An Exclusionary People’s Summit Confirms Democrats Have Learned Nothing
Following historic losses in 2016, the party shows no signs it intends to correct its course.
BY ZACH HALLER | JUNE 12, 2017
Over the course of the weekend, the second annual People’s Summit took place in Chicago, an event described on its website as carrying the intention of “deepening the relationship between participating organizations rooted in principled anti-corporate politics, development of community leaders, direct action not based on partisan identification, and strategic organizing to build power”.
The first annual People’s Summit happened last year from June 17–19, 2016, just weeks prior to the Democratic National Convention in which Hillary Clinton would fraudulently claim the Party’s nomination. As revealed through massive leaks, Clinton and her campaign staff had spent over a year colluding with the Democratic National Committee, the mainstream media, and their network of special interests groups to conduct the primary in a way that would favor Clinton, obscure Sanders, and elevate Trump.
Given the 2016 Summit occurred prior to the DNC convention, it was generally accepted to be a Democratic Party activity; the primary ongoing, Sanders’ revolution was raking in millions of dollars and building historic momentum that, if it weren’t for the misconduct of corrupt party leaders, would have likely lead to a Sanders nomination and ultimately, a Sanders presidency.
The 2017 Summit, however, took place in the weeks following explosive revelations that the Democratic Party sees itself as under no legal obligation to ensure a fair primary when soliciting donations from voters, and that following the rigged primary, it handed out million-dollar bonuses to senior leadership while stiffing field organizers in critical battleground states as part of Clinton’s billion-dollar failure of a general election campaign.
This year’s Summit also occurred just days following testimony from former FBI Director James Comey in which Comey admitted that during Clinton’s 2016 general election run, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch specifically directed Comey to downplay Clinton’s ongoing FBI probe that was investigating her transmission of classified material on a private, unsecured server in direct conflict with national security guidance on the Obama administration’s watch. A bombshell of emails would be released from Judicial Watch the same day that would blow open numerous other scandals facing Clinton and the failing Democratic establishment, and fuel the public’s ongoing skepticism of a dishonest and failing party going into the 2017 People’s Summit.
Pouring Money On A Money Problem
Had the People’s Summit been free to all attendees and outwardly encouraging of participation from the general public, event organizers funding and hosting the massive event at Chicago’s McCormick Place may have signaled the party is at minimum beginning to learn from its failures of listening to donors instead of voters. Since the Citizens United court ruling, a “trust gap” has emerged that the Democrats and their supposedly-liberal media counterparts have yet to recover from; unfortunately for the establishment, promises to combat the corrosive influence of money in politics and media can be evaluated in real time for authenticity. Hypocrisy exposed not only diminishes trust in an increasingly anti-establishment populous, but also conjures up memories of the duplicitous betrayal espoused by a Democratic nominee exposed for maintaining a “public and private position” on every issue and effectively campaigning in a way that deliberately mislead the American voting public on these issues in favor of the rich.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Bernie Sanders’ neutered Presidential bid was his historic small-dollar fundraising prowess built on a campaign centered around Sanders’ vigorous opposition to the Citizens United ruling and that boldly and roundly rejected corporate cash in stark contrast to a Clinton campaign dependent on high-dollar donations from millionaires, billionaires, and the Washington and Hollywood elite. Accordingly, one would expect a Sanders-focused event such as the People’s Summit to imitate Sanders’ dedication to “walking the walk” on this issue, and at minimum be transparent about its financial backers, if not innovative in determining new strategies to form inclusive coalitions of voters leveraging solely the funds of the voters themselves.
Unfortunately, a cursory review of the Summit’s Partners page (which notably contains a “Partial List Only”) creates more questions than answers as to the source of funds being used to conduct a “People’s” summit. The event’s sponsors include a laundry list of groups with ambiguous financial roots: National Nurses United, a super PAC that gave exclusively to Democrats in 2016; 501(c)(4) organizations OurRevolution and Food and Water Action Fund not required to disclose their donors; Democracy Alliance, a secretive donor alliance involving George Soros and upward of 80 other millionaires; and Progressive Democrats of America (also known as Progressive Vote), a group that incidentally did not donate to the Summit, but is rather receiving donations from it.
As if this isn’t enough to give Americans an uncomfortable pause, Sanders and his high profile counterparts involved in the event are also managing and operating these groups with limited transparency. Sanders, who headlined the event, sits atop the dark money OurRevolution and a new think tank; progressive firebrand Nina Turner, who sits on the board of one dark money group, advises another; RoseAnn DeMoro chairs a PAC, sits on a dark money group’s board, and is a VP with the AFL-CIO; Zephyr Teachout, who has fundraised with Soros, ironically led a panel on money in politics. The event also featured CNN commentator and Soros cohort Van Jones as a prominent speaker, after it had actively excluded working class champion and progressive changemaker Kshama Sawant and Green Party leaders and peace advocates Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka.
The Dubious Elevation of The Young Turks
In addition to the questions surrounding the event’s organizers and sponsors, the 2017 Summit programming featured the elevation of various media personalities from The Young Turks, a network that infamously endorsed Clinton following the Democratic Convention without addressing the fraud that had occurred in a disturbing move that signaled the Young Turks may have been in on the Clinton strategy all along. To many, the ongoing media blackout of the lawsuit filed to seek damages for voters duped by the Party’s fraudulent primary is admission by silence that the corrupt, conglomerated corporate media dutifully aided and abetted Clinton and the DNC’s joint strategy to not only protect Clinton from scrutiny, but also to inflict upon Americans billions of dollars in free airtime for Trump, much of which featured highly incendiary and offensive rhetoric consistent with the Clinton campaign media directive to elevate Trump as a “Pied Piper” in the lead-up to the election.
