A review of the 2017 People’s Summit and rebuttal of a far right critique
By Kerri Barber
The 2nd annual People’s Summit wrapped up in Chicago on Sunday. There were about 4,000 attendees from all across the country who came together, family reunion style, to share their experiences and learn new, effective approaches to organizing.
The three day event was organized around a series of courses meant to help groups return home with ideas to enrich their own efforts through a nation-wide network of related groups, each dedicated to a specific issue such as minimum wage, legal justice, access to education, Medicare for All and others.
The emphasis this year was on organization and network with little time devoted to actionable strategy. That topic was left to the local organizers to decide on a course that would be most effective where they reside. One group that was noticeably absent was Chicago’s own Black Lives Matter organization who had so many successes over the last year their contribution to the conversation was felt by many.
A Progressive Critique
The strongest critique of the program came from rural and suburban groups across various states who expressed frustration at the content geared toward urban centers. In our own Illinois break-out session, the presenter panel was comprised exclusively of Chicago action groups who naturally spoke from that perspective. Those in attendance from Champaign, Charleston, Sawyerville, Rockford, and McHenry, each with their own impressive achievements and programs, were frustrated as their organizing efforts were far advanced from what the Chicago panelists seem to believe. What these remote leaders were looking for was networking and engagement opportunities with neighboring groups like themselves.
This has been a common misunderstanding of what is seen as ‘elitism’ in urban organizations that fundamentally misunderstand the efforts of the rural counterparts and continue to miss key opportunities. This will be an ongoing struggle for Progressives who hope to prevent mimicking the errors of both the National and State political parties. There are no ‘fly-over’ states and no ‘throw away’ districts.
What the summit did provide was an opportunity to share ideas and find strength in numbers. The 4,000 participants represent a small fraction of our over 12 million strong membership. The experience of having so many faces, diverse backgrounds and positive interactions offered, what former Ohio State Senator and Sanders surrogate, Nina Turner, described as, “… rejuvenation and healing from a weary world.”
Turner was correct in that assessment. Despite the grueling three day schedule, participants were joyful and enthusiastic. Progressives, after all, value relationships and the dignity of the human experience above all else.
Rebuttlal to a Far-Right Observer’s Critique
Among the crowd were various new blog and network broadcast media outlets. Included, but not openly credentialed, was our own Algonquin Township Trustee Rachel Lawrence, who attended on behalf of WCKG 102.3 FM, home of the Alex Jones Show and other far-right commentators. She explains that she attended, “To hear it for herself,” and commented to me that the messaging from Senator Sanders and President Trump had, “a lot of overlap.” My response was simply that the key difference was, “one came from a place of anger and fear while this one comes from love.” The results of each foundation could not be more different.
Lawrence documented her observation via cell phone recording posted to the WCKG facebook page in a multi-part series. Her observations are reminiscent of someone who visits a foreign land, doesn’t speak the language, and prepared by reading guides written by others who had also never traveled there. Still, her perspective is an interesting look at how people from the far right view Progressives and what they get wrong when viewed through their own lens of the world.
She seems to be looking for an excuse to criticize what she cannot understand and cherry-picks quotes she finds provocative. This may be an effort to cater to the perceptions of her audience or nod toward her own confirmation bias. The value here is the opportunity presented by what she sees and clearly missed in her experience.
At one point, Lawrence comments that she is hiding her purpose out of fear. It is a valid concern after the tumultuous campaign season where violence had erupted. However, Lawrence and others may have missed Senator Sander’s response, “Violence is absolutely and totally unacceptable. If people are thinking about violence, please do not tell anybody you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, because those are not the supporters that I want.” Sanders was the only presidential candidate to make such a statement and repeat it often. We believed him then and acted accordingly to help check the behavior of our own.
In fact, Lawrence echoes the assumption that Progressives are comprised of Democratic Party members and seems surprised to hear the open criticism of the national party. Among participants at the People’s Summit were various groups across a wide political spectrum. Our own Progressive group in McHenry County (http://mchenrycountyprogressives.org/) includes many Republican, Independents and other party affiliations. Lawrence’s misunderstanding is shared by some urban and national organizers among the Progressive cause as well. The origins of Progressivism in this country are credited to the Republican Party in an effort to reduce wasteful spending, a tradition that holds today.
One example of this is the growing support for a Progressive cause, universal healthcare, among rural and suburban communities, areas considered ‘deeply red’ and Conservative strongholds. As Progressives, we reject the idea that Obamacare was the answer, seeing it as a call to mediocrity and view Trumpcare as worsening the situation, merely a greater nod toward corporate interest at the expense of working families and our most vulnerable.
Likewise, we reject the idea that Medicare for All is impossible, unworkable and will raise our financial burden. Data does not lie nor does it accept ‘free speech’ contributions from corporate lobbyists. As Progressives, we have done the objective research and choose instead to address the root cause of the problem – excessive wasteful spending and corporate handouts to entities that provide no value to achieving the goal of access to affordable, reliable and effective health treatment for all of our citizens. This, after all, is what it means to be a Progressive – identify and root out the problem at the source.
It is my hope that the experience Lawrence had will resonate for some time and that she will explore these ideas for herself as will those who view her commentary. Much like the viewing the stained glass windows of a rural church, the view from the outside is distorted and unflattering, but when viewed from inside without a barrier of separation, becomes a clear picture that tells a completely different story.
The truth is, we as working people, have far more in common politically and ideologically, than we realize. As Nina Turner repeated, “Poor and Asian, poor and black, poor and white, poor and Hispanic is still poor no matter what.” The barriers we erect between us are largely due to misconceptions. As Progressives, it is our business to remove these barriers for the prosperity of our neighbors, red, green or blue.