Now that the weather has cleared and I have dried out from yesterday’s visit to the Gateway Arch, the sessions of Netroots Nation ’16 are underway.
This year seems to be a bit more grassroots-oriented than the previous conferences I’ve attended. The exhibition hall seems somewhat smaller and the big names that I’ve heard in previous years (like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Howard and Jim Dean, Barbara Buono, Keith Ellison, Alan Grayson, Barney Frank, etc.) seem to be absent – although I’m looking forward to meeting New York progressive congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout tomorrow.
I attended four breakout sessions today. I’m not going to summarize them fully because frankly I don’t have the time or desire to do so (you’re welcome), but will give you some of the highlights.
There were about a dozen sessions running concurrently, so it was sometimes difficult to choose the one to attend. But for the first time slot, the session entitled Climate Messages that Work caught my eye. Given the disdain that our governor has for even addressing this problem, any way to improve our messaging would be beneficial.
It was somewhat strange to hear the all-white panel start off by pointing out that the climate change movement needs to be a cause for all racial and ethnic groups (remember Hurricane Katrina and all the white-owned Southern mansions that were destroyed? Neither do I.)
The panel was very statistically oriented with results of various surveys dominating the discussion. But it also translated that data into how we do messaging. For example, they pointed out that in their polling, climate change and carbon pollution rank lower in priority than clean air and water. How we frame the message is an important theme that I heard in other sessions as well. But regardless of how the message is worded, David Winkler of Project New America pointed out “the public [regardless of party] is way ahead of the elites when it comes to climate.” One of the pitfalls (to which I admit I’m guilty of) is that environmental activists who use a “sky is falling” approach tend to turn off those who are on the fence. The panel agreed that we need to moderate our message and not use fear which tends to demotivate people.
The second breakout session I attended was one of the most informative and useful ones I’ve been to in my five conferences. Titled Fear Trumping Reason: Reclaiming America’s Media from Right-Wing Media Manipulators, it started by plugging a documentary by filmmaker Jen Senko, entitled The Brainwashing of My Dad. It’s the story about how Roger Ailes and Fox “News” has systematically become an effective propaganda machine for the right wing. Here’s the trailer
Following Senko’s introduction, Erin and Dave Ninehouser of the HearYourselfThink Project discussed how this propaganda machine can be neutered, or at least mitigated. They discussed how Fox caters to inherent primal fears that we all have as humans to the detriment of our higher brain functions of rationality and reason. Interestingly, they presented a Fairleigh Dickinson survey that indicate that people who don’t watch any news are more informed than Fox viewers.
The Netroots Nation organizers are at the leading edge of addressing the issues that greatly impact the gay and transgender community. There are guidelines published on the correct use of pronouns and how to interact with our transgender brothers and sisters. Gender-neutral restrooms have been designated in the conference space. In a session entitled Religious Exemptions and Bathroom Panic: How to Defeat Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation, the panel discussed two major issues that plague our citizens even after marriage equality is settled. So-called “religious liberty” bills institutionalize discrimination, and bathroom bills that aim to send transgender people back into the closet. The so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” that the right-wing bigots have introduced in Congress is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a plethora of state-initiated bills that also aim to institutionalize discrimination.
One statistic that surprised me was the claim that 82% of Americans claim they have never met a transgender person. Of course, as it was pointed out, not every transgender person self-identifies as such, and that number may be incorrectly high. This may change after this ad is played during the Donald Trump coronation next week:
Rosi had directed me to the final breakout session of the day. Her friend Karen Gaffney of Raritan Valley Community College led a discussion on Moving Beyond White Guilt: How to Talk to Whites About Systemic Racism. To a large, predominantly white audience, Gaffney talked about the roots of racism and how it is indoctrinated into us from birth. She went on to discussing engaging white people into a productive discussion about race and how to chip away at some of those ideologies.
The afternoon keynote session was a panel from This Week in Blackness. Not coincidentally, this conference in St. Louis is being held a dozen miles from Ferguson where an unarmed black minor, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by Officer Darrell Wilson.
Quote of the session: “Black people are already living in Donald Trump’s America”
After a day of heavy information dumps and advocacy, Lizz Winstead, a co-founder of The Daily Show and organizer of Lady Parts Justice emceed a comedy show. Acts ranged from an abstinence-only parody to the trials and tribulations of a single black woman in New York City.