Last Friday, a crowd of over 1,000 protesters, bolstered by hundreds and hundreds of Netroots Nations attendees, filled the streets of downtown Detroit. An event that would likely have seen scant national coverage became a huge media story with reporting by the New York Times, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, Democracy Now!, the Los Angeles Times, and countless others. The attention the protest march and rally received, including a surprise main stage speech by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, helped propel the plight of Detroit residents to the national stage in a way that it never would have without the presence of the Netroots Nation conference and the outpouring of support from those who attended.
During the conference, the staff of Netroots Nation announced that the conference will be held in Phoenix, Arizona next year. Like they did in Detroit, Netroots Nation wants to make a difference in Arizona where immigration issues are in the forefront. Arizona activists immediately rejoiced, excited about the prospect of their daily battles being aided by the influx of progressive energy that the conference brings with it.
Despite this, Markos Moulitsas, publisher of Daily Kos, posted a piece the next morning before the conference had even ended declaring Daily Kos will NOT be attending:
I made very clear in the wake of Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 that I would not be setting foot in the state, nor spending a dime in it until the law was revoked. The law, however gutted by the courts, remains on the books, as does systemic harassment of Latinos, so my pledge still stands.
Markos believes that Latinos will be in danger of being arrested in Phoenix. While this seems like a very remote possibility to me, I understand and respect his decision.
I, however, WILL be there.
Why? Because I have seen the power Netroots Nation brings to the progressive fights that are being waged in the states where the conference lands. Having served on the host committee for the conference this year, I know that the staff of Netroots Nation is intent on using the power of their conference to help causes and, starting with Detroit, they are choosing their locations specifically so that they can have that impact.
During a panel about Emergency Management in Michigan, Detroit activist and chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization Maureen Taylor thanked Netroots Nation and the attendees for coming to Detroit to shine a light on their fight. Later, during a keynote presentation on the Detroit water shutoff situation, she told the audience that, thanks to the massive protest, her group had finally gotten a meeting with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
This morning we learned that the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department has imposed a 15-day moratorium on further shutoffs.
Given these tangible results, you can easily understand why Detroit activists are so thrilled Netroots Nation came to their beleaguered city.
Similarly, Arizona activists are thrilled at the prospect. Here’s Mother Mags, a noted Arizona activist, on Daily Kos:
Let’s clear up one thing: Phoenix ain’t Arizona! It’s not even Maricopa County. Sheriff Joe Arpaio would never win an election if it were up to Phoenix, Tempe or Scottsdale, and SB 1070 would never pass. Sure, we have homegrown nutballs, but it’s mostly old farts escaping cold winters, who settle in places like Sun City, that keep that asshat in office, and who turn our legislature a crazy-ass shade of red. […]
I get it, but the piling on of hatred toward Arizona in some of the comments last night was disheartening. “It’s not safe for brown people to walk around.” Sheesh, in many places it’s mostly brown people walking around! Yes, Arpaio is still on the job, but he’s been neutered by recent court rulings and, trust me, there’s a young crop of Latino leaders and other progressives on the horizon, and the rest of SB 1070 will be gutted.
If you wanna talk about principle, go for it, but don’t paint an entire state with a brush that’s been dipped in misinformation and stereotype.
If a shitty law was sufficient for not going to a city with a progressive conference, Netroots Nation would never have been in Detroit. We have a requirement for RAPE INSURANCE for crying out loud! We are a right to work for less state. On nearly every progressive issue you can name Michigan has a law that goes against everything we as liberals believe in.
Markos has said that he “won’t spend a dime on a state that has codified overt racism”. If “codified racism” is a show-stopper for you, look no further than Michigan with its racist, anti-democratic Emergency Manager law:
Image courtesy of The Rachel Maddow Show, used with permission
I respect those who decide not to go. My concern is that there are those won’t reciprocate that respect for those of us who will attend. I have heard someone say that the decision to go or not go will “separate the wheat from the chaff”. It is my sincere hope that this attitude is held by a very tiny minority because we all make personal decisions in these matters and very reasonable people can disagree.
My decision to attend does not make me “chaff”.
Markos himself echoed this hope in a follow-up post this afternoon:
I don’t care if you go or don’t go. I won’t think better or worse about you regardless of what decision you make. But organizationally, I won’t spend a dime on a state that has codified overt racism. If you disagree, that’s fine! If you agree, that’s fine! You get to make that call.
What WILL make me think less of you is if you outright disregard the real fears and anger that SB 1070 generates among people of color. I can concede that there are two genuine sides to this issue, that both the arguments for and against attending are valid, and that we can make our own choices on the matter and not be “wrong”. Don’t be a pompous ass to people of color and sympathizers on an issue that cuts so deeply and emotionally, because really, just don’t.
On the other hand, don’t be an asshole to those who want to attend, because there are valid reasons for doing so as well.
While I disagree with Markos on much of his rhetoric on this issue, we are in agreement on this. We can not — MUST not — allow this to divide us as a movement. We’re bigger than that.
And, despite my personal abhorrence for hot, dry weather – Phoenix in July, YIKES! – I will stand shoulder to shoulder with local activists with sweat pouring down my bald head to support whatever action they engage in during the conference just like the Netroots Nation community did for us here in Michigan while they were in Detroit.
I hope you’ll join me.
UPDATE: It has been suggested that I am implying that the march and rally would have been nothing without the involvement of Netroots Nation participants. Let me be clear about this: NOTHING could be further from the truth. I have nothing but huge respect for the fierce warriors of Moratorium NOW!, DemocracyMovement.us, the Detroit Water Brigade, and the other hard working activists of Detroit. Netroots Nation’s involvement brought additional attention to their effort and participated as allies during their visit. I have and will continue to support the work of these groups because they are heroes in this fight. I connected with many of them during the conference to help in that effort.
Photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog