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The Netroots Nation board and staff has always considered the impact of the Netroots Nation convention on its host cities. The hotels and suppliers and convention center must be unionized, as much as possible of the money spent by the convention must go to local companies, and local progressive leaders are always invited to participate. This year’s convention in Detroit saw the Netroots staff launch a new initiative, joining with local progressive organizations to bring to bear Netroots Nation’s media spotlight and numbers on local progressive activism.

Netroots Nation Water Rally

This past July in Detroit, Netroots Nation joined with local organizations fighting the water shutoff to poor people by the Republican-appointed Emergency Manger (EM). With average water bills of $75, over half of which was going to Wall Street, many out of work and poor Detroiters have been forced to delay paying their water bills and had it cuff off while profit-making businesses like Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field, and city golf courses that owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back bills did not get their water shut off. The EM’s real agenda was to strengthen the finances of the water department for private scale.

Local organizations approached the Netroots staff to involve NN. The Netroots Staff spent the next several months building relationships and organizing with the folks on the ground in Detroit. They evolved a plan for an event that put thousands of people and national media on the march in the street in front of the Emergency Manager’s office to demand that the water be turned back on.

The final outcome, however, was part planning and part serendipity. The Netroots staff saw this as an opportunity to engage attendees and to redirect the national media -- which was at Netroots Nation to cover Vice President Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren -- to the water shutoff issue. However, it turned out that the real draw was actor Mark Rufallo, who apparently decided on his own to show up and speak at the march.

Netroots Nation Water Rally

So how did Rufallo end up on the Netroots Nation stage? The NN14 schedule and app listed 12:30 -2 pm on Friday as a break for everyone to attend the Turn On the Water! Tax Wall Street! Demonstration. On the day of the demonstration, a Netroots staff member spotted Mark Rufallo backstage during the morning plenary session and asked him what he wanted. Mark wanted to get onstage and announce the march. Space was quickly made for him, he ran on the stage, made a brief announcement, urged everyone to attend and then ran off to demonstration. Word spread fast and over a thousand Netroots attendees and the national press joined Rufallo and local residents at the demonstration and march organized by the local organizations.

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The results were more than satisfying. The rally was among the highlights of NN14. The collective voice, presence and support of the Netroots at the water rally added momentum to the efforts of organizations like the People’s Water Board Coalition, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, We the People of Detroit, and many more. Organizers say the rally drew 2,500 people—allies and those wearing NN credentials alike. The rally received mentions in national press including the New York Times,MSNBC, ABC, NBC and more. As Rev. Barber told Netroots Nation in his Thursday night keynote, 'forward together, not one step back!'

Netroots Nation Water Rally

The next day the Emergency Manager suspended the shutoffs.

Going forward, the Netroots Nation staff will bring its media and activist power to local progressives in its host city every year. This will be front and center in NN15 next July in Phoenix where Netroots Nation will take the battle for immigration reform to one of the most anti-immigrant states in the nation. Netroots staff are building relationships with local and national immigrant reform and Latino organizations to achieve the kind of results in Phoenix that it had in Detroit.

An added feature will be the introduction of an annual “Unity Concert for Immigration Reform” with major bands and artists dedicated to pulling all the various branches of Progressivism at Netroots together to fight for immigration reform. Registration for NN15 is now open at early bird prices.


Patrick O’Heffernan

Dr. O’Heffernan is the Chairman of the Netroots Foundation and a frequent contributor of music reviews to The Hollywood Progressive