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The People's Summit opening panel featured Rosario Dawson, John Nichols, Naomi Klein, and RoseAnne DeMoro, and was moderated by Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez. (Photo: National Nurses United/Twitter)

People's Summit Offers Hope for a Movement Bigger Than Bernie

'Once you know something you can't un-know it. Now we know how powerful we are,' said activist and actor Rosario Dawson

Nika Knight

A conference organized around the progressive issues that formed the cornerstone of Bernie Sanders' presidential run has re-energized the American left, attendees said, as the gathering provoked conversations and connections that will invigorate political and social movements to come.

Coming in the wake of Sanders' primary losses earlier this month, and after the recent murders in Orlando and in the U.K., the so-called People's Summit became a "place of healing," said activist and author Naomi Klein, who took part in the opening panel.

"I could feel that people were down," Klein said of the start of the summit. "This was not a rah rah rally. People came in licking their wounds."

Klein continued:

So many people had given their lives over to chasing this dream... And he got so close, you know, I think 12 million votes was the last tally. So, people had tasted this thing which the left hadn't tasted in a long time. [Bernie Sanders] came so close to winning.

We were also coming off of this really bloody week of political violence, with Orlando, with the murder of Jo Cox... It was absolutely fitting that we had been convened by nurses, by caregivers, because we were bruised. And it became this space of healing. 

By the end of it, people were so ready to be back in it. By the end of the opening panel and by the end of the whole gathering, people were energized and ready to go again. Energized by these face to face connections.

"This was very much an exchange," Klein added. "It was as much about the conversations you're having in the hallways and over meals as the speeches. It was very much the connective tissue of movements that was what this was all about."

"You really felt how much bigger this movement is than Bernie."
—Naomi Klein

"There was a sense among many activists—not all, but most—that the Bernie campaign was not a defeat," Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media, told Common Dreams via email. "That it was not an end, but a big acceleration of movements that existed pre-FeelTheBern—for example, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Fight for Fifteen, immigrants' rights, etc. That it will lead to all sorts of progressive electoral interventions in the coming years."

Indeed, "if the summit had any common theme, it may have been 'Don’t count us out,'" reported D.D. Guttenplan in The Nation. "Though there were more than a handful of Bernie-or-busters in attendance[...] Becky Bond, a former senior adviser to the [Sanders] campaign, spoke for a much greater proportion when she said, 'Bernie didn't create this movement. He recognized the movement moment we are in.'"

Klein agreed, noting, "You really felt how much bigger this movement is than Bernie. This slogan, 'Not me, us,' is so much more than a slogan."

Cohen observed that "normally when a candidate does not win a hard-fought race, the candidate slinks away and supporters of that candidate drift off disheartened."

"Unlike most electoral campaigns," Cohen wrote, "the Bernie campaign resulted in a massive conference this weekend, a search for candidates to run for local offices, some real networking among progressive groups, and a plan for major national protests in February in D.C. and locally, no matter who is elected."

Klein said that many conversations at the gathering revolved around how to support and organize new progressive candidates in electoral politics as well as how to keep up the energy in the social movements that are currently pushing for many of Sanders' suggested reforms.

"We can't forget that it was social movements that produced the conditions that made governing thinkable," Klein said. "It was winning enough victories, enough local battles —increases in minimum wage, bans on fracking—that made people feel like, 'Wow, well, maybe we could govern.' If we swing all the way in the direction of, 'Okay, now it's all about electoral politics,' then we lose that force and all of that momentum, and that is going to be absolutely necessary to hold neoliberal politicians accountable."

"There is massive corruption in the machinery of the Democratic Party."
—RoseAnn DeMoro, National Nurses United
"I heard no sectarian discussion," Klein continued, "no 'My way or the highway.' I heard, 'We need it all. We need people to go into politics, but we also need people in social movements.'"

Many discussions also focused on how to reform the Democratic party—how to eliminate the much-criticized superdelegate system and super PACs, as well as how to influence the party platform, Klein said.

"There is massive corruption in the machinery of the Democratic Party," said RoseAnn DeMoro to CNN. DeMoro is the executive director of National Nurses United, the "convening force" behind the gathering, as Klein described it.

"The only way that we can overcome that corruption and manipulation is for all of us not to work in isolation," DeMoro added, telling CNN that the party's efforts to garner endorsements for Clinton from Sanders backers had been "a very negative dialogue."

The message, she told the broadcaster, had been that "if you're not with Clinton, then you're pro-Trump."

To that point, Becky Bond, a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, told the gathering that the progressive movement was better equipped to defeat Trump than the Clinton campaign.

Bond argued that "because Trump is a multimillionaire or billionaire, depending on who you believe, and [progressives] are the people who know how to take on the one percent of the one percent. Hillary is very much aligned with those interests, is herself every much a part of it," Klein said, summarizing Bond's comments.

"It is necessary for us to continue our fight on the ground."
—Dominique Scott, student and summit participant
"We do have to defeat Trump, but we don't have to do it in the way the Democratic establishment wants us to," Bond told the conference goers, according to Newsweek.

The choice between Trump and Clinton is an appalling one, many attendees seemed to agree.

The stark choice "brings to light how important it is that we are all here as the people," said a student and participant named Dominique Scott to Newsweek. "It is necessary for us to continue our fight on the ground. We've never relied on a presidential candidate to solve all our problems for us, and it would be silly and irresponsible for us to do that."

Looking to the near future, Klein argued that the "fight in the Democratic Party does matter in the coming weeks. People are going to see how far they can take this attempt to democratize the Democratic Party. They're pushing on all fronts, they're going to see what they can come up with."

"It might turn out that [the Democratic Party is] absolutely irredeemable," Klein continued, "and we have to organize outside of the Democratic Party, but let's see how things turn out. Let's see what happens."

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