ATLANTA -- The keynote address of the opening plenary at Netroots Nation contained both an invocation of the Black Panther Party and a full-throated endorsement of intersectionality. Though she implored progressives to "stick together" during those remarks, Rep. Barbara Lee may have unintentionally exhibited why that mission is impossible.
Seven months into Donald Trump's presidency, progressive activists gathered in Atlanta for the annual gathering, coming from across the country to hear from speakers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Al Gore, and attend panels with titles ranging from "Dismantling the Corporate Influence Machine in the States," to "The State of Trans Affairs in 2017," and "Forging a State-Led Path to Climate Justice in the Era of Trump."
Toward the end of the first panel I attended, one audience member censured another for failing to recognize his privilege during a question-and-answer session. The crowd cheered in approval. "Your privilege is showing," the man said in a reprimand from the microphone, scolding his peer with disgust.
At Netroots, privilege checks and all-gender restrooms and preferred pronouns and denouncements of colonialism and calls for intersectionality are all a part of business as usual, not the least bit out of place at this summer retreat activists have created for themselves in a red-state Hyatt.
This is Atlanta, so it's no surprise that praise for failed congressional candidate Jon Ossoff occurred more than once during the panels I attended. But Ossoff is, in many ways, an emblem of the central dilemma these activists face. Centrists and pragmatists believe he was a bad candidate, too liberal for a conservative district, while progressives celebrated him for that very adherence to their worldview.
Jason Kander, who lost his red-state race to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., last November offered a solution to that problem: Go bolder.
"Voters will forgive you for believing something that they don't believe so long as they know that you truly believe it," he told conference goers, urging them to be unapologetic advocates for their ideas. In fact, calls for "bolder" advocacy were ubiquitous on Thursday, from the lips of a local mayor on a panel all the way to the keynote speech Congresswoman Lee gave that evening.
But both Kander and Ossoff lost -- Ossoff in spite of an enormous financial advantage and a hyper-excited Democratic base.
That's not to say this formula won't work anywhere. But here at Netroots, there is no interest in moderating the message at all. Lee may be correct in saying a victory over the Trump agenda will require that Democrats "stick together." But if the party remains reflexively responsive to this base, torn between broadening its appeal in places like the Rust Belt and maintaining the support of grassroots activists who do privilege checks and debate intersectionality, it's hard to imagine how that will happen.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.