(Photo by Hanae Mason)
Saturday afternoon at Netroots Nation, thousands gathered in the Terrace Ballroom of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to hear from four of the Democratic Presidential candidates — Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Governor Jay Inslee (WA).
The forum, moderated by Daily Kos founder Mark Moulitsas and Netroots Nation Board Chair Cheryl Countee, consisted entirely of questions either directly submitted or asked by the conference’s constituents and local Philadelphia community partners.
Following a welcome from Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilwoman Helen Gym addressed the crowd with a speech touching on Philadelphia’s and her own personal radical and grassroots history.
Calling it “the original city of rebels,” Gym described Philly as a model for the progressive movement leading the charge on criminal justice reform by its electing D.A. Larry Krasner and advancing the process of ending cash bail. She concluded with a call to action to progressives nationwide, “We will only get what we are organized enough to take. And if that’s a threat, expect us.” After a standing ovation for Gym, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown rounded out the pre-forum speeches with a few words about debunking the myth of the unelectability of candidates like himself who uphold progressive ideals and can still be competitive in major races.
Sen. Gillibrand was the first of the four candidates to take the stage and she spent the majority of her allotted time focusing on the issue of racial justice. Earlier this week, a clip went viral of Gillibrand explaining the concept of white privilege to a room of potential white supporters in Ohio. At Netroots, she reiterated how she intended to equalize institutional racism through supporting the legislation for a commission to consider reparations for African Americans, shutting down the immigration detention centers and for-profit prisons, and incentivizing climate and environmental justice.
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When local Latinx community activist Jasmine Rivera walked on-stage with her infant daughter to ask about the treatment of immigrants at the border, Gillibrand asked to hold the baby and described the lasting emotional impact of witnessing children as young as the one in her arms being detained in the facilities at the border when she visited earlier in the year.
She also included an anecdote about how one of her Black staffers was mistreated in a hotel on the campaign tour. “If I don’t understand that it is my responsibility to lift up her voice, to lift up the voices of black and brown Americans every day, then I’m not doing my job as a U.S. Senator and I’m not doing my job as a presidential candidate.”
The next candidate, Julian Castro said, “I’m not going to be the typical politician and hold the baby,” when another community member approached the stage also with her infant in tow. Relying on two of his stated preferred tools, compassion and common sense, Castro laid out his specific policy proposals for a range of issues from tax code reforms to gun violence, which he called a uniquely American issue with the lack of accessible and comprehensive mental health as its primary root cause.
When asked about climate change, Castro said his first official act as President would be to sign an executive order to recommit to the Paris Agreement and to create more jobs as part of a clean energy economy. As former head of HUD, Castro explained his robust housing plan that includes a housing voucher program and fair housing enforcement via the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. In response to a qustion regarding recent abortion bans, Castro explicitly shouted out trans and other LGBTQIA folks as overlooked in the fight for reproductive justice and was the only candidate to do so.
Sen. Warren entered the ballroom to a standing ovation and chants of her name.
A seven-time Netroots Nation attendee, Warren explained that the conference was instrumental to the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She continued by saying the progressive agenda was also most Americans’ agenda and that the efforts of grassroots organizers, whether online or in-person, was how power could best be reclaimed and used to improve the lives of all.
When protesters pushed her to speak about immigration, Warren became audibly choked up. “This is our moment to live our values and that means down at the border… We need to treat them (immigrants) with humanity, and we need to follow the law.” According to Warren, Big Tech should also be held to higher accountability by the law and she would create antitrust legislation to break up and regulate companies like Facebook and Amazon.
Kendra Brooks, Philadelphia public education advocate and City Council candidate, asked the senator about public education reform to which Warren responded, “I knew what I wanted to be as a second-grader — a public school educator.” She later fulfilled that dream as a special needs educator, which has informed her proposed plan to expand teachers union access and powers, fully and equitably fund all public schools, and increase accountability of charter schools.
As Warren walked off the stage, half of the room also made its exit before Governor Inslee, the final candidate, was even introduced.
“I’ll ask Megan Rapinoe to be Secretary of State,” he joked as he continued to insert moments of humor in between his two main talking points, his progressive record in his home state of Washington and his work on climate change.
As the Trump administration attempts to spin its stance on environmental issues, Inslee insisted that nominating a Democratic candidate that was strong on climate reform would be a clear path to the presidency. “We have to attack him at his weakest point, climate justice, and put the strongest candidate in that area against him.” Emphasizing that his extensive climate plan had already received the stamp of approval from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greenpeace, Inslee made it clear that he believed it should be him.
At the conclusion of Inslee’s time, moderators Moulitsas and Countee thanked all the candidates as well as all the attendees for a successful 14th annual convention.
This morning’s Interfaith Service marked the final official activity of this year’s Netroots Nation. The next one will be in Denver in 2020.-30-
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