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Where do we go from here? A view from the summit

The question looming on everyone’s mind at the 2016 People’s Summit in Chicago was simple: “Where does this movement go from here?”

Some 3,000 activists, journalists, educators, caregivers, poets, artists, volunteers, and even children made the journey from across the country and the world in search of their own answers.

From the onset of the event it was clear; this moment is a time for healing, a time for reflection and a time for learning. But in no uncertain terms now, more than at any point during this historic movement, is a time for action.

It’s important to point out that that’s healing with an “a”, not heeling with an “e”. No answer during the two-day event came out more loudly or more boldly, than that now, there is no time for this movement to be “brought to heel.”

This was the message that reverberated in the powerful words of Nina Turner who, during one portion of her address marched into the audience, and passionately exalted the crowd to have the “courage to speak truth to power, to organize, to stay together, to put forward our list of demands and not to relent one iota on the things that we believe in.” Quoting the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “we might not get everything that we’ve worked for, but we will work for everything that we get,” she exclaimed to thundering applause.

National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn Demoro echoed these same sentiments of relentless urgency earlier in the summit when, during a panel discussion, she addressed the baffling decision by the DNC to leave her and other labor organizers off of the Democratic Platform Planning Committee. While speaking about some of the unfortunate failures of the Affordable Care Act, Demoro said “When you make a compromise in healthcare, you are basically issuing a death sentence… you’re saying that those lives don’t matter.”

Naomi Klein also captured the essence of the this movement’s urgency perfectly in regard to things like global warming. “We got a deadline folks… we don’t have all the time in the world. Whoever the next president is, they come to power with their backs up against the wall when it comes to climate change.”

If there was any uncertainty about the reality of that claim, Josh Fox’s new documentary “How to Let Go of the World,” which was prominently featured throughout the summit, stamped out those doubts completely. Fox, whose groundbreaking documentary Gasland helped make fracking part of the public lexicon, manages yet again to deliver sobering evidence of the devastation brought unto the planet by the fossil fuel industry. In a day and age when it is easy to succumb to hyperbole, to say that he brings to the audience a terrifying eyewitness account of the dangers of we face from big oil and gas is an understatement.

With all of the testimony showing the urgency we face in terms of humanitarian and environmental crises, it almost seems absurd to worry about the plight of any one political party. However, for the DNC and the looming prospects of a Trump presidency, it is nothing short of do or die. John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, highlighted the importance for the DNC to learn from this election.

“If the DNC is savvy, they will recognize that something amazing happened in 2016. A smart political party at a moment like that pulls the breaks, thinks hard about what it’s done right, what it’s done wrong, and when you’re trying to get votes, you look for that expansive moment. This is a critical test for a political party, and it’s a test that will extend beyond this election, it extends into the future. In 1968, the last year this volatile in my view, the DNC did not do a good job, and as a result they lost massive numbers of people in ways they shouldn’t have lost them.”

Matt Taibbi of Rollingstone warned that the DNC might already be failing this test, offering on more than one occasion the many ways in which voters have become frustrated with establishment politics. “Democratic voters tried to express these frustrations through the Sanders campaign,” he said “but the party leaders have been and probably will continue to be too dense to listen. Instead, they’ll convince themselves that, as Hohmann’s Washington Post article puts it, Hillary’s latest victories mean any ‘pressure’ they might have felt to change has now been ‘ameliorated.'”

“For the millions of Americans who’ve voted for Sanders, it’s not just about winning an election,” says Jordan Chariton of The Young Turks. “Dramatically changing the trajectory of their lives, and their children’s lives, is the end game. Millions of people have concluded voting for Hillary Clinton will never bring that to fruition. So they won’t vote for her. Or candidates like her in the House and Senate. In 2016, 2018, 2020 and beyond.”

For some in the Democratic party, the damage done this cycle may be beyond repair. Life long democrat and activist-journalist Shaun King, who was one of headline speakers at the Summit, wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Daily News entitled “Why I am leaving the Democratic Party.” The over 80,000 times that his article has been shared on social media speaks to the growing popularity of that sentiment.

So where does that leave Bernie supporters? What are hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of folks from this campaign to do when they believe that the lesser of two evils is still evil, or when they understand that people have never gotten more by asking for less?

“We need you to be doers of the deeds,” says Nina Turner. “We can’t ask other folks to do more for us than we are willing to do for ourselves.”

This means that supporters must heed the call from Sanders live address last Friday to commit to helping down the ballot progressives. Thus far 11,000 have responded showing an interest in greater participation. Over 6,000 of those that signed up expressed an interest in running for office at the state or local level. The key now is to organize these people and others who are in line with Bernie’s platform for economic, social, and environmental justice. Understandably, many have become disillusioned with the political establishment for what they feel is the outright theft of Bernie’s primary win. However, even if Sanders were to have won the nomination, these steps would be fundamental to the success of wresting control of our government back from a handful of the wealthy few at the top.

Sanders supporters understand that it has been a long road to get to this summit. Right now is understandably a time for healing. We do need to take time for reflection and it is most certainly a time for learning. But now, more so than at any point during this historic movement, this is the time for action.

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