Netroots New Orleans: The Seas Are Rising but so Are the People

“the seas are rising… but so are the people”  – Colette Pichon Battle at Netroots Nation 2018

I had heard about past Netroots Nation events, so when I realized the 2018 conference was coming up in New Orleans, I jumped at the chance to attend. Some say it is one of the best opportunities to network with and learn from Progressive political leaders and organizers, and this year’s conference did not disappoint. As someone who has only recently gotten directly involved in organizing, I found the speakers inspirational and training sessions invaluable.

Netroots Nation attracts attendees from all over the country, and even a few from overseas. Alabama politics has gotten more than a little attention about our campaigns since the special senate election last December, so it was fun to be able to say we were from Alabama without others wondering why we would be there. Progressives from other deep-red states will understand what it means to be welcomed – and even celebrated – as a peer rather than some strange bird that has no chance of long-term political success. The outpouring of encouragement for growing our movement in Alabama was invigorating, a good way to pump up my enthusiasm for the long haul to the general election in November and beyond.

Progressive voters in the South can easily fall into a funk of “I must be the only one in my neighborhood” but our ranks are rapidly growing. Hometown Action is finding progressives ready to work together for sustainable change in our small towns and rural communities, not just in the expected (and historic) spaces like Birmingham and Montgomery. Several education sessions and speakers at Netroots Nation reinforced that our organization is on the right track by organizing around issues, with our deep canvassing techniques. People-centered, place-based approaches and collaboration lead to better outcomes. Members of a community may not agree on every issue, but odds are they have some common goals and interests that will benefit all citizens. We absolutely must speak truth to power, and to one another.

With that in mind, if I had to recommend only one Netroots Nation keynote to watch it would be this one by Colette Pichon Battle, Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Cynthia Nixon and plenty of other well-known names made appearances over the course of the three day conference, but it is Collete’s words that capture the spirit and convey the message I know we need here in the rural South.

"We cannot continue to spend all of our money on elections and not get some of those resources on the ground.” Invest in the people, get them out to vote. Invest in the that infrastructure, those grassroots efforts.

There are so many topics and education options at Netroots Nation, so I decided to prioritize sessions aligned with my interests in climate change and rural issues. Met some terrific people, including a number of fellow Southerners and climate activists I will stay in touch with so we can continue learning from one another. The conference also included a large central space full of vendors for everything from digital organizing to low-cost online banking, plus an entire row of radio and streaming services to help get your message out. No conference would be complete without a little swag, and for this one the most popular items were buttons and stickers.

Progressive Superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rounded out the Netroots Nation experience with a rousing message of grassroots inspiration, the history of our nation’s programs for all citizens, and the moral foundations of our democracy. We must come home to fight for social and economic justice. As she says, I believe we will “beat big money with big organizing”. 

You can watch many of the Netroots Nation sessions and keynotes online, but the energy in the room and opportunity to network is definitely worth the trip. To be there in person. I encourage anyone with an interest in organizing to attend, especially if you plan to run for office or work on a campaign in the next few years. The 2019 conference will be in Philadelphia and Hometown Action is already planning to pull together proposals for some education sessions, so get in touch with us if you would like to participate.

If you believe in bringing power back to the people, please support our work at Hometown Action! Our ranks are growing and we need your investment to keep this going. Contribute $50 now or establish a recurring monthly donation of $10 or more before the end of August if you would like to participate in our consideration of candidate endorsements this year. 

Kathleen is the Strategic Initiatives Organizer for Hometown Action, a sustainability consultant, educator, and serves on the board of numerous NGOs. She lives in Wetumpka with her partner. 

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