Netroots Nation 2018

By Marcella Cage, Advocacy Fellow and Jaleel Brown, Field and Outreach Fellow

As we are going into the 2018 midterm elections, the stakes have never been higher for reproductive rights. Not only are we fighting to flip the House and Senate to a Democratic majority, but we also have the threat of Trump’s anti-choice Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Luckily, we are not alone in this fight. Netroots Nation 2018 connected 3,000 people in the progressive community with the common goal of electing progressive Democratic candidates to office. Here are some of the key takeaways from Netroots Nation 2018 to keep in mind as we defend reproductive rights.

If we don’t talk about race, they will use it to divide us.

“We cannot afford to waste our time arguing about whose fight matters the most, it is one fight and we need to stand with one another for one another.” Senator Elizabeth Warren reminds the crowd that the Republican party uses race-baiting and other divisive strategies to turn working class people against each other. This sentiment was a prevalent one reiterated at panels and trainings throughout the conference.

One such panel presented the results of a study by Lake Research Partners (LRP) focused on developing a “Race-Class Narrative.” A paramount goal of the research was to “develop ways at countering messaging appeals grounded in divide-and-conquer tactics.” Voters were classified into the three categories of base, opposition and persuadables. One of the key findings of their study was that “both base and persuadables by strong majorities agree that focusing on and talking about race is necessary to move forward toward greater equality.” LRP’s research indicated that if we continue to shy away from race, not only does that leave our base voters unmotivated, but it also helps the views of our opposition gain prominence.

Every vote is important.

Voter turnout has been an issue for progressives in elections. In the 2014 midterm elections, the majority of people who voted were over 60 years old and identified as being white. Historically, the majority voters in the United States have been middle class white men.  As we know, that does not accurately describe the pool of eligible voters. When voter turnout is low, the results are skewed toward a certain demographic.

“Texas is not a red state; Texas is a non-voting state,“ said Gina Ortiz Jones, a Population Connection Action Fund endorsed candidate for the 23rd congressional district in Texas. She reminded us that Texas had the third-lowest voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. Texas is another example where the majority of voters are white, wealthy and older, which isn’t an accurate representation of its citizens.

The majority of people who are underrepresented in elections by having low voter turnout are people of color, women and people under 50. If every eligible person that is registered to vote cast their ballots, it would completely change the political landscape of the United States. In order to elect progressive and Democratic candidates in the midterm elections, we have to encourage more people to vote.

We must live out our values.

 The third point was most notably delivered by the “Black Ass Caucus” (BAC), a group of black attendees and panelists at Netroots who held a protest by taking the stage during the final keynote of the conference. The BAC called for progressives to practice what we preach. “What does it mean to be progressive when you’re not actually living out your values?” asked Tabitha Mustafa, a New Orleans native and Netroots panelist.

Living out your values was identified as a range of things, including diversifying the attendees at Netroots, providing more space for POC, working more closely with activists and vendors from the city where the conference is hosted. This call to action was made to Netroots, but also to progressives at large. In the words of keynote speaker and New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “social movements should be the north star of our politics, they should be pointing the way.”

Reproductive rights are only a part of reproductive justice.

While the reproductive rights movement focuses on people’s access to reproductive healthcare services, reproductive justice covers the inequalities marginalized communities face when accessing reproductive health, rights and family planning. Trans women and people of color specifically face greater difficulties accessing reproductive health services.

Writer and trans activist Monica Roberts spoke on the Igniting the Lit in Litmus Test: How Leading with Repro Justice Helps Us Win panel, where she discussed how trans people fit into the reproductive justice framework. One of the difficulties she has faced as a trans woman is not being able to access imperative healthcare services such as mammograms and pap smears, and attributes that to the fact that there is very little understanding around the reproductive health needs of trans people. The panel focused on the importance of Democrats and progressives becoming more literate on reproductive justice issues, especially those that are not included in the media.

Implementing these values is how we will win

As the midterm elections approach, we were encouraged at Netroots to be more overtly inclusive as we call ourselves progressive. We have to be outright with our support for those marginalized in any form or fashion. Otherwise many voters that should be a part of our base will remain unengaged. In her keynote, Ocasio-Cortez emphasized that “It’s not just red to blue. It’s non-voter to voter. That’s our swing voter.”

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