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The People’s Sum Up

Credit: Aaron Bowersock

I’m glad I went. Let’s start there.

I attended the 2017 People’s Summit in Chicago, IL, and I’m glad I did. I was able to reunite with the Bernie family I made in Philly, meet some family for the first time, and of course listen to, speak with, and take selfies with some of the journalists that influence me most.

The organization and execution of this summit were the literal opposite of Fyre Festival- so major respect to the organizers on that front. I’ve produced conferences before and, once, a colleague said, “Aaron, the shuttle is on fire!” I laughed at her joke, but she was wasn’t joking. Our bus, carrying about 50 VPs and CEOs was on fire. So yes, to the workers who produced this event, I applaud you for the smooth execution and not lettin’ us see you sweat.

As for the criticism of the agenda? Sure, it’s warranted, and in this piece I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of the agenda, but mainly I want to cover the People. It seems the actual attendees and what we experienced has somehow been left out of the overall conversation.

Some independent organizations were able to secure booths, like local Green Party chapters, but even they were not given speaking roles. Socialist Alternative, an organization I belong to, was not granted a table, and we were denied speaking opportunities even though we have championed efforts like the Fight for 15, renters’ rights, and are currently joining an Affordable Housing coalition, working against corporate Democrats. We also got an open socialist elected and re-elected in Seattle. Some of these fights are shared with those choosing to “DemEnter,” but since we call for an independent party of the 99%, we’re denied participation in any official capacity. I think including Left groups like Socialist Alternative would have made the debate more vibrant and democratic.

If they want to provide attendees with the strongest ideas going forward, we should include the “New Left”

I’ve seen the argument that “it’s their event, and they don’t want any messaging that would distract from their agenda,” (which I believe to be participation in the two-party system to enact change). I understand that, but many agree that something this big should welcome alternative voices and ideas. If the ideas of People’s Summit- if they want to provide attendees with the strongest ideas going forward, we should include the “New Left,” as the Nation calls us.

The People’s Summit did not go far enough

There was plenty of criticism and blasting of the Democratic Party, even by some of the biggest names in politics. Van Jones asserted that Clinton “took a billion dollars and set it on fire and called it a campaign.” This was always followed up by “the Democrats must learn their lesson” and come back to the people. “They must learn,” but if not, then what? They’ve already lost 1,000 seats in a decade, voters are abandoning them in droves, and their donor totals are the lowest since 2009. I feel the country has already punished them, but they change nothing and continue to push forward regressive policy or half measures that help no one.

Even so, they (and Bernie) want to stay within the lanes of the two party system to enact sweeping national change. They believe it’s their best chance.

Ok, let’s talk about that.

It’s my belief that we must form a working class party- a party of the 99%. More than 40% of Americans consider themselves independent voters. Voters across the country favor many of the things the “Left” is calling for: higher minimum wage, single payer healthcare, tuition-free education, and more. All these efforts are sabotaged by the corporate controlled Democratic party. So I ask- just how is Dem reform the best idea by default? When my friends in Florida and California are pouring their hearts, time, and money into state DNC Chair races, only to have billionaires obliterate the bylaws and install someone, I wonder…

How does People’s Summit accept, by default, that this is the only way forward?

If you believe your idea is the best way to enact crucial progressive policy that could, in fact, save life on Earth as we know it, then please let your idea be challenged and sharpened by groups fighting for a similar platform.

I ask the People’s Summit leadership to seriously consider this criticism.

I’ve spoken with people who have attended various sessions, and when I include their account with my experience, my imperfect perspective is that The People’s Summit agenda was willing to tell a good portion of truth, but was unable or unwilling to go all the way.

So that’s the agenda. What about the People?

When we talk about the People, themselves, I have a completely different takeaway. The attendees of the People’s Summit come from all different backgrounds, cities, struggles, levels of political or activist experience, and we were all here because we recognize the moment of time we are currently in. We recognize the need to act.

The very first night was a reunion with my Bernie delegate friends and fellow protesters from Philly. I also met new people fighting against DWS and Florida corruption, people who ran campaigns, people fighting for immigrants’ rights, people fighting for paper ballots and fair elections, and actual candidates.

Our discussions throughout the Summit were inspiring, retrospective, critical, and sometimes uncomfortable in the most constructive way.

We talked about our fights and how we could help each other, what’s working and what’s not- true coalition (and not just superficial co-op).

For instance, a thought that stuck with me was to not simply claim solidarity and put a sign in your window. What are you actually doing? Are you showing up and taking your lumps in a movement? (I understand many of us are working two or more jobs, or have other circumstances that simply make it difficult to do more.) My personal takeaway is- is this cause something you’re making an effort to embody? Be conscious and avoid making superficial gestures.

