Netroots conference aims to build progressive movement

Green for All founder Van Jones
Cheryl Contee
James Rucker

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

A former White House advisor says a new “hope and change” national movement is now needed, especially if President Barack Obama is reelected in 2012.
“I’ve been all over this country this past year…and people are ready to stand up again to invest in this country,” Green for All founder Van Jones told the Netroots Nation Conference last Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. He was among several keynote speakers during the four-day progressive activist conference.
“We have a common enemy, and we face a common peril,” continued Jones. “The common thread that we all face is that we have forces now gaining momentum in our country. They are committed to killing the American Dream, which is simply the idea that hard work should pay in our country.
“You should be able to get up in the morning in America and, if you are willing, walk out your front door and go to a dignified job and put in a good day’s work and come back home with a paycheck to feed your family and give your children a better life. That’s the American Dream.”
Then, in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama introduced a “meta-brand…and we all affiliated to it” looking for change, explained Jones. Almost immediately after his election, the Tea Party followers used a similar meta-brand strategy, which later proved successful in the 2010 mid-term elections.
“It wasn’t about a person or a single individual, but about a principle of liberty in their mind,” said Jones of the Tea Party strategy, adding that the conservative coalition shares “an open source meta-brand.”
“It’s not just the Tea Party, but also the Republican majorities in the U.S. House and state legislatures nationwide,” said Jones. “We have dream killers who have a wrecking ball agenda for our country. They painted that wrecking ball red, white and blue.”
Amidst a rousing ovation from the conference crowd, he said, “It’s time for deep patriots to stand up to the cheap patriots,” proposing a new “American Dream movement.”
“Let this be the summer where we have house meetings all over America to talk about  this American Dream and what we want it to mean — a people’s agenda,” urged Jones, who this week launched a new website: Rebuildthedream.com. He also will host a conference this fall.
“We’ve got to start this movement today. We can no longer rely on a single, charismatic individual, because people are fallible and let you down.”
Said Courtney Rose Harris, Washington, D.C., of Jones’ address, “I think Rebuilding the Dream is going to be a great way…to create long-lasting change beyond a campaign season.”
“He is speaking to the feelings of the majority of Americans,” noted Abel Habtegeorgis of Oakland, California after the Jones speech.
“We definitely need to be unified like the Tea Party is unified,” added Brooke Obie of Washington, D.C.
“It’s time for us to have a movement that stands on deeper patriotism rather than cheaper patriotism,” Jones told the MSR afterwards.
Although billed as a national gathering of online progressive activists, Netroots Communications Director Mary Rickles explained, “It’s not just bloggers. It’s a combination — community organizers, labor people, bloggers, and people who work for organizations that use online media.”
Rickles reported that at least 2,400 people registered for last week’s conference, but by the MSR’s estimate only 100 or so were Black. Does the progressive movement include Blacks, and if so, why aren’t more seen at such conferences as Netroots?
“The progressive movement often takes the Black folk for granted,” a Black female participant (name withheld upon request) pointed out.
“I’m a progressive,” U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) proudly admitted. She and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun were among several Black female panelists at last week’s conference.
“I’ve been involved in bits and pieces of the progressive movement,” noted Marcus Mills of Minneapolis, a first-time conference attendee. “I came because I wanted to see what this was all about. It was the first time I’ve heard about it.”
Elon James White, a Brooklyn, New York comedian, hosted two morning news and opinion sessions last week. He admitted that such conferences mostly involve White liberals. “A lot of times when White progressives speak on things, they speak on it like they are the entire progressive community or the entire Democratic base. We have to make sure that our voices are heard.”
“We definitely need to seek out more opportunities to come together and diversify the view of the progressive voter,” noted first-time conference attendee L. Jay Williams, also from New York.
“I know that they [progressive Blacks] are out there,” said Netroots board member and 2011 agenda selection team member Cheryl Contee. She co-facilitated an all-Black caucus at the conference attended by about 50 people.
“We tried to make sure that the African American caucus was not just dialogue but actually talking about how can we work together to move across some of our priorities. The African American caucus clearly was larger [than previous years],” added Contee.
“There [were] more Black people in this room than I have seen in the meetings I have been to in the past six months,” remarked Color of Change.org founder James Rucker after the nearly two-hour all-Black meeting.
While attending the caucus and the conference, Jasiri X of Pittsburgh, Pa. also toured the city’s North Side and participated at a fundraiser for Cub Foods workers who are being sued for trying to organize fellow workers. “I didn’t even know a tornado had hit Minneapolis at all, let alone specifically the Black community,” said the young musician.
“That was the first time I’ve seen the aftermath of a tornado. It was definitely shocking. “I’m glad I just didn’t stay downtown or in the convention center, but I actually got to see the community,” he said.
Netroots Foundation board member Jenifer Fernandez Ancona said a concerted effort to include diverse voices was a goal for this year’s conference. “It is so much different than four years ago,” she recalled. “We made sure that the issues that these communities were speaking to were reflected in the program.”
“We have been working ever since the conference ended last year on improving diversity,” added Rickles.
Finally, Jasiri concluded after hearing Jones’ speech, “We need a mass movement of people to really go out and attempt to make a change if we are going to see a better condition for all of us.”

