I’ve spent the past 48 hours stewing over Netroots Nation ’15.
The Netroots Nation convention will be in Phoenix next summer. Markos Moulitsas has announced that DailyKos will not be participating or supporting the convention. So long as SB 1070 is still law in Arizona, so long as latinos are routinely harrassed and threatened by agents of the state, Moulitsas has pledged not to spend a dime in the state. He writes:
As a Latino, I do not feel safe in Arizona, a state that continues to profile and harrass Latinos because of the way they look. So I’m not going to go, nor am I going to put my family or my staff at risk.
This whole controversy calls to mind the 2012 American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meeting boycott. The APSA convention was scheduled for New Orleans that year. Louisiana had a “super-DOMA” statute on the books. If an LGBT political scientist got sick while attending the convention, his/her partner would be denied hospital visitation rights. Many APSA members felt that it was wrong for the association to hold our annual meeting in a state which puts members in this sort of jeopardy. They organized through petitions and joint letters to the APSA leadership. They pointed out that the association changed the location of the 2011 APSA meeting from San Francisco to Seattle because of labor disputes in San Francisco. APSA wouldn’t cross a picket line (good!). But it didn’t accord the same respect to the rights LGBT members. The APSA leadership ignored these protests, and the New Orleans meeting proceeded on schedule.*
I’m particularly reminded of a conversation I had with my former undergraduate mentor a few months before the APSA boycott. He told me that he would be boycotting the annual meeting. His longtime friends and colleagues in the discipline were boycotting as well. But he also told me that he expected me to attend. “You’re still pre-tenure and building your career,” he said, “this meeting is important for your job, you should be there. No one will think less of you for it.”
So I signed the petitions and the joint letters, but I also booked my reservations for the damn conference. “Looks like I’ll take a stand next time,” I told myself.
Well, this sure seems like next time.
Here’s the argument in favor of selecting this conference location:
We are going there because that’s where our voices and presence are needed right now. We’re going there because that’s where organizing power is needed right now. We’re going there because that’s where we can have the greatest impact and affect the greatest change. We as a community need to go there because we need to join those on the ground who are fighting this fight everyday.
That sounds nice and all, but it rests on a misdiagnosis of what a national convention siting decision can accomplish. National conventions don’t build lasting local activist infrastructure or organizing power. If you go back to San Jose or Minneapolis or Providence, you won’t find concrete examples of progressive power building that emerged because the Netroots Nation convention was held there in years’ past. That isn’t how it works. We fly in, we enrich the economy, we shine a brief spotlight, we fly out. That’s all.
But national conventions are a real boon to the local Chamber of Commerce and elected officials. Conventions are a concentrated form of economic power. Cities compete for them. You can use that power to reward your allies. You can use it to demand concessions from your wavering targets. You can use it to impose an opportunity cost on your enemies.
To the organizing committee’s credit, they are right that placing the conference in Phoenix will put immigration at the top of the Netroots’ radar. (Or, to be more precise, it will signal that immigration is already at the top of the Netroots’ radar.) And that’s a laudable choice. I can see how they came to believe that this would be bold and empowering. Any Presidential candidates who chose to attend the event should be ready for some tough questions. But Arizona isn’t the only border state. They can accomplish those goals without putting attendees in this position.
…look to labor: Netroots Nation refuses to hold events in cities without union hotel and conference facilities. They’re not “taking the fight” to non-unionized locations because we, as a movement, stand for the right of people to organize and we don’t reward those places that deny those rights. It’s the right call. Also, would the conference have been happy to stay in Arizona had Gov. Jan Brewer signed the virulently anti-gay SB 1062 earlier this year? Hard to see that happening.
Latinos deserve that same kind of respect.
Markos is right. Latinos are being targeted in Arizona. Flying 4,000 people in for a weekend of workshops, keynote speeches, and a rally or two doesn’t provide lasting help. The local Chamber of Commerce and elected officials will happily endure our presence so long as we’re all staying in their hotel chains and buying their products. On Sunday, the conventioneers fly home, leaving their money behind.
You know what would have an even bigger impact? Publicly dropping Phoenix because it has racist laws on the books. Make it clear that their anti-immigrant agenda costs the city tourism dollars. That would “shine a light” too. That would be grist for news stories and tough questions to public officials. That would provide more tangible long-term help to the activists on the ground than a few mainstage speeches and breakout panels, and solidarity marches.
The bottom line is this: if you are an undocumented American, or if you look a bit like an undocumented American, then attending a conference in Phoenix involves putting yourself at risk. The Netroots Nation organizing committee shouldn’t be assigning that risk on behalf of thousands of other people.
Among the ~4,000 expected attendees next year will be plenty of individuals who are required to attend by their jobs. Netroots Nation 2007 (which was then still called YearlyKos) played host to a televised presidential primary debate. It’s a safe bet that Netroots Nation 2015 will be angling for another one. That’s an awful lot of early career campaign staff who will have to attend the convention whether they feel right about it or not. Those of us who don’t have to attend have the responsibility to speak up now and object.
Netroots Nation isn’t APSA. Netroots Nation cares about this fight for justice. That’s why they’ve selected Phoenix in an attempted show of solidarity. But selecting Phoenix also requires every Latino attendee to accept a type of risk that every white attendee gets to avoid. And it does so while providing much more of a boon to local officials than it does to local activists. I understand that they reached this decision in good faith, but it’s still the wrong choice.
I hope the organizing committee rethinks this decision. Otherwise, I can’t in good conscience attend.
*Fun Fact: The APSA meeting was eventually canceled because a hurricane hit New Orleans during the week of the annual meeting. Some might call that cosmic retribution. I call it bad planning. Simple rule, folks: don’t plan a big meeting in Louisiana during hurricane season. Or in Rochester during the winter. …Or in Phoenix during frickin’ JULY!