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Dispatches from Netroots Nation 2018, by Monica Roberts

OutSmart columnist attends premier progressive convention in New Orleans.

Sunday, August 5

Even though there were a few panels that piqued my interest as I perused the Saturday schedule matrix, I decided to focus on hitting the caucuses.

One of the panels that seemed interesting was titled, “Disaster Capitalism: New Orleans and Puerto Rico in Dialogue,” featuring San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

We would also find out on this final day of Netroots Nation where and when the 2019 event would take place. That will be in Philadelphia, from July 11-13, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The LGBTQ Caucus, the LGBTQ POC Caucus  and the Black Women Caucus were must-attend for me. And they were all well attended, ranging from 20-30 people in each.  

The highlight for me on this day was the Black Women’s Caucus. I got to finally meet one of my sheroes in Melissa Harris-Perry, and discovered she is a fan and avid reader of my blog, TransGriot. We had a chance to talk politics and a few other subjects during and after the caucus.

There was also another caucus that organically popped up, organized by NN18 African-American attendees, the BlackA** Caucus. Discussion focused on the problematic scheduling of panels against one another that focused on issues affecting people of color; micro-aggressive and anti-black behavior encountered during the event; and NN18 touting the fact that 67 percent of presenters were people of color, while we weren’t being paid for our intellectual labor, among other issues. The caucus also addressed being your authentic black self in a convention space that is overwhelmingly white.  

Those Black A** Caucus conversations led to the planning of a takeover of the NN18 stage during the closing plenary, which was executed later that evening. Demands were articulated from the stage in the EMCC Great Hall that black attendees want to see implemented in time for NN19 and beyond.

The demands included hiring black Netroots Nation staff, inclusion of black members on the NN board, and oversight of a team of black activists for programming submitted by black people to ensure the panels aren’t scheduled against one another.   

Time and their actions will tell if the Netroots Nation Board of Directors was listening.    

The bottom line is that if you want to win, black progressives must be at the table. Black progressives are the key to consistently winning against conservatives, and you ignore African-American voices at your electoral and movement peril.   

Black women are the base of the Democratic Party, and will be the voting bloc that powers the expected blue wave happening in 93 days. 

Netroots Nation 2018 is now one for the history books, and the hosting torch has been passed to Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see what the country’s political landscape looks like when it takes place.

Monica Roberts (second from left) with fellow Houstonians Fran Watson, from left, Annise Parker and Christina Sanders at Netroots Nation 2018.

Saturday, August 4

Friday was Netroots Nation Day 2, and one on which I did not have a panel until 4:15 p.m. That meant I got the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a few presentations as an audience member.

One of those presentations was titled, “Black Women Teach: Perspectives from Black Women Legislators.” It featured Reps. Park Cannon and Renitta Shannon from Georgia, Rep Leslie Herod from Colorado, and Rep Emilia Sykes of Ohio.

They discussed issues they are passionate about and why, as well as some of the challenges of being black female legislators.

I then moved on to watch the “LGBTQ Women Out To Win” panel moderated by our Houston homegirl Annise Parker, which featured Rep. Herod, along with Delegate Danica Roem of Virginia, and Sen. Pat Spearman of Nevada.

This discussion was similar to the black female legislators panel, but also focused on the challenges and advantages of running as a LGBTQ person. It also mic-dropped the amazing stat that an out LGBTQ candidate is 67 percent more likely to win a race because they are seen as more authentic in the eyes of the voting public.

Sen. Spearamn shared lessons from her recent unsuccessful campaign for Congress.   

And yes peeps, after the panel I got a chance to chat with Herod, whom I have known for several years, Roem and Spearman.

During lunch, we were treated to the keynote speech that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was supposed to have delivered Thursday, but couldn’t because of bad weather in the D.C. area that delayed his NOLA arrival. 

There was also showtunes singing in the NN18 Town Square in memory of Joel Silberman, who will be missed by his Netroots Nation family and all who loved and admired him in progressive political circles.

I also bumped into my friend and Daily Kos writer Denise Oliver-Velez, Ambalika Williams and other old and new friends as I wandered the cavernous Convention Center halls. 

Others stopped me to say how much they enjoyed what I had to say on the Thursday panels. But 4:15 p.m. arrived quickly, and it was time for my final panel of the year. It was titled, “Don’t Fear The Black Activist: How To Communicate Without Anti-Blackness,” and was moderated by Faith Cheltenham and Ashton Woods.  

The panel discussed anti-black attitudes within progressive organizing spaces, why eradication of anti-black attitudes needs to become a priority in the progressive movement if we are to be successful, and how we can get busy doing that.

