A Millennial’s Experience at the 2017 People’s Summit by Jacob Sutherland

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As a progressively minded barely millennial, I find myself often at odds with my peers in DuPage County. A large portion of the people residing here all identify as either Republican or establishment Democrat. This is why the People’s Summit served as a breath of fresh air to my thirsting leftist lungs.

Armed with a pen and a journal, I embarked on a journey into the three-day progressive event to relight the flame inside of me that had all but burnt out after months of setbacks for the progressive agenda being reported.

Day 1 found myself and my cohort, Natalie, involved in some classes that would give us some ideas for the future. While I had attended the previous summit, neither of us had an idea into what we would take away from the weekend.

In Building a Movement that will Win, activist Erin Evans from National Nurses United gave us the tools to push for more successful political action. Evans argued that “the system is designed to encourage protests, which is counter-intuitive (to the state),” meaning that our current government allows for protests because they most of the time do not procure change: they only allow a voice to be heard to an audience that can choose to be deaf. Evans said that rather than focus all of our efforts on protesting, we should also put our energy into electing people into office that share our values, and then hold them accountable to their campaign promises.

Immediately after this class, Natalie and I headed next door to a class lead by Heidi Hoechst from both the National Nurses United and the Sanders Institute, appropriately titled: Fighting for a People’s Agenda. Hoechst discussed how the opposition to the progressive movement like to “quell our descent,” while also touching on the importance of fighting for a Single Payer Healthcare system, the Robin Hood Tax, and equal opportunities for education for all.

With 4 hours worth of information to sift through, Natalie and I headed to dinner to allow our brains to soak in all that we had heard. The power was within our reach, but it is our role to be proactive in grabbing it.

The idea of progressive power was made only more apparent during the group session, From Resistance to Power, where RoseAnn DeMaro, Jane Sanders, and Nina Turner all took turns emphasizing the fact that we as progressives need to unite in order to make change, while also, as Nina Turner put it, be “hard on the issues, (and) soft on the people.”

Both enthused and exhausted, Natalie and I returned home that evening, only to wake up the next morning to be joined by our friend Alex for Day 2 of the People’s Summit.

We ended up arriving just as the From Knowledge to Action panel was getting started. Quotes such as “we have a moral responsibility to win because we measure our losses in lives,” from author Naomi Klein, and “so many people are okay with living in comfort at the expenses of the lives of many” from actor Danny Glover, just show the gravity of the importance for honest politicians and honest media.

That panel leads into a second, Media, Our Movement, and The Political Revolution. The importance of being your own news source was made apparent during this panel, as the average voice has the ability to cause the most noise. Journalist David Sirota put it best when he said: “Journalists can shine lights on the places that become the center focal point for organizing.”

After a speech by activist and commentator Van Jones, the three of us grabbed our box lunches and headed to the slew of booths in the main area of the event. Many groups, media outlets, and organizations were represented, including Democratic Socialists of America, The Young Turks, the Green Party, Communist Party USA, Students against Sweatshops, and many other grassroots activist communities.

The two breakout sessions our little trio attended were Solutions to Big Money and Political Corruption, which discussed the importance of publicly funded elections, and Winning the Battle for the Internet, which covered the topic of net neutrality and how internet privacy is being threatened by corporations.

The highlight of the whole weekend manifested itself in The Political Revolution Now. Headlined by the man himself, Bernie Sanders, the successes of the progressive movement, failures of the Democratic Party, and the necessity of a continuous resistance toward the Trump administration were presented. Sanders electrified the room with his magnetic aura, which continued well into the night during a special Q&A session.

Day 3 found Natalie and I exhausted from two late nights of progressivism but excited for the conclusion of the event. While Alex could not join us, we still found ourselves enjoying the Summit.

During Wake Up for Justice, former Senator Nina Turner put everything we had learned all together. “You’ve got to care more about the next generation than the next election,” Turner urged, taking a stab at the failed process the Democratic Party has been following recently. Turner encouraged everyone in the room to align themselves on the right side of history, stating: “I don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green; if you’re not fighting on the behalf of the people, you’ve got to go!”

The panels for Beyond Neo-Liberalism and Trumpism touched on the topics of both the current progressive movement and how to utilize electoral politics to our advantage, with a theme of needing to unite behind both our wins and our losses being prevalent.

Following this panel, every attendee broke out into groups based on which state they reside in, where people discussed the issues pertaining more close to home. This session was vital in order to create a more tangible front to unite behind and laid the groundwork for going back out into the real world.

The People’s Summit 2017, at least for Natalie, Alex, and I, was a resounding success. The ideas and stories shared provided motivation to move forward, as well as encouraging us to have confidence in our own abilities.

We all have the capacity for greatness. Whether you are progressive, conservative, liberal, or identify somewhere else entirely, you can make chance for the bettering of humanity. We owe it to ourselves as human beings to make society better for everyone.


Categories: Activism, Opinion

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