‘The People’s Summit’ — My Take

When I first heard about ‘The People’s Summit’ I wanted to go. There were a couple of obstacles which I expected would be insurmountable. First, I’d have to get permission from my Parole Officer to travel to Chicago. Second,, I’d have to come up with the money. Social Security covers my bills — almost, but it leaves no extra for political jaunts.

With an attitude I didn’t possess in my youth, I tested the barriers, first by requesting permission, which surprisingly was granted within 24 hours. Having agreed not to bust the budget, I posted a GoFundMe with the plan to return all funds if I could not cover 100% of my expenses. Twenty-six people kicked in to cover my air travel and lodging. With the confidence it was meant-to-be, I packed and caught a flight early on Friday, July 9.

I checked into the dorm at Chicago State and caught the free bus from housing to the McCormick Center on the shore of Lake Michigan. This was my first impression — superb organization. With students home for the summer (mostly) the dorms were almost empty and ‘The People’s Summit’ rented and offered at a subsidy, clean safe rooms cheaper than a hostel and they completely paid the cost of transportation to and from McCormick.

It’s been observed that the Summit cost far more than the attendees paid. True. Some (who didn’t attend) have protested that the roster of speakers was not ‘inclusive’ — because the critic wasn’t invited to speak. Quite probably there was censorship by omission — people were not invited to speak who had a message which ran contrary to the theme of the Summit.

Excuse me for putting one of my conclusions out front — we can have anarchy for free. Organization has a price in dollars and in message discipline. The people who signed checks with a BUNCH of zeros want a return on their investment — not a dollar return, not an insider connection for future government contracts, certainly not an exemption from taxes or a free ride on polluting the environment whenever it’s profitable. The return they want, if the message is a guide, is true democracy — government of, by and FOR the people.

The investors are aware, as I said earlier, you can have anarchy for free. What they invested in can be inferred by the message, which I’ll talk about shortly. As with any investment, it’s a gamble with a hope for a return. WE have to deliver the return — we are the investment — progressive people who will act, by running for office, or by voting for progressives, by backing progressive policies and opposing regressive policies. But most importantly, the Summit was an investment in the growth of ideas. Four thousand of us are not enough, though we made a lot of noise in Chicago. The ideas have to spread and our numbers grow — that was the gamble of the Summit.

The first clue of the message is in the roster of speakers — Bernie Sanders headlined, and we packed the Arie Crown Theater to the rafters to hear Senator Sanders speak. Those who expected him to declare for 2020 were disappointed. Those who went beyond the speech, heard the good news, the bad news and the very good news. We have had some success with progressives winning in historically red areas — that’s good news. We are up against the most regressive agenda we’ve seen in our lifetimes- that’s the bad news. Young people are overwhelmingly for a progressive agenda — there is no doubt that you (not we — I’m 62 years old) YOU are the future of the country.

Regarding Bernie Sanders — he looked great. Alert, strong, motivated and astute. He did not tease the audience with clues that he would or wouldn’t be the standard bearer in 2020. IMO, it’s not important to him who runs — that the ideas we value become the standard in the future IS the point — not who waves the flag. The only appearance Bernie made (as far as I know) was for the speech he gave — the Summit was NOT the Bernie Sanders show. The critical importance of the Summit to Sanders is clear — his wife, Jane, was at the podium every day of the conference, introducing panels and making appearances even at the workshops. The summit was not about the little people building up the people at the top — it was about leadership always emphasizing the crucial importance of the leaders in the next tier below them. (An incredible contrast to the North-Korea style cabinet meeting Trump put on just a few days ago)

The ladies unquestionably ran the show. Besides Jane Sanders, Roseann Demoro and Nina Turner had a tag-team approach to sharing the mistress of ceremonies duty. They were confident and relaxed and appeared to be having fun with good friends they introduced on the stage for various speeches and panel discussions. One of the ladies behind the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour was a dynamic speaker (but all were) — Naomi Klein is a personal favorite and did not disappoint.

The Nurses Union had a strong presence — the message that they are standing between greed and patient’s rights is a winner. Van Jones blew the audience away. Amy Goodman was articulate and gracious — it was an honor to meet her personally. I went to the workshop with Zephyr Teachout on money in politics, which my friend Kai Newkirk also led. Danny Glover is a class act.

