It was an incredibly busy and rewarding time last week at Netroots Nation in Detroit. Sifting mentally through the countless conversations, workshops, speeches, text messages, Tweets, business cards and campaign “swag” I’ve accumulated, I struggled to find a common thread.
Then I visited the Detroit Industry Murals — one of Diego Rivera’s most famous works of art. Rivera’s amazing fresco murals reflect ideas of duality: contrasting managers and workers, mechanized industry and the natural world, and the positive and destructive potential of science and technology. Rivera beautifully illustrated these concepts between 1932 and 1933 by painting images of biochemical weapons and passenger planes, female fertility figures with South and North American characteristics, doves and hawks, orderly production lines and fiery furnaces.
Then, it clicked. For me, Netroots Nation 2014 has been about the duality of art and war.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving in Detroit, Michigan Wednesday. The city is heavy with symbolism in the American imagination – everything from Motor City and Motown to Broken Dreams and Bankruptcy. A recent article called Detroit “a mixed picture of hope and desolation.” Which side would reveal itself to me?
I craned my neck as the taxi cab sped along a highway. At first, I saw nothing special: clouds low and gray in the sky, SUVs on the road, overpasses and underpasses, and the occasional warehouse or big-box store.
And then I saw them: large, four- or five-bedroom, brick or wood houses alongside the highway. Every house was boarded up, caving in, spray-painted, overgrown with vines, or blackened with fire scars. The cab driver spoke angrily. “See those homes? It’s not safe there — looting and shooting. Do you see those homes?”
I did see them.
(The following post about the Netroots Nation conference, recently concluded in San Jose, California, first appeared on JesseLuna.com and is reprinted with permission. Jesse Luna is a communications specialist with SEIU Local 721.)
The labor message was strong at the Netroots Nation 2013 conference. There was a consistent message across sessions and activities, a strong focus on the rise of what is being called “Alt Labor” and there were some good worker actions. Labor must be a part of the progressive movement.
Sessions and Activities
It was common to have pro-union voices at the different sessions and even during the activities. During a taco truck lunch event, several elected officials took to the microphone and spoke about the need to raise the minimum wage. Two young people also spoke about their experiences working at fast food places, the low wages and poor working conditions there.
It’s a strange feeling to recognize someone not by his or her face, but by their name-tag. This was the experience I had in Providence, Rhode Island this past week, where I attended the annual Netroots Nation conference for progressives on behalf of my union, UNITE HERE Local 11. It was good to finally match up the tweets to all these faces that I had been in touch with for the past year.
I arrived at the conference later than most of my UNITE HERE comrades because of my work schedule and a delayed flight. One of the moments that I was sad to have missed was when hotel workers from the Providence Westin came onstage and thanked the Netroots organization for moving its 2010 conference from their hotel due to a contract dispute with the Westin over wage cuts, slashes in vacation and the elimination of union jobs for subcontracted ones.