I had tough conversations about learning from and participating in discussions in communities that I do not belong to. The importance of recognizing and respecting spaces created… and my place in them. Gotta accept that these conversations will be uncomfortable at times, and if they’re easy conversations, have I really grown?

I often think about this… as I believe solidarity/coalition building within the working class is the only way forward. I got the challenging question of- why Socialist Alternative in Seattle doesn’t have many black people. “There ARE black people in Seattle.” I had no answer.

With my Minneapolis Socialist Alternative comrades, we spoke of organized labor, history, and campaigning. We shared our experiences of Occupying the Capitol in Madison, WI during Scott Walker’s destruction of union rights. And of course, we talked about where we go from here.

Which brings me to the main critique of the People’s Summit

By solely focusing on two-party national politics, we lose some of the strength we have in truly hashing out alternative ideas.

Why do we need ideas from outside?

The Fight for 15 needed wins in cities in order to get fuel for the national discussion. This began through a Socialist Alternative led coalition.

Single payer, renters’ rights, taxing the rich, housing… these are all fought against Democratic leadership, and only when activists outside of Democratic party build pressure, and gain support of the general public, do the politicians finally cave.

I’m no national expert, but I can say that we need, in Seattle, an unapologetic New Left to stand up and say things aloud. This way, the obvious is stated and we can begin gaining momentum.

Why avoid this portion of the conversation on the main stages at the People’s Summit? (I do want to take this chance to recognize that smaller breakouts touched on disruption and direct action.)

On The Two Party System

A major problem I see with playing within two party trap is… why beg the ruling elite for measly concessions? I want to challenge their right to rule by forming a party of the 99%. As proven by the UK elections, a socialist and populist platform CAN win, and it’s absolutely attractive and engaging to working people and the majority.

While I support, respect, and see the need for DemEnter fighters, I obviously have made a different choice on how to spend my energy. However, even with these differences, here we are fighting the same fight, having tough discussions, talking coalition, and dancing to Selena.

The dance party was dope

Our independent ideas were not part of the main sessions, but the attendees were still discussing all the issues listed above, and more. There’s so much criticism about those who attend, and an odd belief that we must be blind.

So let me tell you about who we are.

These are the people I love wholeheartedly and believe in and trust inherently. Protestors and delegates I’d cried and danced with in that Philadelphia downpour, or new friends I’ve made in the year, since.

They’re smart, motivated, relentless, and unbroken. They’re volunteering in their cities, under political and police pressure, and out of necessity. They recognize the moment we’re in.

And there will come times when our goals align and we will form a coalition. This, to me, was the People’s Summit.

So did the organization intend something else? A Strong argument for that. Should they have included certain speakers and points of view in an official capacity? Absolutely. But I think, being the people that we are, maybe the agenda was simply a backdrop.

With respect to speakers, individuals I admire, whose work I read, share, and talk about, I was most energized, educated, and inspired by my friends.

I appreciate the prompt to flock to Chicago and all the work that my fellow working class people put into the event.

That said, in my opinion, if you get these same attendees, and more, in an old warehouse, and order some pizzas, we’d still walk away having had the same conversations, and ready to fight.

Can I take a moment to highlight independent candidates?

To put our independent money where our mouth is, in Seattle there are two candidates I’d like to highlight that are running independent of the two party system, and another in Minneapolis.

Nikkita Oliver is a lawyer, educator, Black Lives Matter activist, and brilliant poet. She’s running for Mayor of Seattle and doing so without taking a dime in corporate cash. Nikkita Oliver is running as the People’s Party candidate in a corporate Dem stronghold.

Jon Grant is an affordable housing activist running for City Council as a Democratic Socialist. He has an excellent track record in affordable housing efforts and renter’s rights. He would join Kshama Sawant, our Socialist Alternative Council Member, in fighting for legislation of the “New Left.”

Ginger Jentzen is a Socialist Alternative candidate running for Minneapolis, MN City Council. She is a Fight For 15 leader who has taken a vow to accept only an average worker’s wage as her salary, using the rest on building up the community.

Go visit their websites, and please share. They’re people-powered and that means you and me.

This piece was originally published on Medium.

Written by Aaron Bowersock

Multi-media artist dedicating my art and writing to the cause of normalizing political discussion. Activist with Socialist Alternative, building a working people's party for the 99%.

Aaron is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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  1. So I guess having VPs and CEOs on the shuttle that was on fire was much worse than if it had been unimportant people?

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