Adalah Justice Project at Netroots Nation: Demanding Political Coherence of the Left
~Reflection on Netroots Nation by Nadia Ben-Youssef
The crowd erupted with cheers when a member of the #BlackAssCaucus claimed space in the Netroots Nation closing ceremony to offer a clear roadmap to the progressive community:
“If you’re not progressive on Palestine, you’re not progressive. If you’re not progressive on queer rights, you’re not progressive. If you’re not progressive on Black lives, you’re not progressive.”
The brave disruption by Black organizers, a now-regular occurrence at the annual political convention for self-identified progressives, distilled a critical reckoning of the left. The moment also allowed the audience to reflect just how far the tide has turned on Palestinian rights. The window for carving out any exceptions of a “rights and justice for all” framework is rapidly closing, and the opportunity to present a universal and inclusive progressive political vision has never been greater.
Our small delegation of Palestinian human rights defenders to Netroots Nation was organized precisely around this unique political moment. Recognizing a hunger on the left for an uncompromising, intersectional, values-based political agenda, we welcomed the invitation to host an information booth, organize a panel, and convene a caucus on being “Progressive for Palestine.” In a conference focused primarily on domestic concerns, our delegation offered attendees the experience of applying their progressive values to an issue of foreign policy. Our theory of change is that by imbedding Palestine into existing progressive discourse – such as equal rights for all – we not only better protect Palestinian rights, but also promote a coherence on the political left that serves all movements for justice.
Netroots Nation regularly features both up-and-coming as well established political leaders on the American left. The weekend was therefore a perfect chance to test our theory of change, and identify any remaining barriers to our progressive community standing confidently for Palestinian rights. The reception we received from participants was overwhelmingly positive, and as we shared primers on “talking about Palestine/Israel like a PRO(gressive)” the feedback was that a values-based approach – centering equality, freedom and justice – resonated profoundly. Our task was and remains how to translate this growing consensus and enthusiasm into the Democratic Party, whose platform is firmly rooted in a political/security paradigm that fundamentally undermines human rights.
When Senator Cory Booker greeted Netroots participants prior to his speech on the main stage, I joined several colleagues who were also promoting Palestinian rights at the convention. We introduced ourselves to the Senator and thanked him for his dedicated staff, as well as his attention and travels to the region. We requested a photo and he agreed without hesitation to hold our sign: “From Palestine to Mexico. All the walls have got to go.” The photo ushered in a profound teaching moment that also confirmed our assessment of the transformative potential of this political moment. Making a distinction between the human rights abusing wall on the US/Mexico border with the human rights abusing wall in Palestine/Israel is no longer acceptable on the left. There is only one answer to the question: Which side are you on? And the answer, every time and for every situation, is on the side of equality, justice and freedom for all.
As our coconspirators reminded us during the closing ceremony, making exceptions to our values is not progressive. Exceptions reflect an often-deadly incoherence that comes from claiming that human rights only apply to certain people under certain circumstances. Instead, to be progressive means to believe in equality for all, even and especially when you benefit from privilege. To be progressive means to pursue freedom for all, even and especially when keeping others behind walls or in cages offers you a comforting illusion of safety. To be progressive means to demand justice for all, even and especially when justice requires that you relinquish and replace the ideologies and institutions that only serve the powerful. Political coherence, rooted in universal values of human rights, is progressive and will guide us straight to the world we want. Anything less will, at best, leave us right here in the incomprehensible world we have.