi­a’s empha­siz­ing repeat­ed­ly the idea that Democ­rats are des­tined to lose in the 2022 Con­gres­sion­al elec­tions is noth­ing short of “buy­ing into a con­spir­a­cy.”

Speech­es through­out the night high­light­ed the recent sig­nif­i­cant gains by pro­gres­sive forces with­in the state of Penn­syl­va­nia, includ­ing the elec­tion of Pitts­burgh’s first Black may­or, Ed Gainey.

1Hood Media CEO Jasiri X attrib­ut­es these achieve­ments to Black vot­ers and advo­cates, form­ing coali­tions for the under­rep­re­sent­ed peo­ple of Pitts­burgh to ral­ly behind. Jasiri described 1Hood Medi­a’s mis­sion to be orga­niz­ing for nation­al elec­tions with eyes on local elec­tions. 1Hood Media rec­og­nized the open judi­cial seats com­ing up for elec­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia in 2021 and saw this as a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to make Penn­syl­va­nia pol­i­tics bet­ter rep­re­sent the con­stituents. As a result, five of the nine judi­cial seats were won by pro­gres­sive judges, all of whom were women, three being women of col­or. This is just one exam­ple of effec­tive orga­niz­ing at the nation­al and local lev­el in Penn­syl­va­nia, spear­head­ed by Black-led move­ments and coali­tions.

May­or Gainey fol­lowed by high­light­ing his admin­is­tra­tion as the most diverse to ever gov­ern Pitts­burgh. He also stressed the impor­tance that 17% of his team come from neigh­bor­hoods sur­round­ing the city, many of which still face the con­se­quences of seg­re­ga­tion. Gainey said that he remains com­mit­ted to includ­ing these under­served com­mu­ni­ties in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lee also focused on this issue, not­ing that under­rep­re­sent­ed com­mu­ni­ties are not giv­en the resources or the encour­age­ment to run for office them­selves, fur­ther per­pet­u­at­ing their lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion: “We looked up in Pitts­burgh and got tired of not see­ing our­selves rep­re­sent­ed. We got tired of being told to vote, vote, vote, but nev­er to run.” City Coun­cil mem­bers and State Leg­is­la­tures, pri­mar­i­ly white men, were “hold­ing seats in com­mu­ni­ties that didn’t look any­thing like them.”

Lee addressed the close call she faced in her pri­ma­ry elec­tion in Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s 12th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, but also assert­ed her faith in the work her cam­paign has accom­plished at the com­mu­ni­ty lev­el. Echo­ing W. Mon­dale Robinson’s open­ing words, Lee argued that we need to stop talk­ing about what’s at stake this Novem­ber and instead address the bar­ri­ers that exist in every elec­tion cycle.

Lee also believes that pro­gres­sives need to be hon­est and real about the peo­ple of both par­ties that are stand­ing in the way. Final­ly, she said that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty “can­not serve two mas­ters” and “can­not be the par­ty of the peo­ple and be the par­ty of corporations.”

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