“You and me are floating on a tidal wave/ Together/ You and me are drifting into outer space”
– Coldplay, ‘X & Y’
I’m on another continent now, having left the country I always find it the hardest to leave. As if in rebellion, my body came down with a severe bout of tonsillitis as we flew across the Atlantic. By the time I arrived in London I was a shivering, feverish mess and my throat was so swollen I couldn’t swallow. I somehow bundled myself and my suitcase through customs, and onto the Tube. I couldn’t have changed Tube stops without the help of a really nice Londoner, who upon seeing the look of despair in my eyes, helped carry my bag up the seemingly unending steps. Finally I made it to Simon and Rachel’s place, who are kindly letting me stay with them until the weekend.
So I’ve had a day to reflect on the last few days of the U.S. leg of my trip: Netroots Nation. It felt a bit like being on a spaceship full of progressive activists and bloggers hurtling towards an imagined better future (on a tidal wave with lots of momentum, into outer space – hence the Coldplay lyric) but struggling to strategise the way to get there.
There were some moments of big-picture clarity, like Van Jones’ mind-blowing keynote speech . There were a lot of insightful one-on-one conversations. Ellen and I had a great lunch with Marianne Manilov from The Engage Network where we discussed movement structure. There was a lot of learning. I watched a powerful film called “The Last Mountain” and learned about the devastating practice of mountain-top removal coal mining. I learned about the successful movement to repeal the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, and about the immigrant rights movement and the almost-successful movement to pass the DREAM Act. There are a lot of lessons in both of these campaigns for the youth climate movement.
I learnt about online data and analytics in campaiging. I went to a session called “What Hollywood can teach progressive activism” and learned the kind of techniques that we can use in climate change videos and ads to move people’s hearts and minds. I learned about the structural barriers to passing not only climate legislation but other progressive legislation, and how the conservative Right in the USA have built power whilst diminishing the power of progressive movements. I thought more about hyper-local organising for mini climate victories. I listened, hard, to debates within climate change leaders over the cap and trade legislation that failed to (a) be strong enough to have effected meaningful change and (b) to pass at all. I listened to where these campaigners thought the next steps for climate legislation needed to be.
Most of all there were new people. Amazing people. Bloggers, organizers, online and offline campaigners, thought leaders and heroes from many movements that together make up progressive America. Everyone I met taught me something. They shared stories about the work they’re doing and the challenges they face. They shared with me heartbreaking things about America, and inspiring stories of bravery and courage in campaigns in spite of enormous odds. I was blessed to meet these people; to have crossed their paths even for just a short period of time.
I’ll write more, later, on specific interesting things from Netroots (I took lots of notes). For now, I’m just grateful to have been able to be part of it, and that it was held in Minneapolis, which is a really fun city. When I recover from this flu, I’m hoping I can find similar levels of awesomeness in the UK. Over the next ten days I’m meeting people from the climate, youth and progressive movements here in London, and speaking at a conference on Saturday organized by someone I met at Netroots from the blog Liberal Conspiracy. Wish me luck for a speedy recovery!