MSR intern Onika Nicole Craven also contributed to this story. Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

A former White House advisor says a new “hope and change” national movement is now needed, especially if President Barack Obama is reelected in 2012.
“I’ve been all over this country this past year…and people are ready to stand up again to invest in this country,” Green for All founder Van Jones told the Netroots Nation Conference last Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. He was among several keynote speakers during the four-day progressive activist conference.
“We have a common enemy, and we face a common peril,” continued Jones. “The common thread that we all face is that we have forces now gaining momentum in our country. They are committed to killing the American Dream, which is simply the idea that hard work should pay in our country.
“You should be able to get up in the morning in America and, if you are willing, walk out your front door and go to a dignified job and put in a good day’s work and come back home with a paycheck to feed your family and give your children a better life. That’s the American Dream.”
Then, in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama introduced a “meta-brand…and we all affiliated to it” looking for change, explained Jones. Almost immediately after his election, the Tea Party followers used a similar meta-brand strategy, which later proved successful in the 2010 mid-term elections.
“It wasn’t about a person or a single individual, but about a principle of liberty in their mind,” said Jones of the Tea Party strategy, adding that the conservative coalition shares “an open source meta-brand.”
“It’s not just the Tea Party, but also the Republican majorities in the U.S. House and state legislatures nationwide,” said Jones. “We have dream killers who have a wrecking ball agenda for our country. They painted that wrecking ball red, white and blue.”
Amidst a rousing ovation from the conference crowd, he said, “It’s time for deep patriots to stand up to the cheap patriots,” proposing a new “American Dream movement.”
“Let this be the summer where we have house meetings all over America to talk about  this American Dream and what we want it to mean — a people’s agenda,” urged Jones, who this week launched a new website: Rebuildthedream.com. He also will host a conference this fall.
“We’ve got to start this movement today. We can no longer rely on a single, charismatic individual, because people are fallible and let you down.”
Said Courtney Rose Harris, Washington, D.C., of Jones’ address, “I think Rebuilding the Dream is going to be a great way…to create long-lasting change beyond a campaign season.”
“He is speaking to the feelings of the majority of Americans,” noted Abel Habtegeorgis of Oakland, California after the Jones speech.
“We definitely need to be unified like the Tea Party is unified,” added Brooke Obie of Washington, D.C.
“It’s time for us to have a movement that stands on deeper patriotism rather than cheaper patriotism,” Jones told the MSR afterwards.
Although billed as a national gathering of online progressive activists, Netroots Communications Director Mary Rickles explained, “It’s not just bloggers. It’s a combination — community organizers, labor people, bloggers, and people who work for organizations that use online media.”
Rickles reported that at least 2,400 people registered for last week’s conference, but by the MSR’s estimate only 100 or so were Black. Does the progressive movement include Blacks, and if so, why aren’t more seen at such conferences as Netroots?
“The progressive movement often takes the Black folk for granted,” a Black female participant (name withheld upon request) pointed out.
“I’m a progressive,” U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) proudly admitted. She and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun were among several Black female panelists at last week’s conference.
“I’ve been involved in bits and pieces of the progressive movement,” noted Marcus Mills of Minneapolis, a first-time conference attendee. “I came because I wanted to see what this was all about. It was the first time I’ve heard about it.”
Elon James White, a Brooklyn, New York comedian, hosted two morning news and opinion sessions last week. He admitted that such conferences mostly involve White liberals. “A lot of times when White progressives speak on things, they speak on it like they are the entire progressive community or the entire Democratic base. We have to make sure that our voices are heard.”
“We definitely need to seek out more opportunities to come together and diversify the view of the progressive voter,” noted first-time conference attendee L. Jay Williams, also from New York.
“I know that they [progressive Blacks] are out there,” said Netroots board member and 2011 agenda selection team member Cheryl Contee. She co-facilitated an all-Black caucus at the conference attended by about 50 people.
“We tried to make sure that the African American caucus was not just dialogue but actually talking about how can we work together to move across some of our priorities. The African American caucus clearly was larger [than previous years],” added Contee.
“There [were] more Black people in this room than I have seen in the meetings I have been to in the past six months,” remarked Color of Change.org founder James Rucker after the nearly two-hour all-Black meeting.
While attending the caucus and the conference, Jasiri X of Pittsburgh, Pa. also toured the city’s North Side and participated at a fundraiser for Cub Foods workers who are being sued for trying to organize fellow workers. “I didn’t even know a tornado had hit Minneapolis at all, let alone specifically the Black community,” said the young musician.
“That was the first time I’ve seen the aftermath of a tornado. It was definitely shocking. “I’m glad I just didn’t stay downtown or in the convention center, but I actually got to see the community,” he said.
Netroots Foundation board member Jenifer Fernandez Ancona said a concerted effort to include diverse voices was a goal for this year’s conference. “It is so much different than four years ago,” she recalled. “We made sure that the issues that these communities were speaking to were reflected in the program.”
“We have been working ever since the conference ended last year on improving diversity,” added Rickles.
Finally, Jasiri concluded after hearing Jones’ speech, “We need a mass movement of people to really go out and attempt to make a change if we are going to see a better condition for all of us.”

MSR intern Onika Nicole Craven also contributed to this story. Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to chall
man@spokesman-recorder.com.