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“The case studies are a wonderful antidote to defeatism because as you read the examples – and recall your own successes – you know that you could do those actions, too.”

Murray Dobbin,

Beautiful Trouble goes to Netroots Nation 2017

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Netroots Nation 2017 was a personal first, as well as an organizational first for Beautiful Trouble. Thanks to the support from Mozilla Foundation, I had the opportunity to share Beautiful Trouble resources for creative action with the 4,000 organizers that gathered from across the country in Atlanta.

According to seasoned attendees, this year’s’ conference — I was told — skewed more heavily towards electoral organizing. This presented a challenge to me as on the surface it might seem that Beautiful Trouble’s toolbox is not explicitly applicable to electoral organizing. However, a major point emerged on a progressive strategy panel  “Diversifying the Progressive Movement,” that built the bridge for Beautiful Trouble’s framework into electoral organizing. Knowing your culture is key — or maybe THE key — to building an effective strategy for social change. As it is said, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” In the Beautiful Trouble Toolbox there are several principles, theories, and tactics that highlight the importance of knowing your cultural terrain, taking leadership from those most impacted, and using your cultural assets.  

Today there is a greater energy around uplifting intersectionality in our movements and organizing from those points of overlap. Discussing the many ways creative action can serve to make the invisible more visible or put sympathetic voices out in front of the narrative provides for endless conversation. I spoke with climate activists who were looking to deepen their racial justice lens, sexual violence organizers looking to strengthen their work around gun violence, and health care workers organizing around housing. Beautiful Trouble’s framework supports organizers by revealing the many opportunities at these intersections.

It must be said, the timing of this conference with the actions in Charlottesville truly made an impact on the lasting effect of Netroots on my organizing spirit. As I went to sleep on the final night of the conference, images of torch-wielding white men on University of Virginia’s campus haunted my thoughts. The final day of the conference was the day that white supremacist violence peaked. It was especially powerful, given these factors, to share the space and be in such nourishing community to fill my emotional well. Having the opportunity to get to know the wordsmiths who craft the digital communications I receive so regularly, the actionistas who scheme up large-scale mobilizations that are imprinted into my memory, and the movement straddlers who foster deeper connections between issues and drive us all beyond our wildest possibilities, gave me a sense of calmness and strength about the present moment I wouldn’t otherwise have. It may be difficult, but we’ve got this.

That’s me! (Chelsea Byers, Beautiful Trouble Training Coordinator)

Some major themes between all the sessions I attended:

  • Culture eats strategy for lunch. Know your culture and build your strategy from there.
  • Millennials overwhelmingly support all the things progressives care about.
  • Center yourself on care. Care for yourself, your community, and others.
  • Be honest about our losses and victories alike.
  • Their goal is to divide, distract, discourage. We must unite, focus, organize.
  • Know what do you need to be sustainable in this work.

Some session highlights:

Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led a panel discussion on nonviolence in movements; Progressive Caucus Chair Keith Ellison spoke with University of California, L.A. professor Kimberle Crenshaw on intersectionality and media messaging, and protesters disrupted a keynote speaker and candidate for Georgia governor during a keynote before Ben Jealous and Elizabeth Warren took the stage.

The protest during the keynote speech by a Georgia gubernatorial candidate.


A poem, based on things heard during various sessions:

Take a deep breath. Be Brave. This moment demands it. It takes everyone. It needs you. We need to have these conversations. All this talking is important. We need more women to talk. We are here with you. We are here for you.  Listen, we know this isn’t perfect and we can make it better. This is a huge opportunity. How you speak is critical. We can’t just be reactionary. Agitate. They work for you. Remind them if you must. Call out leadership if it doesn’t serve you. We have to build this ecosystem together. We have a collective responsibility to do this work. I’ve been silence before. If I don’t speak – who will? Micro-affirmations make macro impacts. We can’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t repeat history. Don’t repeat history. We gotta decolonize the progressive movement. We have to build this house for all of us. There are too many of us without a home. Too many of us who haven’t had a breath of fresh air.

Work by Ground Works graphic facilitator Matt Sullivan, inspiring me to take my own notes more creatively.