This week was a watershed moment for the Establishment Dems: Donna Brazile and Elizabeth Warren broke ranks this week by acknowledging the DNC needs to clean its house.
It makes me wonder if they will finally reach out a little more to those of us in the trenches of the Political Revolution.
As many of the Birdies know, I attended the People’s Summit held in Chicago in June this year. I did some live blogging from it, but I never did do a write up of the conference. I chose to do my write up at TOP because no one knew about the conference at TOP and I thought the education of it might be of value to readers over there. As it turned out, either I chose the wrong night to publish it, or else there was little interest in it because of all of the excitement being generated for Netroots Nation later in that summer. Follow me below as I republish the diary here, and I think some of the insights I got from it are still in play 5 months later.
People’s Summit 2017: Organizing, Energizing & Agitating Beyond Resistance
The Political Revolution… what is it?
Rev. Martin Luther KIng Jr.:
A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
“A revolution is coming – a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough – but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.
To borrow from some famous songwriters:
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out?
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
You say you’ve got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We are doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is, brother, you’ll have to wait
But you know it’s gonna be, all right.
Read more: John Lennon – Revolution Lyrics | MetroLyrics
I just got back from the People’s Summit where “Revolution” was played before the keynote programs in the Arie Crown theater at the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago. Because of it is a well-known Beatles tune and the 50th anniversary of the summer of love is this year, the song inspired many people, millennials and seasoned alike in the audience to sing and clap along.
The People’s Summit (PS is the acronym) was an organic conference arising from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Just a brief history: The first gathering of 3000 activists was held in Chicago last year. Contrary to what many may believe, Bernie Sanders didn’t organize the PS; it was organized without him by the National Nurses Union (NNU) and other grassroots activists groups such as 350.org. Among the speakers in 2016 were the Rev William Barber, the organizer of Moral Mondays; Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, and Rep Keith Ellison, who became Deputy Chair of the DNC in 2017. I am writing about it because I’m not aware of anyone here who attended the Summit and I’ve seen quite a few questions about it in the past few days.
To explain why it arose, I am borrowing a passage from Common Dreams that seems to fit:
..as RoseAnn DeMoro, executive directive of NNU (and one of Sanders’ picks for the DNC’s platform drafting committee), said ahead of the event, “Community organizing—on healthcare, the climate crisis and environmental pollution, poverty, income inequality, racial justice, immigration rights, affordable housing, student debt—has been underway for many years, far from the media spotlight.”
“A signal accomplishment of the Bernie Sanders campaign,” she said, “has been to highlight so many of these issues, through the vehicle of a national presidential campaign, and demonstrate the broad public support for real, transformative change.”
Fifty-one weeks later, the PS convened again (June 9-11) with more workshops, panel discussions and by more coalitions, such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), MoveOn.Org, African-Americans for Bernie, People for Bernie, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). The full list can be found here.
I had joined the DSA earlier this year and through them, I applied to attend the conference. A questionnaire was attached to the application, mainly to discern a few things: what interested me about the conference? What could I afford to pay? Did I need housing/lodging if I could not afford one of the FAIR hotels (which were not on the list, but they provided a link on the site)? Could I make a contribution to help defray lodging costs for others who couldn’t afford to attend and/or could not afford lodging? Those who couldn’t afford a hotel would be given a local dorm room (Chicago State and U of I-Chicago) for the nights needed and buses/shuttles would be provided to and from those dorms.
I was accepted and had arranged an Airbnb in Will County (a south suburban county in the Chicago Metro area), but as the time grew closer and the schedule began to fill out more, I realized that taking a METRA train that only ran every 2 hours was unwise as I planned to travel solo. Some of the programs and social events ran until midnight or later. A DSA rep had already been assigned to me to follow through on any questions I had over the phone, so I used her as a resource. She then put me in touch via text and e-mail with the local DSA volunteer who was assisting in arranging the logistics. I was able to get a last minute dorm room(s) and a roommate just even a couple of days before the Summit. To me, that was truly remarkable. The logistical details were e-mailed and if we still had questions, I could ask for additional info via text and/or e-mail and replies were fairly prompt. Via e-mail, I was able to print out my QR registration ticket.
DSA had arranged lodging via Chicago State University before the conference, then provided chartered buses to the McCormick Center to pick up the registration materials. Our bags contained the following: two drink tickets, badge/hangtags, an ID holder for the cell phone, a t-shirt (you requested your size there, but also had to indicate on the registration what size you likely needed for a head count), and a copy of Les Leopold’s Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.
In case you were wondering, here’s some data I obtained from the People’s Summit folks (data as of May 30st), based on applications filled out :
Total Applications: 3985
no- 2, 858
The stipends were provided by the Coalitions. The most were by the following:
People for Bernie
Under 18 (parents’ children): 2.8%
Avg is age 35.
PoC (AA, Native American, Asian, Islanders and mixed races): 54.1%
Prefer not to say: 5.9%
There were more who registered after May 30th. The number I have read somewhere is about 4300.
After registration, attendees dispersed to their various coalitions/education groups. I attended a DSA all-day workshop about grassroots organizing, collaborating with other organizations (such as PDA, Indivisible groups) around issues, such as rural outreach, Single Payer, DAPL/Keystone, and immigration resistance issues.
All discussions were respectful and folks typed notes into their laptops, phones, or wrote them down (as I did). We also talked about the growth of the DSA, which had jumped from 6,000 to 21,000 nationwide in the past year. About half of the room were 35 years old or younger. There were 200 attendees at that event.