I also had fun watching the younglings at an afterparty sponsored by Democracy For America, until they chased us out at 7 p.m. And I got to enjoy dinner with several friends at Drago’s, a NOLA seafood place well known for its charbroiled oysters (yes, they were delicious).

Friday, August 3

Thursday’s first official day of Netroots Nation 2018 was a full one for me. It started with back-to-back panels before lunchtime, followed by two radio interviews.  

The first panel began at 9 a.m. and was titled, “Igniting The Lit in Litmus Test: How Leading With Repro Justice Helps Us Win.” 

It was a discussion moderated by Heidi Sieck, with fellow panelists Alison Dreith and Atima Omara. It was focused on the how and why Democrats and progressives need to become more literate on reproductive justice issues and no be shy about it. because they are winning issues for our side.  

This is a topic I haven’t explored as much, so I was in active listening mode for the first 15 minutes of the session. But once I started to feel comfortable, I had no problem pointing out how transgender people fit into the reproductive justice framework.

Then I headed across the hall to my 10:30 panel with Moms Rising titled, “Keep Marching 2018: Connect Locally, Build Power and Win.”

Our moderator was Moms Rising CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, whom I have known since Netroots Nation 2016 event in St. Louis, when she interviewed me in the semifinals of the Pundit Cup competition.

It was a reunion of sorts among her, myself, and my fellow panelists Almas Sayeed and Monifa Bandele. I was also happy to see my Texas activist homettes Fran Watson and Sissi Yado in the room as we talked about how critical the election in 96 days will be, and how local action can bring about positive change and wins for our side.

We went over the scheduled 11:45 end time by 10 minutes, but it was lunchtime so that was OK. I headed downstairs to the Town Square part of the EMCC to check out Radio Row and look for Egberto Willies to do the interview I promised him.

Roberts with Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem

While I was there, I ran into Michaelangelo Signorile, whom I hadn’t seen since Netroots Nation 2012 in Providence. He was busy at that moment interviewing Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem, whom I talked to for a few minutes when she was done, before heading a few spots down Radio Row to do my interview on Rowe-Finkbeiner’s show. Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter showed up when I finished, and we chatted for a few minutes before I settled into my KPFT-FM interview with Egberto for his Politics Done Right show

Sunnivie Brydum spotted me, introduced me to her boss at Free Speech TV, and set up an interview for Saturday.   

After lunch back in the Riverwalk, I headed back to the EMCC and tried to figure out what panels I wanted to watch, but didn’t see anything that appealed to me on the conference matrix, so I just wandered the NN Town Square to talk to old and new friends. I was stopped more than a few times by people who had either attended the pre-conference event or the panels and liked what I had to say.   

It was also a bittersweet first day because of the death Thursday morning of a longtime friend of Netroots Nation and the progressive political world in Joel Silberman. He was the media trainer extraordinaire for Democratic candidates, and I met him when I did the GLAAD POC Media training in New York back in 2012.   

We also found out at the plenary session that this event will be the best-attended Netroots Nation ever. Detroit used to hold the record, and New Orleans will probably add to it before the event ends Saturday, because people are still arriving. And, if they ever bring Netroots Nation to Houston, we’ll probably shatter NOLA’s record.)

Thursday evening, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell was among the speakers who fired up the crowd, along with Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s vying to become the first LGBTQ Texan elected to Congress.

Finally, I called it a day and headed back to the hotel to chill and do some writing. I’m ready to see what Friday brings.

Thursday, August 2

I awoke Wednesday to a sunny New Orleans day, basically ready to handle my business and check out some of the pre-conference events taking place at Netroots Nation 2018.

But first, Moni was getting and destroying those beignets. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel is our official #NN18 hotel. The best part is that the hotel is connected to the Riverwalk mall and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (EMCC), where the #NN18 panels and keynotes will take place.

One of the things I like to do is get a feel for a convention venue and figure out exactly where my panels will be located. The Cafe Du Monde on the Riverwalk opened at 8:30 a.m., and the plan was to stop, get my six beignets to go (they come in sets of three), and keep stepping all the way to the EMCC. The journey also allowed me to burn off the calories from those beignets.

My next task was to find the LGBTQ pre-conference event since it had started at 8:30.

I eventually discovered that the pre-conference events, like all the panels, would be on the second floor of the EMCC. After another few minutes of walking, riding escalators, and passing the Emily’s List-sponsored Women’s Caucus, I finally arrived at the already-in-progress LGBTQ event.

My arrival was a surprise to my LGBTQ media homies and homettes facilitating this event, Zack Ford, Liz Owen, Dana Rudolph, Daniel Villareal, and Mike Rogers. They all gave me big hugs before they returned to conducting their daylong caucus that would end at 5 p.m..

