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.”