Events — May 12, 2012 at 9:37 am

LIVEBLOG – Michigan Summit 2012


Energizing. Engaging. Winning.

I’m at the Michigan Summit in East Lansing today, soaking up a healthy dose of progressive energy, to connect with other progressives and to listen to some amazing activists share their wisdom about our path ahead together.

The organizational showcase is packed full of progressive organizations:

The day opens with a plenary session with introductions by Amanda Stitt and Art Reyes from Michigan Voice, Elaine Mejia from Public Works: the Center for the Public Sector, and panelists AFL-CIO president Karla Swift, Rick Carter from Flint Area Congregations Together (FACT), and Anika Fassia from Public Works.

Elaine Mejia talked about reframing how we talk about government and how we tell the story of Michigan. Their studies show that when you engage people by getting them to tell their own Michigan story and ask how government structure can be used to encourage people to work together to solve our shared problems, participants feel more engaged. What comes out of the process is more effective at getting people to work together to solve problems.

Amanda Stitt shared what she called The Michigan Narrative. Developed by Public Works, it’s the product of countless interviews and the input of people from around the state. It’s too long to reproduce here but I’ll share it in a future post.

Anika Carter shared an example of how use of The Michigan Narrative in working for change in enhancing racial equity. Starting with a conversation about what people love about the state, it helped her to move into a conversation about how we can work together to make sure “The Michigan We Love” is something that ALL Michiganders have access to and can share & participate in.

Rick Carter shared how his organization worked to engage clergy members from around the state in bringing to light the issues our state faces. They formed a group called Michigan Prophetic Voices to train clergy members on how to implement The Michigan Narrative model and use this powerful tool to be more successful.

Karla Swift talked about the labor movement’s five priorities at the moment: jobs, broadening the movement to include more non-labor allies, repositioning the movement to talk more about workers rather than unions, building memebership, and to be more engaged and effective electorally. AFL-CIO is going on offense on the jobs issue and in protecting collective bargaining rights of Michigan workers. Their Michigan 2012 Jobs Plan uses The Michigan Narrative model implicitly and throughout the Plan.

This session ended with discussions at each table about how The Michigan Narrative model can be used in our individual work with audience members then sharing their thoughts.

Next up: breakout sessions. There are three: People-Powered Democracy, Our Vote, Our Voice, and A Progressive Approach to Investing in our Future. I’m attending the first, a discussion on organizing for corporate accountability, collective bargaining rights, and the Occupy Movement are linked.

The People-Powered Democracy session is moderated by Chris Michalakis of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. The panelists are (left to right) Adam Smith of Public Campaign, Jessica Kelton from the Occupy Movement, Ryan Bates from the Alliance for Immigrant Rights/Michigan Organizing Project, and Ken Brock of Protect Our Jobs.

Ken Brock gave an overview of the history of the attempts to destroy the Labor Movement in Michigan. “Every step of the way, collective bargaining is a democratic process.”

Adam Smith shared his group’s work to get money out of our elections. He also talked about. He pointed out that all of our progressive battles are all related and often come down to campaign financing by corporations. He gave the example of immigrant rights grops teamed up with other groups in Arizona to recall Russell Pearce, the author of their odious “Papers, Please” law. “We can’t compete with [the] kind of money in campaigns after Citizens United, so we must work together.”

Jessica Kelton is a professor of Economics at Lansing Community College. She talked about how we are all, in essence, small business owners. What we “sell” is our labor. She asked, “Did Occupy awaken ‘We the People’?” According to her, the General Assemblies of the OWS process revived a way to bring together people from a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints and give them a voice they wouldn’t have had otherwise. DEMOCRACY IN ACTION! Jessica says that the Occupy movement itself is at the nexus of nearly all of our progressive battles — all of which can be traced back to ECONOMIC INEQUALTY. She says that we are at a rare place where we have a “nimble economy” which presents us with an opportunity to effect major changes NOW! So, to answer her question, YES!, the Occupy movement has awoken ‘We the People’ and we have a rare chance to change things for the better.

Ryan Bates began his work after being laid off without warning and without being paid. He told a story about campaigning with ACORN to raise the minimum wage. A waitress he met knocking doors had just been evicted and ripped off by her landlord. On the verge of living out of her car with a sick baby, she gave him one of her last few dollars. “Telling you my story,” she told him, “Makes me realize that if we are going to succeed and win, we must do so together.” Ryan taled about his work with Occupy Our Homes and the 99 Percent Spring trainings has shown how to build power and create change by working with a multitude of groups and attacking problems from multiple angles.

Chris Michalakis: “Corporations don’t fund campaigns, they INVEST in them!” It’s the concentration of wealth and power that we are fighting against, he told us.

Coming up next: the lunchtime Keynote speeches by George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action and Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. You can watch the livestream HERE starting at noon.