DSA breakout group brainstorming ideas for state/regions, photo by Benny
Thomas Frank, author of Listen Liberal & journalist had just returned from the UK, covering the election for the Guardian, photo by Benny
Friday evening was the official kickoff, with visiting the various booths (a mix of independent media (The Real News, TYT, Free Speech TV–which featured Democracy Now–and all of the Independent media groups interviewed folks from the Progressive moment attendees) , groups such as Our Revolution, NNU, DSA, PDA, Sanders Institute, IL Green Party, the Jack Pine Radicals blog, and The Nation). Various food stations provided very nice hors d’oeurves and drinks (water, wine, beer, and soda). There were also book signings. I bought Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal and obtained his autograph.
I’d like to add here that all meals were included with the registration fee. I paid $100, but some others paid more, and those who couldn’t afford much got in for as little as $15. I contributed one night for the dorm rooms, but will contribute more to DSA to make up the difference.
Summiters Entering the Theater for the Evening Kickoff, photo by Benny
At the Arie Crown theatre, various speakers talked about the purpose of the Summit. I wasn’t able to attend much of the event events due to some logistics with my luggage, but the theatre, which seats over 4000 was packed and SRO. The energy level of the crowd was really high, chiefly from the results of the gains of the Labour Party in Thursday night’s election in the UK.
Texan Jim Hightower, publisher & editor of a progressive newsletter/podcast of The Lowdown with Jim Hightower, opened the evening with a welcome that set the tone. For those who don’t know him, he’s more akin to the late Molly Ivins in his humor and style (in fact, I got a selfie with him and we both wish Molly was still around). He’s better to hear in person as his Texas drawl makes one chuckle in listening to some of his populist jabs.
Jim Hightower, Giving the Welcome PS Lowdown
Hello Revolutionaries! I’ve been asked to be your welcoming speaker. So welcome to all of you corporate greed wackers & right-wing butt kickers! Welcome to the People’s Summit, the one political gathering in America where it is by the people and guess who for-the people. Indeed, we’re a room full of romping, stomping, unapologetic, unbought grassroots progressive agitators.
And as Jesse Jackson put it some years ago, “Be an agitator. Remember the agitators are the center post of the Washington machine that gets the dirt out, that’s what we’re after. “
So many of you are organizing, mobilizing at practically every level and zip code to reclaim the people’s democracy. We’re here not just to thump Trump, but to take on the power structure of the bosses, the bankers, the big shots, the bastards, and the bullshitters who are imposing their plutocracy, autocracy, and kleptocracy over us.
Last year the corporate media scoffed at us (as they did with Bernie Sanders) and thought we’d never last. A year later, we are not just surviving, but thriving, even in some of the red states. It’s not enough to be progressive, we need to get into the face of power. As we say in Texas, our politics need to be hotter than high school love.
Hightower then used his wit to describe the current Adminstration:
There’s a freak show going on in Washington. Whenever I hear about the latest of Trump’s tweets, I think to myself [about Trump] “100,000 sperm and you were the fastest? That can’t be possible!”
On that same link to Hightower’s opening are other speeches by Rose Ann DaMoro, Executor Director of the NNU, Jane Sanders of the Sanders Institute, Nina Turner of Our Revolution, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Maria Svart of DSA, Peter Knowlton of the United Electrical Workers, Hon. Chokewe Lumumba, newly-elected mayor of Jackson, MS, Carmen Perez of the Justice League, and Bill McKibben of 350.org, who introduced a film Waking the Sleeping Giant.
The next morning, a speaker known to many of us, Van Jones, gave a pre-lunch keynote. We didn’t expect much out of his speech as earlier in the year, he made some unfortunate laudatory comments about Trump looking presidential. But little did we know we were in for a bit of a surprise:
“The Hillary Clinton campaign did not spend their money on white workers, and they did not spend it on people of color. They spent it on themselves,” Jones told a packed house at McCormick Place in Chicago. “They spent it on themselves, let’s be honest.”
“Let’s be honest,” Jones continued. “They took a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, and set it on fire, and called it a campaign!”
“That wasn’t a campaign. That’s not a campaign.”
Jones continued, attacking the Clinton campaign’s reliance on consultants and polling data that proved to be wrong.
“A billion dollars for consultants. A billion dollars for pollsters. A billion dollars for a data operation, that was run by data dummies who couldn’t figure out that maybe people in Michigan needed to be organized.”
“And now they want us to fight about whether black folks or white workers or Latinos or any other group should get the money,” Jones said. “First of all, you need to give the money back to the people, period. Start with that. Start with that. Quit getting rich off people’s struggles,” Jones finished.
The Summit lasted for another 2 days, full of interesting panels and more breakout sessions. I was very impressed with the organizations on the ground with Iowa Concerned Citizens (ICCI)fighting DAPL, and other initiatives going on in West Virginia & Alabama. I was pleased too that the wi-Fi was excellent at McCormick. Bernie and Nina also gave barn burning speeches.
Bernie’s speech in summary: we are in this together, we always have been. We have the enthusiasm, the momentum to transform the political process. We can transform the campaign finance system via the grassroots.
So, will Donna Brazile and Elizabeth Warren hold hands with Bernie, Jeff Merkley, and Nina Turner more often? Stand up to the Establishment Dems who have run the party into the ditch financially and without integrity? I hope they will.