Second Annual Red State
This Saturday, I attended the second annual Red State conference at the Unitarian Church in Lincoln. This annual gathering of leftists is hosted by local groups, including the Lincoln DSA, the Omaha DSA, the Nebraska Left Coalition, Feed the People-Lincoln, For the People-Omaha, the Black Cat House, the Triumph, and the Dandelion Network. The conference brought together local organizers from Lincoln and Omaha, along with regional and national organizers. It was great to see familiar faces from Lincoln and Omaha’s leftist groups, as well as new folks of all ages, including folks from central Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Approximately, 140 folks showed up, an increase from last year.
Panel topics included Leftist 101, Strategies for Socialists, Building Alternative Systems of Care, Tenant Organizing, Community Preparedness, Theater of the Oppressed, and Electing Systems Change. With so many to choose from it was hard to decide!
The Value of Communalism and Relationships
Across the conference, I took away two points: the importance of the values of communalism and the importance of personal relationships.
The morning started with a land acknowledgement, not only recognizing the Omaha and Pawnee on whose lands we currently live, but also recognizing the communal lives of these people, in which people cared for young and old and one another. This set the tone for the day, striving to live a more communal life in which we all care for our neighbors and the lands we live on.
The first session featured local organizers from Lincoln and Omaha. Some highlights from that session include:
- The ability of collective voices to change the direction of redevelopment projects;
- Using shame to get people in power to act better;
- Using a combination of tactics to influence change;
- The need for connections to build better communities;
- The need to build social movements in which people can come in and out as they need, rather than one and done structured campaigns;
- The need to be inclusive and open in order to bring in the voices of those who are typically marginalized to generate better solutions;
- The importance of facilitation in community dialogue;
- The need to build trusting relationships;
- The importance of knowing who else is doing what you are interested in;
- The necessity of building coalitions who work together on a range of issues;
- Learn what works locally;
- Making the work joyful.
As a researcher who studies community organizing, it was exciting to hear each of these things because they are supported by the research on tackling complex problems such as housing, poverty, and health.
Learning from the Past
After this great session, I chose a session called, “Answering MLK’s Call for a Radical Revolution of Values,” put on by Roberto Mendoza, an indigenous and Latino organizer from Oklahoma. Roberto presented the communal values of indigenous peoples from all over the world as an alternative to the values of capitalism that many people never understand or question. Roberto emphasized we must lead from our values and that they must be clearly stated for us to enact them.
Enacting these values start with us and how we treat one another and the spaces that make up our community.
Lefties Run for Office
While many on the left are leery of the state, and Roberto emphasized the inherent hierarchical nature of the state, others see the necessity of generating systematic change from inside. The second panel I attended brought together current and former leftist candidates including Cassey Lottman who ran for city council in Lincoln; Mark Vondrasek, who is currently running for LD 9 in Midtown Omaha, and Morgann Freeman, who is running for US Congress in CD2. The panel also featured a member of the Lawrence Kansas DSA who spoke about what electoral work looks like in their organization.
Each candidate spoke of the reasons they chose to run, including the lack of affordable housing and lack of sustainable transportation in Lincoln (such as buses and streets that are safe for bikers and walkers); the Black Lives Matter movement and the desire to see representatives that actually represent the values and needs of their constituents; and the silence of so-called progressives on issue like the climate crisis. As Mark stated, moderate Democrats are weak opposition for extreme rightists elected as Republicans. His view aligns with others who believe only a truly progressive movement can reverse the damage of Trump and are working to move the Democratic party to the left in order to spark that kind of movement.
Don’t Wait for Help That Ain’t Coming
While each of these amazing candidates was inspiring, it was disheartening (but not surprising) to hear how little support they have or are receiving from their local county Democratic party and the state Democratic party. While one could go down a rabbit hole of complaints about the lack of party infrastructure in Nebraska and the malaise in the Democratic party in general, I choose to take away a different message: we cannot wait for others to do the work.
I’m going to get up on my soap box here for a minute, which is after all, why I write for this blog to begin with: Working together is how we get new leaders elected. That means knocking doors, making calls, donating time, money, space, food, and encouragement to these brave people who literally risk their personal safety to try to make the government better, not for themselves, but for us. Voting is not enough. We need to build a grassroots, progressive movement that is on the ground, engaged in the day to day work of talking to our neighbors. And as Morgann Freeman said yesterday, not just those low hanging fruit of “likely voters,” but doing the hard work of engaging folks who have never voted, who don’t know that they are eligible to vote, those who have never seen a reason to vote. And that work is based in building relationships and community. Bringing us full circle.
The Movement is Being Built– Join it!
I want to invite all of you, dear readers, to join your local progressive or leftist group. Lincoln DSA has open hours at Meadowlark Monday evenings, which is a really nice, low-key way to get to know folks. If you don’t have a leftist group in your community, start one. Put out your shingle, wave your flag, you’re probably not alone.