Chicago—Maybe what you saw at the People’s Summit that just finished here yesterday depends on where you came from. If, like Dominique Scott, an organizer at United Students Against Sweatshops at Ole Miss, you come from a state where the Confederate battle emblem is still part of the state flag and where the threat of racist violence is not at all abstract, you saw a gathering of friends and allies, a place where you could admit to feeling “discouraged about the moment we’re in right now” and “distraught that the two choices that I get” in November—Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—“are two people who do not represent me.”
For Mindy Rosier, a special-ed teacher from New York who “got activated because my school got co-located with a charter school, and I realized I needed to fight to protect my kids,” the summit was a chance to keep fighting, find allies and inspiration—and have some fun.
Mohammad Khan, an organizer from MPower Change, a grassroots movement based in the US Muslim community, was in Chicago standing with LGBTQ activists cheering Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia and rising to his feet with everyone else in the hall when Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who lit up so many Sanders rallies in the past few months, told the crowd, “We need folks elected to office who actually give a shit about the people they represent.”
Or, if you came down from the Olympian heights of The New York Times, you saw a ragtag collection of Sanders “die-hards” assembled against “a backdrop of Twister games, Lego sculptures and beanbag throwing contests.”
Maybe I’m just bitter that nobody invited me to the Twister zone, but coming from London—where a political argument about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of relationship we want to have with Europe turned murderous and took a young woman’s life—what I saw in Chicago was a warm, lively, hopeful, well-organized gathering of 3,000 people whose biggest discovery in the past year has been not that the system is rigged (we already knew that) but our own astonishing strength. And who have no intention of giving up that strength and falling quietly in line behind Hillary Clinton or anyone else.
“Once you know something you can’t un-know it,” the activist and actor Rosario Dawson told the crowd. “Now we know how powerful we are.”
The task now is to figure out how to preserve and grow that power, and how to use it most effectively in a time of great danger, and when the stakes for our country, and our movements, couldn’t be higher. And what may have seemed frustrating to those in search of a quick sound bite—namely the lack of a unified, coherent agenda going forward—actually struck me as a sign that no one was being stampeded, or shepherded, or rounded up to be delivered to Clinton or anyone else. Which is a tribute to the National Nurses United, who tacked this “gathering of the tribes” onto the end of their annual convention here, and proof that when Winnie Wong, the Occupy Wall Street veteran who co-founded People for Bernie, the group which co-sponsored the summit, told me that, instead of a list of demands, “I want to see a thousand lovely parasols,” she meant it.