I don’t know what I was expecting for my first Netroots Nation, but it certainly wasn’t the high level of awesome, mind-explosion, braingasm, authentic kindness that I found at this huge progressive gathering in Providence, RI. Here are 3 things I’m taking home with me.
1. Erica Payne is a force. I sort of want her to be Ruler of the World, but monarchy isn’t super progressive, I guess. Case in point: the panel in which she discussed what a new, better economy would look like. And, her explanation on Saturday’s panel of what happened to our economy (“It’s pretty simple in my opinion: a bunch of rich, privileged guys stole all our money.”) A person of action, she gave the audience Ben Bernanke’s office number (202-452-2955) and told us to call him and tell him Jamie Dimon shouldn’t be on the NY Federal Reserve Board of Directors. AND, in support of her personal mission to create way better progressive messaging, created this fabulous meme.
2. We’re not perfect. We still have work to do within our own movement. For instance, I heard people mention transgender equality and say the phrase “LGBT” approximately 1,384 times throughout the weekend. Those same people used the words “our sisters and brothers” and “men and women.” This language reinforces the idea of gender as a binary, with only two options. Because of my work with the Female Sexuality Workshop in the Community (FemSexComm), I’m hypersensitive to noticing gendered words and enjoy thinking critically about them. I propose useful alternative terms like “siblings” and “people.” Across all issues, let’s speak using language that reinforces our ideas and values.
I’m thrilled that we as a conference have a commitment to staying in hotels where workers are able to organize and bargain for better jobs and fair treatment at work. That said, imagine if our catered lunches mirrored our vision for a just food system rather than Kellogg’s-owned Pringles and apples flown in from Chile.
It’s a lifelong task to unlearn and improve these default modes of behavior and no person or organization is perfect, myself included. The same goes for the language that we use within our movement and how we as organizations spend our money to reflect what we value. I love that progressives are self-reflective, committed to critically challenging ourselves and working together across issues and identities. We also challenge our leadership and the status quo to be better. As Van Jones said in his closing keynote, to make change we need to “hold the president accountable to progressive values.” At NN2013, we could build upon what’s already exceptional by improving the way we talk the talk and walk the walk (or rather, eat the eats).
3. We can’t forget self-care in our work for social change. I didn’t actually do a great job of living this during the weekend. I stayed up late having overstimulating conversations with new friends and woke up early to keep the learning going. Regardless, now that I’m home I remain deeply convinced that finding personal sustainability and nurturing a positive relationship with ourselves is paramount for us as progressive activists to create a better world. Think I’ve been drinking the hippie water in the Bay Area for too long? You might be right, but read more about these smart social changemakers whose panel on radical forms of activism blew me away.
It was a privilege and a joy to be in Providence with a few thousand humans who believe in a more just world.
See you all next year in San Jose!