Netroots Nation Photo Album, Day 1
When I moved to Alaska at 24 years old, I’d never been here, knew not a soul, had no job, and $300 in my pocket. But I was off on a grand adventure to a foreign land. When I touched down in Anchorage in the middle of February after a mind-blowing flight 3 and a half hours north from Seattle, this guy was the first to greet me. I never knew what became of him after the big airport renovation all those years ago, but I found him by the Frontier Airlines check-in. He hasn’t changed.
At 14 hours door-to-door, I won for shortest travel time. Shannyn Moore and I were heading to our sixth Netroots Nation convention – Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Providence, San José, and now Detroit. We flew separately. After a series of bad luck and three missed flights, Shannyn caught up with me about four hours later.
When the concierge handed me my key and told me that my room was on the 66th floor, he may have wondered why my eyes got very large. After so long in Alaska, where the tallest building is less than 20 stories, and I seldom have a reason to go there, I had forgotten that 66 stories was even a thing -and that there were such things as low rise, and high rise elevators.
I’ve got the city view, rather than the river view, but that’s fine. This is a novelty for me. If there is motion in my usual view from home, it’s rustling leaves, or a moose in the yard. I found myself staring at the teeny cars as they stopped and went, and the blinking lights, and became totally mesmerized.
After settling in, I did what most people would do after traveling for 14 hours – I took a shower, a cat nap, hit the bar, and waited for my roomie to arrive.
I perused the drink menu, and decided to go with the cucumber gin fizz. Just because I’m on vacation, doesn’t mean I have to give up my rigorous health regimen. Right?
While in the Motor City, I was determined not to let scurvy, or low bone density, or some other deficiency disease I never heard of get the best of me. To your health!
After a couple of these, Shannyn arrived and joined me. We tweeted at Marriott about the fabulousness of Tiffany our bartender, and ate ourselves into a stupor. The last meal we’d had was white king salmon on Shannyn’s porch, and while nothing compares to that, we enjoyed stuffing our faces with burgery delights and delicious cocktails.
Our third roommate, Lizz Winstead (co-creator of the Daily Show, and founder of the group Ladyparts Justice) arrived a few hours later, and after more celebration on the outdoor patio, we called it a day. Everyone was exhausted, and yet nothing had even happened yet.
Our view was even lovelier by night. Neither of my roomies particularly cared for the height, but I liked standing very close to the window, and chose the bed closest to it, with no objection from the other two.
Lizz hosts “The Big Steaming News Dump” every morning at Netroots, and Shannyn is a regular panelist. They left before I did in the morning, but I caught up with them. This picture was not taken by me though. It was taken by Vicki Roush, because I was very… er… “tired” from the previous evenings revelry, and forgot to take one.
Then everyone was off to the various panel discussions, seminars and breakout sessions. There are so many to choose from, I never know quite what to do. I decided on a panel discussion called Bro Choice, about how to get men involved as stakeholders in the reproductive justice movement. There were three men and two women on the panel. Each shared their experiences working at various pro-choice organizations, and their personal stories.
“As a gay man, my personal stake in this issue is comprehensive sex education. But it’s important that I don’t stop there. I recognize my place of privilege in the issue of reproductive justice, and empathize with the experiences of people who don’t come from that place.” It struck me hard that I was listening to a gay man of color speak about coming from a place of privilege on an issue involving me. I was used to feeling like the person of privilege in a world that can be cruel and unfair. It reinforces what I’ve always known as someone who speaks out on LGBT, organized labor, racial equality, and other issues which do not affect my rights or quality of life directly – allies are critical in engendering change. Solidarity across boundaries is essential in shaping a better world.
He talked about how in Guyana, where his family is from, abortion did not become legal until the mid-1990s. He also spoke of how his mother had “come out” to him about her own abortion, and it made him realize that this was not an abstract concept. He spoke of the power of that, and that more than 30% of women in America have made that choice. Being able to have those discussions with men is critical, he said.
