I want to talk to you about how we're going to keep up the pressure to end the Detroit water shutoffs, because water is a basic human rights and we can make a difference. We may have physically left Detroit, but their struggle is our struggle, too.
And I want to talk about Pub Quiz. OMG, having a room filled with hundreds of friends singing Motown hits and showtunes (as answers to trivia questions) just about made my year.
But I can't, yet. Because I need to talk to you about Phoenix, first.
As many of you know, Markos announced on Saturday that he would not be attending or sponsoring Netroots Nation in 2015, and that the site's staff will not be promoting the event. His reasons are sincere, and you may find them persuasive.
So let me tell you, as chairman of the board of directors of Netroots Nation, why in April 2013 I supported our staff's recommendation to bring our conference to Phoenix, and why we hope you will choose to join us there.
Because we can make a difference. Sometimes we make a difference by coming, like the national media attention we brought this week to Detroit's water crisis - a human rights violation - and which just today is now in a moratorium, thanks to the efforts of so many. We're not done yet, and I hope all of you will continue writing about and organizing around this crisis.
And sometimes we do make a difference by not attending, as we did earlier this decade in Providence when our boycott of the Hyatt helped pressure management into sitting down at the table with organized labor, improving the lives of the workers there. We were able to make that threat credibly because all of our contracts include a provision that lets us out of the contract, without damages, if there is a labor strike.
In this case, the official boycott of Arizona over SB 1070 ended in September 2011, and both local activists and national immigration groups have told us they want us to come to Phoenix. Remember the protest during the Vice President's speech calling on him to stop the deportations? United We Dream's Cristina Jimenez was one of its leaders:
I am very, very excited that Netroots has chosen Phoenix as the location for next year. United We Dream actually held our national congress earlier this year in February and we went to Phoenix … because that’s one of the key places in the country where our communities have been targeted. And we were there with over 500 DREAMers from all over the country asking and demanding that Governor Brewer issues drivers licenses for DREAMers.And here's what she said Thursday night:
Similarly, former AZ House Minority Leader John Loredo, who led the 2010-11 boycott, wants us all to join them in Arizona now:
Thank you for supporting the boycott we called. We called for the boycott to bring economic pressure onto the state and to force Arizona business leaders to get off the bench and into the immigration fight. It worked. The year after Senate Bill 1070 passed, business leaders testified at the State Senate and took the position that Arizona could no longer sustain the economic boycott and the legislature needed to stop passing any more harmful immigration bills. Since that point, not one immigration bill has passed at the Arizona state legislature. We accomplished our goal, and those of us who called for the boycott called it off. We hope those that respected our calling for the boycott will respect our decision to call it off.Over the coming days, weeks, and months, more of our allies and partners involved in the fight will be making the case for why your presence in Phoenix is so important.
Arizona is a perfect location for the 2015 Netroots Nation conference. We have large union hotels that serve our Phoenix convention center, and bringing thousands of Netroots attendees here to those hotels would benefit those workers and highlight the hard work Unite Here has done to organize this workforce. We hope the progressive community will support their work....
Our successes are growing and building on one another. Momentum is shifting in our favor and we are excited about our future. Arizona has one of the largest Rising American Electorate populations per capita in the country (900,000 already registered and another 900,000 eligible to vote). Because of these tectonic demographic shifts, Arizona will turn blue even if we do nothing in 15-20 years. But we have a plan to do it by 2016. We want Netroots Nation to be a part of that success....
Why is it so important? Because we need to hear from the people on the ground about their struggles, and we have important talents we can give to their efforts. You can't do everything virtually; face-to-face contact matters. We can train people in all the tools we as a movement use, and together we can win. This isn't just about shaking hands and drinking beers with people for a weekend, but growing our progressive movement and making meaningful change.
Also, it's 2015, and if it's anything like 2007 was, I expect the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination to want to join us next year. Our being in Phoenix helps us focus their discussion of how they'd make immigration reform happen in more than 60-second soundbites. We can influence the national debate. Remember, Joe Biden didn't come to Netroots Nation because he had nothing to do on Thursday; he came because we matter.
But shouldn't you have checked with Markos first? As someone who talks to Markos almost every week, sometimes multiple times, I have been kicking myself for not seeking his perspective on this decision sooner. We have been friends (and attorney-client) for almost a decade, and we served on this board together from 2008-12. I did not anticipate he would react this way. He is and remains a genuine friend, and we have many, many battles to fight together. I am the chairman of the board, and any mistakes we've made fall on me. As for Phoenix, he has to do what's in his conscience, and I do not question his decision.
We can only conduct this conference in a way which sits best with ours. Among other things, we're going to make a concerted effort in Phoenix to work with the restaurants, bars, and other businesses which supported the boycott efforts and have worked for a fairer Arizona; our money will follow our values. And as with Detroit, our presence has to be coupled with meaningful activism, both in the streets and with the people who are fighting for change in Arizona on a daily basis, and by connecting national organizations and bloggers with their local counterparts to make sure this isn't just a four-day excursion but something more transformative.
[Are we ambitious? Yes. We have to be.]
Can't you just change your minds? Financially, we could not if we wanted to. The cancellation fees for having reserved the convention and hotel space would gut our operating budget. And we firmly believe that there are compelling reasons to gather in Phoenix. We've received a great deal of positive feedback from our allies on this decision, in the progressive community as a whole, and from immigration- and Arizona-focused organizations and leaders in particular. We think this will be a successful, important conference, in a place which needs progressive support so badly.
* * *
People have come up to me and other board members, and asked, basically, why are mom and dad fighting over the Thanksgiving table? And yes, it's sad, and this may be what it actually sounds like when doves cry. But as Markos noted Monday,
I am not leading a boycott. I am personally not attending. I don't care if you go or don't go. I won't think better or worse about you regardless of what decision you make. But organizationally, I won't spend a dime on a state that has codified overt racism. If you disagree, that's fine! If you agree, that's fine! You get to make that call.I fully recognize the privilege my skin color, gender, and class affords me in America. Being a member of this community over the past 10+ years keeps me honest, and reminds me that my perspective is not the only one, and can be a limiting one if I'm not careful. And I want to go to Phoenix because I want to make a difference, because everyone deserves the same chance at the American Dream which I've been able to enjoy. Together we can.
What WILL make me think less of you is if you outright disregard the real fears and anger that SB 1070 generates among people of color. I can concede that there are two genuine sides to this issue, that both the arguments for and against attending are valid, and that we can make our own choices on the matter and not be "wrong". Don't be a pompous ass to people of color and sympathizers on an issue that cuts so deeply and emotionally, because really, just don't.
On the other hand, don't be an asshole to those who want to attend, because there are valid reasons for doing so as well.
We need to change Arizona, and we need to transform America with a progressive vision. I hope our being in Phoenix will make a difference there, just as our presence in Detroit already has. (Seriously, seriously: do not leave Detroit behind. Keep telling their stories, and let's find meaningful actions to do together.) And I hope you'll consider joining us in Phoenix.