The top 6 things that inspired me at The People’s Summit

by Jon Fox, senior democracy campaigner

Nearly 3,500 engaged and excited progressives gathered at The People’s Summit this past weekend in Chicago, and I was there. The question on everyone’s mind was both simple and urgent — how do we maintain the momentum and enthusiasm around progressive causes generated during this year’s presidential primary race?

We talked about the many serious challenges facing our nation and the intricate paths towards fixing our planet and society. Rather than curling into a ball from the weight of these challenges, I left Chicago inspired and motivated to continue the struggle for social and environmental justice. Here are the top six things that inspired me at The People’s Summit:

* In all the excitement I lost my phone, so sadly I have no pictures from The People’s Summit to share.

1. I’m not the bloody Messiah

The Bernie Sanders campaign lit a fire in the progressive movement. Millions of new voters, youths and people of color entered into the political arena like never before. The Sanders Campaign (and the threat of Donald Trump’s rise in the GOP) got people off the sidelines and into the game. They participated in rallies, talked to neighbors and friends about the issues and registered new voters en mass.

The Sanders Campaign (and the threat of Donald Trump’s rise in the GOP) got people off the sidelines and into the game.

While the personas are the rallying point, Bernie keeps reminding us that this is not a movement for Bernie, it’s a movement for justice. Climate justice, racial justice, economic justice. This is a movement built by everyday Americans who refuse to stand for injustice anymore. This movement will live on past the November presidential election, win or lose.

2. Ask big

As a democracy campaigner, I often thought that small asks were easier for everyday folks to engage with. Over this weekend I saw just how wrong I am. We can’t win big unless we ask big.

Americans see the enormity of the problems we face — the crumbling infrastructure that is poisoning our children in Flint, corporate welfare polluting the planet we live on, neo-liberal economic fantasies that failed the 99%, and a justice system that brought us back to the Jim Crow era.

We can’t win big unless we ask big.

The excitement I witnessed was humbling, the energy intoxicating. Time and again I heard that these problems won’t be solved with petitions and bake sales alone. The people want more, and are willing to work hard and put themselves on the line to fight for justice and win. We got a peak of that this past April when 1,400 people were arrested on the steps of Congress fighting to protect voting rights and reclaim our government during the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening actions. Spoiler Alert — this is just the beginning.

3. Solidarity is a verb

More than 50 different groups representing dozens of issue interests took part in The People’s Summit. It’s a beautiful thing to watch nurses, youth activists, environmentalists and racial justice campaigners as well as everyday Americans all in one room, figuring out creative ways to make America great for everyone and not just the powerful few.

Yet when we support each other, amplify the silenced voices and stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, we can create the change we want to see.

For too long the progressive movement has cut itself off in silos doing their own thing in their own little corner. But the problems we face today are global, reaching beyond our borders and the capacity of individuals. Multinational giants like Chevron use their money and influence to profit on the backs of children in Richmond, California, just like they do along the Ecuadorian Amazon. Yet when we support each other, amplify the silenced voices and stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, we can create the change we want to see. Long time “hell-raiser” Jim Hightower eloquently closed out The People’s Summit with the idea that “Together, you can do it yourself.”

4. People power > Corporations

The 2016 presidential election has seen people power rise up to traditional power elites, both on the left and right. While the Trump hoards differ greatly from those at The People’s Summit, both groups share a common frustration against an elitist clique that uses deep pockets to subvert our democratic institutions. Since the disastrous Citizen’s United ruling removed all obstacles and decency, our democracy has been co-opted by the super rich working quietly yet fervently in back rooms and closed door fundraisers to promote their narrow interests at our expense. Yet over the past five years Americans across the country have caught on, and are standing up to reclaim a government of, by, and for the people.

When creeping doubts fill our heads, we have progressive victories to inspire and encourage us.

At the summit we shared our David vs. Goliath victories. Racial justice activists who held law enforcement accountable and indigenous communities who refused to let big oil frack their homes, showed us the path to victory. We are strong and we are organized. If they can do it, why can’t we? When creeping doubts fill our heads, we have progressive victories to inspire and encourage us. We can stop the predatory banks hurting our communities. We can block dirty coal trains from choking the East Bay. And we will make sure that every working person in this country earns a dignified living wage of at least $15.

5. We are ancestors

Climate change is already hurting our communities today. When our children and grand-children ask us, “What happened to Florida”, what will we say? That we thought the short-term profits gained by off shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico were worth it? When 100-year droughts become common, how will we justify our continued subsidizing of a fossil fuel-based economy over investing in a renewable energy-based economy?

The stakes are too high for us to remain passive, so for future generations’ sake, we must all become the “Change Doers.”

An indigenous community leader recently reminded me that we are all someone’s ancestor generations to come. While we probably won’t be around to answer for our actions (or inaction), we are responsible for the burdens that future generations will carry. This perspective changes the dynamics of our current efforts. Whether it is addressing the worst impacts of climate change or dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, driving positive change has become a moral imperative that we are all bound to. The stakes are too high for us to remain passive, so for future generations’ sake, we must all become the “Change Doers,” that former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner implored participants of The People’s Summit to become.

6. The arc of history is just

If you follow politics at all, it’s easy to let negativity get you down. But when we pause and look at what we have achieved since our ancestors first wandered out of the Savanna in the hopes of a better world for future generations, it’s pretty amazing. When I think back to the woman’s suffrage movement and I see how far former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come to emerge as the first female presumptive presidential nominee, I become hopeful. When I see the bond between those early environmental pioneers and the thousands of people whose protests across the country stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, I am motivated to keep on with the struggle. And when the spirit of the 1960’s civil rights leaders energized thousands of Americans who took to the streets during Democracy Spring to make sure we live up to our democratic ideals — I was inspired.

Keep bending that arc towards justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King told us that the arc of history bends towards justice. I and many others left The People’s Summit with new energy and excitement to continue educating, organizing and mobilizing our fellow Americans to keep bending that arc towards justice.

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