The annual Netroots Nation gathering has come and gone. A record number (2500 or so?) of progressive activists, operatives, politicians, staffers, and such were in attendance at the meeting in Providence. As usual, I was invigorated by last weekend’s activities. You see, unlike my youthful colleague Roya, I’m a veteran of these gatherings. The only one of the seven YearlyKos/Netroots Nation events I missed was YK2 (Chicago, 2007). In Rhode Island I was pleased to have quality time with longtime friends, and also to make new friends, connecting faces with names I’ve known for years.
Between Roya and me, we’ve more than adequately recounted Darcy Burner’s keynote, so there will be no further mention thereof. However, I do have one addition to Roya’s piece on criminal justice … identifying the principal speaker at the keynote. It was Ben Jealous, who has hugely revitalized and strengthened the NAACP in his short tenure as its President and CEO.
For the next several days, I’ll be visiting with an old and dear friend (we first met in our first college class, in September 1968) in the pleasurable small city of Keene, New Hampshire. It’s a bridge-time between NN12 and next weekend’s college reunion up in Hanover.
While the vibe of Netroots Nation is fresh, though, I’d like to offer a few observations about last weekend’s get-together in Providence:
- The city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island welcomed us enthusiastically. It’s a real advantage to be a small state in which nearly everyone is closely connected with everyone else. When US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a good friend of Angel Taveras, mayor of the state’s largest (and capital) city, things get done.
- Further evidence of our warm welcome was the always-spectacular WaterFire, wherein the city celebrates its revitalized downtown rivers with over 80 ceremonial braziers, unique music, boat processions, and civic engagement that inspires residents and tourists alike. Saturday’s WaterFire was held specifically to honor Netroots Nation.
- One of the major themes of the meeting was the widespread illegal practices of the banksters. Whether it was foreclosure fraud or peddling of “securities” they knew full well were worthless, or a thousand other outrages, banks and their enablers in Congress (to be fair, many in the executive branch have been (ir)responsible too) were repeatedly the targets of our enmity.
- In the “horse race” panel, where DailyKos elections experts offer up informed opinions on the upcoming cycle, I asked about WA-06. That’s the seat long held by Norm Dicks, who will retire after the current session of Congress. The only Democrat running to replace Dicks is Derek Kilmer, a good friend of mine and an absolutely top-drawer candidate. At least two self-funding Republicans are also running in WA-06. One of them, I’m told, wrote his campaign committee a half-million dollar check within days of forming it. Although the CD is ancestrally Democratic, I was somewhat taken aback when the panelists opined that those deep GOP pockets mean that the race is a tossup. I expect to have more to say about Derek and his campaign in the future.
- While perhaps not as star-studded as in some previous years, NN drew the likes of Paul Krugman; Elizabeth Warren; Bill McKibben; Cecile Richards (Planned Parenthood); Rich Trumka, Trevor Potter (Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC lawyer); Senators Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Ben Cardin; Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Keith Ellison. And, of course, all four of Rhode Island’s members of Congress — Senators Whitehouse and Jack Reed, Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline.
One item requires a few paragraphs of its own.
Netroots Nation was supposed to have been held in Providence last year. Instead, we went to Minneapolis. The reason for that switch is straightforward. In 2010, the hospitality industry union in Rhode Island, UNITE HERE Local 217, was involved in acrimonious contract talks with the Westin Providence. The hotel threatened pay and benefit cuts, and even fired some leaders of the union, prompting a strike. Local 217 asked Netroots Nation for its support by not coming to Rhode Island during their labor dispute. That request was honored, of course. More than that, though, it prompted many bloggers across the country to write about the union’s situation. The increased attention and publicity, along with UNITE HERE’s dogged persistence, eventually led to a new agreement with the Westin … with pay and benefits restored, and with fired workers rehired.
After that happy result, UNITE HERE joined the city and the Senator in opening its arms to Netroots Nation in 2012. Sure, members of the union tended our bars, cleaned our hotel rooms, provided our bagels and coffee. But they did it almost as friends, interacting with us as individuals (and vice versa). At one of the plenary sessions, a dozen or so members of Local 217 — some of whom had been pouring drinks just a couple of minutes earlier — stood on the stage with NN Chairman Adam Bonin, thanking our organization for its assistance by presenting him with a print of Providence signed by them and many of their union brethren.
One of the last Netroots Nation events was a “blogger breakfast” hosted by Local 217. Held on the top floor of the Providence Biltmore, another unionized hotel and an official NN12 hotel, it was their way of formally thanking the rank-and-file activists for our aid to the rank-and-file workers. We learned about other places, all around the country, where UNITE HERE continues to fight for its rights. And we heard from Providence City Council member Carmen Castillo, almost certainly the first elected official in a big city who works as a hotel housekeeper.
It was an inspiring event for me, particularly after I learned that UNITE HERE is, in part, a descendant of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. My paternal grandmother was a proud longtime member of the ILGWU. During and after that breakfast, I thought a lot about immigrants, about how unions have helped them become productive, functioning Americans. About how union membership led directly to their opportunity to fulfill the American Dream. About how those immigrants were able to buy homes and cars, to feed, clothe, and educate their children.
I’m a result of what unions did to build the success of America. I bet you, dear reader, are such a result too.