Given TYT founder Cenk Uygur’s million-dollar financing by former Louisiana Governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, the questionable use of its operating funds, and its soft stance on matters of election integrity and fraud, featuring their representatives in an event marketed to an aggrieved grassroots appeared to be a curious choice, and cause for thorough skepticism as the conference would begin.
With little ado, a Saturday media panel entitled “Media, Our Movement and The Political Revolution” was convened by the Summit hosted by The Nation’s Sarah Leonard and featuring Winnie Wong (People For Bernie), David Sirota (IBTimes, Newsweek), Sarah Jaffe (author of Necessary Trouble), and Nomiki Konst (The Young Turks). The panel started off reasonably convincingly: Wong, co-founder of People For Bernie, made a sober if foretelling observation when asked why media on the left should be trusted: “The thing that we really have to unpack now is that… [the decision to publish] is not the decision of the journalist, but the decision of their bosses… I think we really need to start confronting that as the biggest problem.”
This keen observation would be quickly undone by the questionable assertions that would ensue. Fresh into the weekend’s activities, Wong would casually assert to attendees that they should see The Young Turks as “allied media”, grouping TYT alongside The Guardian, The Intercept, and upstart Real News, as a “confederation of media entities” that “challenges state power”, despite the public’s awareness that the Democratic establishment had just last year leveraged a privately-coordinated media confederation to assert and enforce the state’s power, disenfranchising millions of progressive voters in the process. Wong would go onto praise TYT as “very good”, without any basis as to why attendees should accept these endorsements at face value, particularly given the reality at hand.
Wong’s remarks would serve as an ominous prelude to the further hypocrisy from TYT’s Konst that would follow: After laughably insisting that The Young Turks have “a non-corporate agenda”, Konst — who sits on the DNC’s Unity Committee — boasted her experience at MSNBC and Fox before using CNN as a reference point in insinuating TYT has somehow risen above its corporate media counterparts:
“We have an obligation to be honest about what journalism is…
Reporting should be about facts and research. CNN will hire people as commentators… and a lot of them don’t disclose their interests, their conflicts of interests on these campaigns…” Konst described. “They’re literally making money off the campaign and spewing off the talking points on air… and nobody from, dare I say it Bernie Sanders, is at the table… So you wonder why the media got it wrong. Well, maybe it’s because you’re hiring a bunch of people who are paid to talk about a campaign they’re literally getting financial rewards from.”
Konst’s wandering commentary included almost more hypocritical elements than one could count: Without any forthright acknowledgement as to the dozens of dubious financiers, dark money groups, and super PACs putting on the event, Konst blasted CNN for their cozy and disturbing relationship with the Democratic Party without acknowledging her or TYT’s own; noted CNN’s problematic exclusion of working people on a panel featuring none of them; and sanctimoniously pronounced this journalistic recklessness as worthy of scorn and condemnation on the right, but not worth mentioning when conducted by her and the Summit’s “allied” left.
The discussion continued as moderated by Leonard divisively pitting “right” media against “left” in a deliberately provocative manner; beyond fatigued Americans’ ongoing disgust for a two-party system that perpetually fails the needs of the working class as if by design, the panel appeared to set up Konst with the opportunity to slam right-leaning media for the exact sins she and her TYT counterparts also commit regularly. Konst and her co-panelists’ awareness of the risks and irresponsible nature of journalism that fails to disclose critical conflicts of interest is proof positive they understand their failure of transparency is not only problematic, but also arguably the most pervasive and toxic media strategy plaguing American political discourse.
Konst’s visible nervousness on the panel suggested she knows better; those familiar with her work around last year’s Convention and penchant for rabble rousing may have expected Konst to speak candidly about the challenges of balancing personal and professional interests for up-and-coming journalists at such an event. To the extent that she did, she deserves praise; to the extent she fell short, she failed observers in person and remotely desperate for an ounce of truth in an era of grand media distrust.
It’s Often Better Not to Resuscitate
Of course, the 3-day Summit surely served a great deal of benefit for attendees and factions that made good on shared experiences and local break-out sessions to address issues unrelated to the Summit’s ambiguous mission. Criticism of the event organizers’ lack of transparency certainly does not deny or diminish the extent to which event attendees benefited from the experience, or left with an enriched vitality for political engagement. As the public debate continues as to whether or not the Democratic Party can be transformed from within as the Summit insists, the continued fallout from the DNC and Clinton’s numerous ongoing lawsuits and scandals will have an unknown but likely greater effect on the Party’s ability to self-resuscitate than its short-term strategy.
Either way, the cloud of uncertainty around the event’s financiers and its snobbish rejection of independent candidates and journalists leaves observers with a continued sense that the Democratic Party’s self-inflicted wounds will continue to bleed out past the point of no return.
While Americans remain as desperate to break up big media as they are to break up big banks, there is little time to wait for transparent, ethical, and forthright leaders of a true people’s revolution to emerge.