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Netroots '19 Hits Philly, Hits Home

Netroots '19 Hits Philly, Hits Home

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WORDS & PHOTOS BY SARAH BRYSON BANH

When it touched down in Philly last Thursday, July 11th, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Netroots Nation, the three-day conference geared towards empowering, educating, and inspiring political progressives and organizers, was set to be their largest yet. For obvious reasons. With over 3,700 first day registrants, this year’s Netroots featured panels, trainings, caucuses, and other networking opportunities. But more than all of this, Netroots serves as a way for progressives to connect, and that it was set this year in our quite vocally progressive city felt appropriate, as almost every topic covered there had direct relevance here. 

A Friday morning panel entitled “Building a Movement to #EndPoverty in America,” for instance,  broadly covered socio-economic injustice and strategies to combat it — not least in our cities. Panelist and Political Director of One PA, A. Salewa Ogunmefun explained how one strategy is legislation at the most local level: “One of the ways we get out of poverty is by passing regulations…if you follow the money, if you confront the power, then you can actually make a change in Philadelphia. [...] What we’re trying to do is make sure we stop displacement in Philly, and if you look at displacement in Philly, it was created by regulations. Philly didn’t become the largest, poorest big city on accident.” (Today, Philadelphia remains the poorest of the ten largest cities in the nation.)

Ogunmefun went on to briefly illustrate the post-WWII relocation of jobs and housing to the newly created suburbs in surrounding counties which was the beginning of decades-long disinvestment and a decline in the city’s population  Redlining policies that prevented Black Philadelphians from purchasing homes in and around the city , years-long waiting lists for homes with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and lack of reliable public transportation methods to reach jobs in the suburbs keep Philadelphia submerged in poverty.

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That same day, hundreds marched in an anti-ICE rally, just outside the conference on Arch Street. Participants, notably including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, demonstrated support of the closure of the Berks County Residential Facility in Leesport, PA.

During an afternoon panel entitled “Whose Courts? How Progressives Can Transform the Courts (And Win in 2020),” one message rang clear and loud above all: Show up — be it financially, with your time and services, or with your very person. In addition to giving time and effortsto progressive causes, whether paid or voluntary, panelists stressed that people need to understand the urgency of the matter and educate themselves on why judicial elections are so critical to politics. Anisha Singh, Director of Judicial Nominations for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stressed the importance of “driving the narrative” and continually pushing political candidates to talk about how, if endorsed by Planned Parenthood, they will correct the wrongs created by the Trump administration.      

Above all, the tenor of Netroots ‘19 seemed to be this: Sieze the moment. Eboni Taggart, organizer with the Women’s Community Revitalization Project and Netroots Nation 2019 moderator, put it this way:  “I’ve been involved with social justice work for almost two decades and it was clear to me at the event that the appetite for equity and structural transformation is ripe. I was pleased to see so many people coming together to learn strategy on improving human rights. All the topics covered at this event can be summed up to human rights issues. People are reaching out to connect with one another and elevate consciousness. In the midst of rampant despair, gatherings like this are a beam of light.”

Sarah Bryson Banh is currently studying City & Urban Planning at Tyler School of Art, Temple University.

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