Netroots Nation has been around for more than a decade. It is an annual convention for progressive activists, originally organized by the Daily Kos community. Previously called YearlyKos, it was later re-named Netroots Nation. The event draws a few thousand attendees. I have always wanted to attend a Netroots conference, so was pleased to learn that our local Johnson County supervisor, Rod Sullivan, attended this year and wrote about his experiences for The Prairie Progressive.
Published with permission from the Summer 2019 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter.
by Rod Sullivan
Netroots Nation is very left-wing. Some of it is inspiring, some of it is frustrating, some of it is funny, and some of it is infuriating. Netroots Nation starts the first General Session with a member of a First Nations Tribe reminding everyone that the land upon which they are sitting was stolen from her people. That is basically it. No request, other than to please
acknowledge it. It was very powerful. Of less interest to me was that every large group session began with a couple of minutes of mindfulness. Not my bag.
The conference used completely gender-neutral restrooms. Remember Ally McBeal? It’s like that. I think I was one of many conference-goers who struggled with the etiquette. For
example, should men still use urinals in what used to be a men’s room? Or do you wait until the next stall is open? Many of us recognized that we often do more than just “go to the bathroom” when we go to the bathroom!
This was the largest Netroots Nation conference ever, drawing over 3,600 attendees. They made a point of emphasizing that this was their most diverse conference ever, and it showed. Only 26% of the presenters were non-disabled straight white males. The conference had a definite feeling of female empowerment throughout. I was particularly impressed by Saturday’s lineup of Congresspeople. The intro was by Rep. Barbara Lee,
who opened with “Wakanda Forever!” She noted that she was used to both being and voting alone in Congress. Lee was viciously attacked for her opposition to the Iraq War (she was the only vote against it); reading her words today, everything she predicted
Lee introduced a panel of Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar, and Deb Haaland to a rousing standing ovation (Haaland is not typically included in “the Squad,” but she is a powerful speaker). The timing here was interesting, as President Trump’s tweets attacking the Squad came the next morning. I admit, I teared up as each of these newer members saluted Lee for her mentorship. Talib said Lee quietly meets individually with every woman of color every single month. She offers them support that
she herself never received.
The makeup of Netroots Nation breaks down roughly into people from nonprofits (ACLU, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, etc.), groups like Act Blue and Move On, labor, political consultants, tech specialists, and journalists. Over the last couple of years, they have made a strong effort to include more local activists. There weren’t many elected
officials, though I spoke to a couple of Congressional campaign staffers who said candidates are beginning to realize that this is great training for campaign staff.
I came across only two Iowans besides myself. One, JD Schloten, sat on a couple of panels and did a GREAT job! Because this conference is full of political nerds, I became a minor celebrity simply being from Iowa. They all wanted to know which presidential candidates have good staff, who I have met personally, etc.
I mentioned the “techie” aspect of Netroots Nation. In reality, they could just as easily be running two separate conferences. Each breakout session had about ten trainings to choose from. Three were very specific to people with tech knowledge; seven were of more general interest. I focused on labor/economics/poverty in the sessions I attended. Much
of the discussion was a perfect fit for the issues that I work on every day as a County Supervisor. I attended sessions on local labor law, creating your own chapter of the Moral Majority, rural poverty, and the economics of the minimum wage, and I had a great conversation with the head of the universal basic income movement.
There is a certain amount of stargazing at Netroots. In addition to the elected officials that speak, the place is crawling with minor celebrities. I spoke with Joy Reid from MSNBC, who was very kind and funny. Former Attorney General Eric Holder was around, just
chatting people up. It was wild how nonchalant it all was. Of course, the conference ended with a Presidential Forum. Unfortunately for the other candidates, this was Elizabeth Warren’s crowd. Everything she said was greeted with loud applause, and when she was done, the room emptied. Poor Jay Inslee could not even be heard over the rush to get in
Warren’s selfie line.
My overall impression of Netroots Nation was quite positive. I know this was wrong of me, but I went in expecting to find many of the attendees insufferable. In fact, I am happy to admit I was wrong! Most of the people I met were wonderful. I am definitely interested in giving Netroots Nation another try.
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