There’s a few dozen people who spoke and performed — there were dramatic presentations of historically significant speeches and writings at the Arie — which brought tears to my eyes and gave some scale to the struggle we are in. That we are in a struggle which goes back, not generations, but centuries was a recurring (and not accidental) message. But what I’m saying is there was enormous quality to the list of speakers — not because they are famous. They are famous because of their quality.

Regarding quality people — there was quality in the audience. I met Holly Mosher, who is a director, activist and leader in the progressive movement. It was our second meeting — she attended my sentencing hearing in DC. I ran into Mike Monetta who leads WolfPAC and Kurt Ries of Democracy Spring. These are strong leaders who have accomplished remarkable things who were there to learn and network. You can’t underestimate the value of having these people out of their individual groups talking to each other and I’m talking about leaders who were not speakers, not headliners.

I’ve done some name-dropping, because it’s all about people. There are so many people I won’t mention by name who shared their ideas and stories. The meetings were live-streamed but that’s second-best. Technology is no substitute for shaking hands, looking someone in the eye, or observing a tear on a cheek when the humanity of our struggle hits home.

What was the ‘message’ of The People’s Summit. It’s subjective — we each took away something slightly different, I’m sure. I mentioned before, the history of our rise in this country. The current situation is not an isolated occurrence, it’s an ugly regression and it will be a temporary regression as a piece of the ascent of mankind.

The next ‘message’ was unity. Black Lives Matter is related to Women’s Rights which is related to religious equality linked to economic inequality. Water protectors are not isolated from money in politics which is tied to the anti-war movement.

Martin Luther King was criticized when he came out against the Vietnam War. Pundits demanded he stay in the isolated silo of racial equality. The disintegration of the progressive movement in the 70’s is due in large part to ‘identity’ politics — factions on the same political side competed for membership and donations. It became commonplace for left-leaning groups to throw an elbow against other left-leaning groups who demanded that their identity issue was supreme.

We’re not going to do that anymore. I wasn’t a speaker, much less a headliner and certainly not an organizer so this is pure opinion, but the leaders in various groups who have not exhibited the spirit of cooperation might have been the ones who feel most strongly they were excluded. If you demand the movement conform to your specific criteria before you will participate, you may find the parade will pass you by.

If anyone complains about the poor organization of this essay, I will say it was ‘stream-of-consciousness’ and I’m exempt from structure. Actually, I’m not a fast writer — I have been thinking about what I want to day and if I procrastinate more, I won’t do it.

The other message is the internal struggle in the democratic party. The establishment is fighting to retain the formula which dates back to Bill Clinton. It says we can hold to progressive social values AND get rich by servicing the economic interests of special interests. Democratic candidates can get contributions from the military industrial complex and pharma and Wall Street, and it’s a small price to pay to advance social issues.

Nobody at ‘The People’s Summit’ was buying that. You can’t support economic inequality and be for the people. This was the Clinton/Sanders schism in the election — and it hasn’t gone away. One of the speakers brought the house down with the observation that Clinton outspent Trump 2-to-1 and lost the election. It’s becoming less a question of how much money you raise, but where that money comes from.

A huge part of the message is a declaration of war by democrats on the DNC on the subject of money in politics. We are challenging the doctrine that corruption isn’t corruption if there’s transparency. If the republicans are trying to hide who is buying their votes, and the democrats are willing to declare who owns them, we still have a government which does not represent us. (And it’s worth noting, though it wasn’t said at the Summit, the GOP is going through a conservative power struggle over money owning the republican party also.)

A lot was invested in us — all of us, not just those who attended ‘The People’s Summit’. We have been here before, politically. We have prevailed, time and time again when we refused to submit. We have to stand together again to put people before profit. With the power of the vote, and the opportunity social media provides, we can leverage our power especially in the primary, when turnout is historically low. Honest candidates of our party who will run against crooked democrats are how we get a beachhead politically. The party wants to determine who rises to positions of authority, and we must refuse to be intimidated.

The Summit did nothing directly. Only we can turn ideas into action. A friend named Elizabeth Linquist has been a supporter since my flight. Last year she ran for local office in Roscoe County and won. I predict this is the beginning for her, but more importantly it IS what the Summit was about. We can step up locally — now. Be a local influence — now. Teach & encourage younger people to engage — now. The future will take care of itself and our principles will prevail if we all participate to the degree we can and we stay educated stay active, vocal and most important — do what I can not. Vote.