Next, I chose Religious Exemptions: The Next Frontier for Progressive Battles. In light of the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, there was much to say, about the decision that private businesses can now opt out of otherwise applicable law for their own personal religious beliefs – as an organization. There was lots of talk of the slippery slope, of institutional personhood, of what legislation may come in the future.
Meghan Smith spoke about the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and what they have publicly said they’d like to see. The list of new restrictions, and denial of services based upon their take on Christian belief was staggering. But, Smith went on, the opinion of the CCB differs widely from that of most practicing Catholics. She talked about Catholics who use birth control, who are pro-choice, and who are more concerned about helping the poor and doing good works, than dictating uterine policy for other people.
“We believe that conscience is a guiding light, not a torch to burn down someone else’s house,” she said. “We believe that individuals have conscience, not institutions.”
I had to cut this one short, because I was Shannyn’s guest on her radio show for the full hour. We had fun talking about Alaskan issues on Netroots radio, and for those who gathered in the seats around us. We talked about the Senate race, Pebble Mine, the Exxon Valdez and the more recent Gulf spill, Sarah Palin and the schism in the Alaska Republican Party, the militia movement in Alaska and beyond, and anything else that came to mind. We’re never at a loss of things to talk about.
Next it was time for the afternoon speaker – Vice President Joe Biden. Secret Service began showing up hours before he was to arrive, and they were everywhere! They were definitely not secret.
The line to get in to the ballroom was long.
A Detroit police officer searched my bag after I went through the metal detector.
Him: Uhh… Ma’am?
Him: There’s a moose in your bag.
Me: Yes, there is!
Him: That’s a new one, even for me!
I wanted to get a picture of him with Brian the Mudflats Moose, but he was a little busy. And I also wanted to know why the security of the Vice President of the United States was good enough with metal detectors and hand searches of bags, but to get on my flight to Detroit I had to choose between the giant invasive body scan, or the groping.
I did get a pic of Brian (in front of Lizz’s laptop) with the Ladyparts Justice crew. I’ll get a better picture before I leave.
When he arrived, Biden explained that he was 45 minutes late for his scheduled speech because of the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down in Ukraine earlier in the day. “About 300 souls were lost,” Biden said, and some of those may have been American citizens. He described the situation as “grave,” and said he had been engaged with a national security team, and had been on the phone with the Ukranian President, and would share more details when they became available. He said we would “get answers and take the next steps accordingly.” But for now, the United States had offered the assistance of the experts at the National Transportation Safety Administration, and the Ukraine had accepted the offer.
He did not want to speculate until all the facts were in, he said, because “possible repercussions could flow from this, beyond the tragic loss of life.”
Biden touched on a wide range of topics in his prepared remarks, and you can read my coverage of the rest of his speech HERE.
After the speech, it was dinner time. I’d had a great cab driver who took me from the airport to the hotel. “You know, you can stay in that hotel and there is everything in there – food and shopping and all kind of thing. But you walk that way, just 2 blocks to Greek town and you get very very good Greek food for very cheap money,” he said. “You relax, you listen to live music, you eat good, maybe you drink with friends. You like baseball? You know we got Tigers here tomorrow night. Detroit is very great city. Or you stay in big hotel where there is everything, but why you want to do that?”
I took the cabby’s advice, and was off to enjoy Greektown with Lizz, Shannyn, some of the crew from Ladyparts Justice, and Sally Kohn from CNN. It was a fun time. There were martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives, and (literally) flaming cheese, and a spread of Greek food that would have fed a Spartan army.
As tends to happen at these conferences, there are many political persons of interest milling about, and Lizz noticed Senator Debbie Stabenow sitting at the next table over.
And then we did what anyone would do in that situation. We sent her a flaming cheese.
Stuffed with food and drink, we waddled back to the hotel. I enjoy the mix of architecture in Detroit – old and new. The ghost of a city past holds hands with bold modern design.
It was an early night, but fun. I passed out at 8:30, and awoke about 4 hours ago – making the most of my time by writing about Biden’s speech and filling you in on the goings on. Good night again. I’ll be up in another couple hours for day 2.