This past weekend, more than 4,000 energized progressives from across the country traveled to Chicago to help build an ongoing political revolution at The People’s Summit 2017. The convention, organized by National Nurses United and co-convened by Food & Water Action, Progressive Democrats of America, People’s Action, People for Bernie, and other groups, was high energy. Attendees, simply put, were fired up. Activists, advocates, authors, elected officials, aspiring electeds, newly politicized masses, young reporters and long-time political pundits all gathered at the largest convention center in North America to hash out next steps for the progressive movement. And Food & Water Action was there, right in the middle of it.
Organized as a space for education, discussion and planning, the conference included teach-ins, speeches, panels and even a dance party. Progressive leaders like Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Linda Sarsour, Nina Turner and RoseAnn DeMoro took to multiple stages to frame the conversations. But all reiterated one main theme: it’s time to pull the country from the hands of corporations and billionaires, and give it back to the people. In a culmination of passion, persuasion and energy, Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the summit with an hour-long vision for resistance and renewal in America.
This year, Food & Water Action co-convened the summit and had a big presence on stage, on panels and throughout the convention floor. Helping to kick things off Thursday night was Food & Water Action Co-Organizing Director Mark Schlosberg, who highlighted many of Trump’s policy attacks on clean air and water, and sound public infrastructure. But his repeated caveat was telling: all of these problems existed well before Trump’s election. To sustained cheers from the huge crowd, Mark went on to detail critical fights underway to protect public water systems, fight fossil fuels and fracking, and resist bad trade deals.
Mark also took time to highlight major victories that Food & Water Action has helped lead. In Monterey, we beat Big Oil and banned fracking in a major oil-producing county in California. In Philadelphia, we led the fight to reject fossil fuels at their ports. And in Florida, with our help, more than 80% of the population has passed ordinances or resolutions to ban fracking. Concluding with gusto, Mark noted that in order to achieve the clean energy revolution, we must first achieve a real political revolution.
— jackie (@JackieFilson) June 10, 2017
Later that night from the same main stage, our southern region director, Jorge Aguilar, focused on Food & Water Action’s role in leading coalition fights to ban fracking state by state. He outlined how our relentless organizing led to successfully banning fracking in New York and, most recently, in Maryland. Sprinkled with witty quips that kept the crowd enthralled, Jorge described the importance of grassroots mobilization. In Maryland, the ban would not have passed without the thousands of phone calls, hundreds of hours of canvassing, and near-constant flow of media attention highlighting that the ban was the will of the people.
On Saturday, in a policy breakout discussion, Food & Water Action Assistant Director Patty Lovera led a discussion about activism in rural America. Rather than preach broken record ideas about the “forgotten land,” Patty’s session evolved into a conversation of support and solidarity. Farmers from Montana, homeowners from Iowa, students from Michigan and many others came forward to tell their stories of personal experiences with dirty water, unaffordable bills and crumbling infrastructure. The distress that these communities face emerged as speaker after speaker stepped forward to demand that urban activists pay more attention to these fights. The panel culminated in a call for collective energy to come together and fight for change in all 50 states.
— Food & Water Watch (@foodandwater) June 10, 2017
Similar feelings of dejection and anger spilled over into another Patty-led session on “Water, Jobs and Justice,” where she outlined an urgent demand to rebuild America’s infrastructure alongside a diverse panel of speakers. Each speaker represented a different faction of the fight to upgrade our nation’s crumbling water infrastructure.
Across the hall, Food & Water Action’s co-director of our Food & Water Justice program, Michele Merkel, detailed the failings of market-based solutions like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs in fighting climate change. As an alternative,, Merkel made a case for a more radical step: a cap on emissions at their source and a swift and just transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2035.
Throughout the summit, thousands of activists consumed information, networked and made connections, and tried to parse through the state of the Democratic party. In the end, rather than dwell on the political failings of the left, it seemed that a group consensus developed to focus on making tangible and sustainable change. If anything was clear by this massive gathering, it’s that the people are ready to, “stand up, and fight back.”