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Netroots 2013: Amazing Conference; But Where Are All the Young People?

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June 26, 2013

NN13From June 20- 23, I had the amazing opportunity of attending the 8th annual Netroots Nation conference; one of the largest meetings of progressive minds in the country.  This year the conference took place in San Jose’s downtown region, and included organizations and unions from all over the country.  The conference also used the #nn13 hashtag and daily emails so those not present at the festivities could keep track of what was happening.  When I initially found out that I would be attending this conference I was excited, but truly had no expectations.  I was at Netroots Nation first-timer as my button proudly proclaimed.  From the time I entered the Convention Center, I felt like I was surrounded by the movers and the power players of Progressive organizations.  There was a good variety of panels, trainings, and events so you could always find something to do.  The conference made a conscious effort to provide inclusivity by offering gender neutral bathrooms and really encouraging attendees to ask those they meet about their preferred gender pronouns.  It also offered assistance to those with special needs and accessibility issues so everyone could move and interact at the conference without feeling relegated to one area.  The amount of food and drink that was available throughout the day was great, and I never found myself too far from a refreshment station.

One thing that I noticed from the beginning of the weekend though, was the lack of integration of young people into the heart of the conference itself.  The overall schedule featured at least 100 different events in the forms of panels, plenaries, and trainings, but only a handful specifically related to young people like myself. I remember repeatedly hearing individuals from multiple organizations discussing how to engage “the youth”, but the conference itself catered to older attendees. The one time that I can say that I saw the greatest number of young people, where I truly felt that I was in a space with my peers, was the Youth Caucus; and their concerns mirrored my own.  We all wanted more panels where young people were not only the audience, but the speakers and panelists as well.  I kept hearing the sentiment that young people are the future, but we weren’t truly being brought to the table for discussion.

One way I feel would be effective in enabling more young people to attend Netroots would be providing scholarships and conference assistance for those that can’t afford it.  I talked to a great number of other millennials, and they echoed my sentiments; the conference was great, but expensive as hell!  Most of the people I discussed this with, were only able to attend because they were sponsored by their organizations or unions. Otherwise, they would not have been able to afford it because the price of registration, hotel, airfare, and general incidentals flew up pretty quickly.  I believe more scholarships, discounts, packages, and sponsorships should be offered so cost isn’t such a barrier to attending.

Overall, I really had an unforgettable time, and felt like the panels, trainings, and the multitude of opportunities for networking and interacting with progressives like myself truly brought the conference to another level.  I hope that in the future more young people will be included in the thought process because I know that Netroots would have an even bigger impact, and make more of a statement of inclusion and really impacting change.


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