From The President / April 11, 2016

Opening Remarks of the DA Spring Conference

On April 10, President Gara LaMarche kicked off the Democracy Alliance’s Spring 2016 Conference in Santa Monica, CA with the following remarks.

Welcome to the DA’s spring investment conference. Even though it was a lot of work to plan this one, and we are just getting it started tonight, I want you to know that the DA staff tries to plan ahead, just like the Boston Globe, which ran this front cover today.

DA Spring 2016 - Globe Headline

So, I thought I would give you a preview of the theme we have already picked out for our next conference this November in DC, just days after the Presidential election:

DA Spring 2016 - Celebrate and Organize

Yes, I agree, that’s what we want to be doing when we all come together next. But of course we have to plan for the worst while we work and hope for the best, so we also prepared this alternative theme:

DA Spring 2016 - Canada Ho

And this one:

DA Spring 2016 - Cruz Control

It’s like one of those “choose your own adventure” books we had as kids – or read to our kids. How the story ends is up to us, and to what we do with our voices, our time and our treasure in the next seven months.

It has been an often confounding, sometimes disturbing, sometimes exhilarating political year, and we’ll do our best these next few days at the DA conference to make sense of it and make plans that will lead to victory.

We’ve seen the continuing degradation of a once-great political party. We’ve learned that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny run deeper than religious faith or traditional conservative ideology in big swaths of the Republican base, and we’ve seen that stoked and pandered to by the front-runners on the Republican side for the highest office in the land. This is all the more wrenching as we prepare to say goodbye to a President who has led with character, courage, dignity, integrity, principle and style.

The Democratic contest is not settled as we meet, but we know what whoever emerges from Philadelphia this summer will run on the most progressive platform ever, building on the gains of the last eight years.

Much is said about primaries pushing candidates to the right or left, but I have a different view of the political environment at this moment. The center of gravity has moved in the last few years in the progressive movement — creating a moment for one candidate and space for another — because of the work done by the people in this room and the groups that the Democracy Alliance is proud to support. The mounting success of the Fight for $15, which has gone from SeaTac just two years ago to the states of California and New York in the last week, and the changes we’ve seen in criminal justice and immigration policy – far from enough but moving in the right direction – would not have happened without powerful social movements that both spur and create the space for political actors to do the right thing. This is the way change has always taken place in American life, from abolition to women’s suffrage to marriage equality.

The debate we are now having about an economy that works for all, for instance, was fueled by the analysis, research and framing by the Center for American Progress, Demos, the Roosevelt Institute, EPI and other key groups in the DA portfolio, and the social movements that are moving policy to reality are backed by DA Partners like SEIU, AFL, Arca, Wyss and Rockefeller Family Fund and DA-supported organizations like the Center for Community Change, PICO, Peoples Action, the Center for Popular Democracy and the Working Families Party.

The issues that our candidates are talking about are the issues that animate our 2020 Vision, the communities they are increasingly accountable to are the communities of the emerging New American Majority, and the organizations and movements that are making the biggest difference are those who will be joining us in Santa Monica these next few days, and who we are proud to support and stand with.

But a key part of our vision for the next five years is not addressed by the candidates for President, or Senate, or House. It is the job we need to do to take back the states.

You’ll hear more tomorrow morning about how our plans are coming together in key states that the DA agreed to focus on last year. Sometimes our strategic discussions can grow wonky and technical, but what is at stake here is nothing less than what kind of country we will live in. In state after state under Republican control, LGBT people have been targeted by so-called religious freedom laws and bathroom laws like the one in North Carolina that not only stigmatize and discriminate, but address a problem that is as non-existent as voting fraud. Conservative Republican Members of Congress are more of a menace in the nation’s bathroom stalls than anyone else.

The same is true of attacks on labor and efforts to block local progress on minimum wage and other economic justice issues, and of laws like the Texas one before the Supreme Court that use bogus health and safety arguments to hobble the right to abortion, particularly for poor and working women who must travel hundreds of miles for an appointment. It’s true of the cruelty of Governors who turn down Medicaid funds, voter i.d. laws aimed at suppressing the participation of young people and communities of color, and the loosening of gun restrictions that invite violence and mayhem.

The coming election is a best of times/worst of times scenario. It is overwhelmingly likely that the Republican candidate, whoever that is, will, if elected, pose the greatest threat to the America of our 2020 Vision of any Presidential aspirant in our history. We must do every single thing we can to stop that from happening. And yet because both Trump and Cruz are so beyond the pale, and so deeply unpopular, we have an enormous opportunity to widen and deepen the electoral map – contesting states that are not ordinarily in play, and making critical down-ballot gains that will move us much closer to where we need to be by 2020. More than ever, we need to focus on the states – because we know that our adversaries, who can read polls and focus groups just as well as we can, will be doing that to.

I’m excited for the work we will do together these next few days to rise to the challenge we have been given.