The 99%

The mood was sour last week at Netroots Nation 2012, the seven year-old gathering of progressive political activists who have come together, and come of age, online.

Two days before they arrived for the four-day conference in Providence, Rhode Island, Wisconsin voters opted to keep Scott Walker, the embattled Republican governor who laid waste to collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and cops. His victory was aided by enormous amounts of out of state money, the result of 2010’s Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision that said corporations are people, so they have First Amendment rights to unfettered free speech (which in practice means they can spend huge sums anonymously through Super-PACs).

Netroots Nation 2012
AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumka; the Agenda Project’s Erica Payne; Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman and Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance director. Moderator: Demos’ Heather McGhee

Adding to the gloom, President Obama told a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Predictably, Republicans were outraged. That did nothing to cheer the Netroots Nation.

The heroine of the ninety nine percent, and architect of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, had lost her voice by the time she spoke Saturday. She went through the motions, but was largely uninspiring. She was obviously tired and her voice was hoarse when she gave a paint-by-numbers stump speech. It was cotton candy: sweet and filling, but completely without substance. The crowd wanted more.

Luckily, Van Jones was there. This guy is Superman. Except, there’s not a phone booth big enough to hold all his uniforms. Civil- and eco-rights activist, attorney, best selling author and former adviser to the president on the emerging Green Economy, Jones is quintuple threat. But, mostly he’s a realist. And somehow, he managed to cheer this group up.

He told them that he was obviously raised wrong, because his parents taught him that police officers, firefighters and teachers were heroes, not villains. He was surprised to learn they had caused the economic crisis and were being punished by having their pensions–and the ability to collectively negotiate any new contracts–cancelled.

And he told them to pick their eyes up off the ground, and to stop complaining about the Wisconsin loss and a president who isn’t as progressive as they’d hoped. He said you have to get in the game. You can’t stay out of Wisconsin where the governor outspent his opponent 30 to 1, and just wish the outcome was different. You have to be there on the ground. He said, memorably, “Democracy is not an app.” You have to get your head out of Facebook and actually participate. I thought he was a pretty good forward thinker in 2005 when he co-founded the African American online advocacy group Color of Change. I wasn’t surprised when President Obama picked him to spearhead their Green Economy initiative. And I wasn’t surprised when the Right went after him and he graciously resigned rather than making the White House fight for him. I was sure about him when he founded Green For All, the non-governmental agency “building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” My only surprise came this weekend when I–and about 3500 other people–learned how personally he takes the success of all our people and our country.

The other person who always cheers up a gathering is former Congressman Alan Grayson. He’s the guy who famously said the Republicans already have a healthcare plan: “Don’t get sick.” His website isn’t “CongressmanWithGuts.com” for nothing! They beat him in his Orlando district in 2010, when Democrats lost everywhere, but the polls say they won’t beat him this November.

I ran into him as he was being interviewed by one of the best progressive talk show hosts on the radio, Sirius XM’s Matsimela Mapfumo-Mark Thompson, who was midstream in his nightly Make It Plain show. It was the Congressman with guts and the talk show host with heart (and plenty of guts) talking solutions and hope at a time when seemingly everyone else was talking despair.

Thompson, by the way, is a uniquely American voice: schooled as a pastor, he has a preacher’s cadence and patience. Usually slow and sweet with his callers, he is also fully capable of switching identities without a phone booth. One caller who thought Thompson “paranoid” for wondering if/when he and his 10 year-old son would be stopped and frisked by NYC police near their Harlem home, got more than he expected. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, fool,” the host protested with more than a little edge in his voice. “Y’know paranoia is a deluded mental condition. You’re closer to that than I am.”

By Saturday night, NN12, as they call it, was winding down and the rag tag coalitions that make up the 99%, the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural stew, was bubbling with hope again. They just needed to get together, and get back to their roots.

© 2012 Jon Sinton Progressive Agenda LLA

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Image: by Neeta Lind from her flickr photostream and used with creative commons license.
Jon Sinton

Jon Sinton

Jon Sinton is an Atlanta-based serial media entrepreneur and writer. He was the founding president of Air America Radio, is a radio syndicator, and co-founder of the nonprofit Progressive Voices Institute Inc, whose smartphone app, Progressive Voices, aggregates everything watched, read and heard in the progressive world, and puts it in all one place on the Mobile Internet. ProgressiveVoices.com @jonsinton @progvoices