Last weekend, MOMocrats Cynematic, LawyerMama, PunditMom, Julie and I traveled to Pittsburgh to take part in the annual Netroots Nation Conference. We spent four days attending panels, plenary sessions, and parties, and participated as speakers on two panels. It was an exhausting and exhilarating time, and we could go on for days about the great people we met and the stories we heard.
I wanted to share some of the highlights of my first day at Netroots.
This discussion, led by Keith Kamisugi, focused on the myth that since America has elected an African-American President, we are now in a "post-racial" period. The first part of the panel was a screening of a part of the film "9500 Liberty," made by panelist filmmaker Annabel Park, whose documentary delves into a community initiative in Prince William County, Virginia to allow racial profiling, specifically of anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally. She said that when they started making the film, she and her co-producer, Eric Byler, thought that they were making a film about illegal immigrants, but it turned into a film about race and the incitement of fear into a community. The film illustrates how misinformation and agitation can take control of an issue and lead to disastrous ends.
Joining Annabel on the panel was Rinku Sen of The Applied Research Center , and Rich Benjamin, author of "Searching for Whitopia." Rich made the point that there is a divide between the "Obamanation," the segment of society that is happy in America's diversity, and "Whitopia," the segment that is fearful of others who are not white.
Rinku said that interpersonal racism is down, but institutional racism still exists. Most people, she stated, do not believe themselves to be racists and don't self-identify as racists. Americans have the moral aspiration not to be racist, but our institutions often reinforce racism in subtle and overt ways. She mentioned the Gates incident as an example of the thinking that people just need to "talk things out" as individuals, but then we never get to the core issue of institutionalized racial profiling and the damage that it does to society.
I thought the speakers on this panel were all excellent, thought-provoking, and expressed different angles on this issue. Some of the audience tended to veer off into pontificating on various points about race without ever asking a specific question, but their input was valuable to the discussion as well. One of them made the following point, "If you want to end racism in this country, look at changing yourself first."
The women's caucus offered a lively discussion of healthcare reform and how it is a women's issue, women in politics, equal pay, and how feminism is perceived in the mainstream. There were a number of young women in attendance representing the She Should Run initiative, sponsored by the Women's Campaign Forum. Sam Bennett, CEO of the the WCF, stated that women often wait to be asked to run and feel unqualified, whereas many man volunteer, regardless of qualifications. She encouraged everyone to fill out a card nominating a woman they know to run for office.
We met up with Elisa Batista of MotherTalkers and a group of other parents at the Pittsburgh Hard Rock Cafe for an informal lunch to talk about issues faced by parents. Health Reform was the big topic of the day, and many people shared their own stories of health care coverage (and non-coverage). Elisa did a great write-up of the event over at MotherTalkers, which I encourage you to read.
We were fortunate to be invited to have coffee with Jennifer Brunner, former Ohio Secretary of State and candidate for the US Senate. When I told my husband I had the chance to meet her, he said, "Oh, I know her. She's the woman who actually counted all the votes in Ohio for a change."
Even though in my household, we hold her up as a heroine for doing so, she took a great deal of flack for some of her actions in the 2008 presidential election from the GOP and right-wing pundits. She talked about that experience, and her decision to run for Senate. I asked her what I should tell my family who live in Ohio about her, and why they should vote for her. She answered, "Tell them, I have a track record of getting things done for the people of Ohio."
Keynote by Bill Clinton
After a dinner in the hotel restaurant, we headed down to the Keynote Address, delivered by former President Bill Clinton. Clinton talked primarily about health care reform, and stated that "the worst thing we can do is maintain the status quo."
When challenged by a member of the audience about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military, Clinton went off-message, and delivered a heated response about why things happened the way they happened in the 1990's, on both Don't Ask/Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes both should, and will, be overturned.
Clinton was his usual self, charming, disarming, and occasionally maddening. He seemed to grasp the importance of the Netroots and what the conference was all about. The Netroots seem to have a love/hate relationship with Clinton (or maybe that's just me), but this particular night, it was mostly love.
More coverage of the 2009 Netroots Nation to come.
All photos Copyright Glennia Campbell. All Rights Reserved.