After talking to Sunnivie Brydum and a few other attendees of the LGBTQ pre-conference event during the break, I left at noon to handle some off-campus business with the BiNet crew at their Airbnb in the French Quarter.
I also needed to move out of my 19th floor room to a suite on the same floor for the rest of the conference.

The 19th floor room wasn’t  bad. It had a view of the Mississippi River, and I loved watching the paddle boats, barges and ships cruise by as I was writing. But the suite I’m now in has an even better view.  

After hanging out at the BiNet Airbnb for a few hours to work on our Friday presentation, we headed back to the EMCC at 4:30 p.m. to pick up our #NN18 programs and badges.  

I also found out while I was hanging out in the Quarter with my BiNet fam that I have a 9 a.m. engagement Thursday. I received a call from the Trans United Fund Operations Manager Daye Pope that Executive Director Hayden Mora had a family emergency in New York that required his immediate attention. She asked if I could cover for him in a reproductive justice panel.

The Mom’s Rising panel I’m scheduled to be on Thursday doesn’t take place until 10:30 a.m., so I agreed to do the repro justice panel, too. That means I won’t be staying up late tonight.  

Once back at the EMCC, we entered into Hall B, which will serve as the Netroots Nation Town Square, aka the vendor area. I noticed that Radio Row was going up on that side of the building as well.

Egberto Willies and the KPFT-FM crew were setting up, and after talking to him for a few minutes to coordinate a radio interview for his show during the afternoon, I headed to the registration desk to pick up my #NN18 badge.  

After talking to a few longtime friends, we headed back to the hotel via the Riverwalk so I could get busy writing about #NN18 pre-conference day. 
Well, I must get my beauty sleep on this end of I-10. I have a long first day of Netroots Nation 2018 ahead of me.

Wednesday, August 1

One of the things I get to do is travel to different parts of the country to attend conventions that hone my skills as an advocate for all the communities I intersect and interact with.  

That’s why I’m here in New Orleans for this year’s edition of the Netroots Nation conference that will run from August 2-4. As a new OutSmart columnist, I’ll be reporting on this year’s event from my perspective.

So what is Netroots Nation? It is one of the major progressive political conferences that evolved from the YearlyKos event organized by the readers and writers of the DailyKos political blog.

The first Netroots Nation took place in Las Vegas in 2006, and Austin hosted the event in 2008. The inaugural event garnered major press coverage, and it has continued to grow in stature as a must-attend event.

While it’s not a LGBTQ conference, we do have a strong presence here, and our issues will be amplified among the nearly 3,500 people expected to attend #NN18.   

My first Netroots Nation was in 2012 in Providence, Rhode Island, when I took part in a historic panel for transgender bloggers. It became by default my coming-out party to the progressive world. I ended up speaking my mind during a black caucus session and doing two radio interviews. One was with Elon James White of the This Week In Blackness show ,who along with his co-host L. Joy Williams, was the moderator of the black caucus session.

Michaelangelo Signorile heard my interview on TWIB from his spot on the Netroots Nation Radio Row, and invited me to appear on his Sirius XM show.

But it would be four years before I attended another Netroots Nation, in St Louis in 2016. Tensions were high because Bernie Sanders supporters were still pissed that he lost to Hillary Clinton. I was there to do two panels, and while wandering around the vendors area, I got talked into competing in that year’s edition of the Netroots Nation Pundit Cup, by John Gorczynski.

I won the Pundit Cup title and the $500 prize, which I happily put in my purse.  

Last year’s event was in Atlanta, and once again I was on two panels in addition to serving as a judge for the semifinals and finals of the Pundit Cup competition I did a radio interview with Egberto Willies for his KPFT-FM show, and got an opportunity to meet Stacey Abrams, now the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, and talk to her and her campaign staff about some of the issues affecting the trans community. 

Sadly, one of the things I also did while I was in the Atlanta was represent the national trans community at a memorial service for Tee Tee Daingerfield, jointly hosted by the local trans community and Tee Tee’s union siblings.  

So what’s going to happen while I’m here for #NN18? I’m scheduled to be on panel Thursday morning, and after that we’ll see. Scheduled speakers this year include Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

I also want to check out this year’s Pundit Cup competition to see if the streak of female winners continues.  

And yeah, I’m going to destroy some beignets before I hop that flight back to Houston.


Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts, a native Houstonian, is the founding editor of the GLAAD award-winning blog TransGriot. Her ongoing mission is to educate people on the lives of transgender people and fight for everyone’s human rights.
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