Our first keynote speaker is George Goehl:

George has been an organizer and strategist for 17 years, crafting city, state and federal campaigns on issues ranging from preventing foreclosures, outlawing predatory lending and advancing immigration reform.

Under George’s leadership National People’s Action has helped lead the fight to hold big banks accountable, advance financial reform and prevent foreclosures. He is a co-founder of The New Bottom Line, a national alignment designed to restructure our relationship with Wall Street and the financial sector, and advance a vision of a more equitable and sustainable economy.

“We have the opportunity to make this a transformative moment.”

“We have, in many ways, underestimated the power of this moment.”

“We can allow ourselves to completely rethink how things can be.”

“Our expectations have been so lowered that we’ve, in some ways, forgotten how to think big.”

“We have to challenge ourselves to look at things with The Beginner’s Mind.”

George gave us four ways we can improve:

1. Engage in the battle for Big Ideas.
“We need to start expecting more from corporations.”

2. We need to work together better.
We need to focus on the mission, not the organization.

3. We need to more directly challenge the corporate sector in this economy.
We haven’t been as hard-hitting on corporations as we have been on government. Wall Street crashed the economy, not the government. Corporate fat cats LOVE that we are fighting our government and not them.

4. We need to match up the power of our action with the power of our convictions.
“We need to lose our fear of being truth tellers.”

“We need more people involved in non-violent, direct action.”

“Non-violent, direct action not only transforms relations of power, it transforms the human spirit.”

Our next speaker is Barbara Arnwine:

A leader in the civil rights community, Ms. Arnwine’s contributions on critical justice issues include the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1991. As a graduate of Scripps College and Duke Law School, she continues to champion civil rights issues.

In 1995, Ms. Arnwine led a delegation to the NGO Forum and Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In 2001, she helped draft provisions of the Program for Action of the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

A fiery speaker, Barbara talked about how, thanks to 25 million staying home in 2010, the Neanderthal-thinking conservatives snuck into Congress and immediately started passing voter restriction laws. The main victims are African Americans, Latinos, and students with collateral damage to the handicapped.

“We have always been in this country, a fight of two visions,” she told us. One is a vision of a white male dominated society.

“When they talk about taking our country back, always ask them to WHEN!”

The other vision is one of openness, equality, economic justice and opportunity for all. Those that hold the first vision are counting on those who hold the second to be inattentive and to feel powerless.

“But they didn’t count on US!!!”

“If they are going to try to reduce the voter registration rolls, then we will register MORE voters.”

She said that, when her son turned 18, the very next week, his Selective Service card arrived in the mail.

“Why can’t his voter card be sent automatically, too?!”

Next on the agenda: The Volunteer of the Year. The five finalists are:

Jim DeNardis from We Are the People Michigan.
Jose Franco from One Michigan.
Brandon Jessup from Michigan Forward.
Gail Spencer from AFT Michigan
Molly Sweeney from Detroit Action Commonwealth.

And the winner is …


Three afternoon breakout sessions are next: Movement Building, Voting is Power: Mobilizing in 2012, and Effective Usage of Social Media as an Organizing Tool. I’ll check in on that last one, of course ; )

The Effective Usage of Social Media as an Organizing Tool breakout/training session is being done by Joshua Pugh and Chad Cyrowski of Progress Michigan with help from Jesse Lee, the White House Director of Progressive Media & Online Response.

The audience is a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds.

Chad told the audience that achieving high Google page rank and search engine optimization (SEO) scores relies heavily on links to your website from other sites. The more popular the site linking to you is, the bigger the impact.

For twitter: “Follow as many people as you can handle in your timeline and start producing original content immediately.

Integrating your message/voice across all platforms should be a key part of your social media strategy.

“Digital media will never replace person-to-person activism. It only assists it.”

Don’t rely on just one social/digital type. Use several and target the ones that are best for your particular campaign.

The final comments of the day come from Jesse Lee from the White House. He said that Michigan plays an important role in being on the front lines of progressive action. It’s important, he told the audience, for us to continue working for change.

“A lot of people thought in 2008, ‘We’ve reached the finish line, we can relax a little bit.’ It turns out that wasn’t the lesson at all.”

Jesse reminded us of the many and historic achievements of the Obama administration including health insurance reform, clean energy investments, advocacy on LGBT rights, and others.

“We now have fuel-efficiency standards that were inconceivable a decade ago. I know because I was in the Speaker’s office and nobody was conceiving them!”

He urged us to take a look back and appreciate how far we have come with regards to a number of progressive issues and to be sure we are doing all we can to make sure President Obama gets a second term.

“There’s going to be a lot of distractions and a lot of politics floating around,” he told us. But they are asking us for one more big push. “If you fight with us on this, we promise the President will be right there with you, fighting by your side.”

With that, we have a wrap. Another great Michigan Summit. Kudos to Progress Michigan and the many folks that made it happen.