— by Margie Doyle, updated June 20 at 3 p.m. —
Sharon Abreu and Learner Limbach returned this week from the second “People’s Summit” held last weekend in Chicago with a rekindled passion to build a new peoples’ movement to give power back to the people so that they may have a better life that the majority of the people deserve, in the words of Limbach.
The People’s Summit was the second annual gathering of progressive organizers and activists from all over the country, taking leadership to build coalitions around issues, according to Limbach. Some of the causes that the Peoples’ Summit wish to promote are:
- single-payer healthcare
- a $15 /hour minimum wage
- free college
- an end to corporate handouts
- reproductive rights
- 100% renewable energy and a planet that is habitable for our grandchildren
- the right to organize
- equality for all
- an end to private prisons and the war on drugs
- an end to unjust wars and foreign occupation
Abreu added that the People’s Summit is “a gathering of people motivated to respond to corporate influence around the country and how it is hurting us… and bringing it all back home. We need to run the government; not have the government run us.” The theme of the People’s’Summit was “Beyond Resistance,” and Limbach said that message was conveyed “to about 4,000 people of various ages getting the word out to their networks and combining efforts to get a diverse group of people together. ”
Learner wrote following the conference, “We are building a revolutionary movement to take back power from the ruling class. …To be ‘Establishment’ is to be beholden to corporate interests and therefore unable or unwilling to adequately represent the people.”
What is it about the ruling class and corporations that Abreu and Limbach oppose? Abreu explained it this way: “Corporations are different from other organizations in that corporations were never meant to be free of liability from the harm they may cause and they were never meant to have the level of influence in government” that they now have.”
Limbach added, “It’s not a real democracy when it costs $20 million to elect a Senator.”
Both Sharon and Learner moved to Orcas Island in 2001. He is the general manager of a local natural foods co-op. In 2016 he served on the DNC Platform Committee representing the Bernie Sanders campaign. Learner is a founding steering committee member for Our Revolution San Juan County and is active in the local and state Democratic Party serving as Precinct Committee Officer for Orcas Central 23 and as the Democratic State Committeeman for San Juan County. Learner also volunteers on a number of other boards and advisory committees both locally and on a state level.
Sharon is the founder and Executive Director of Irthlingz Arts-Based Environmental Education. She also serves as a Democratic Precinct Committee Officer for Orcas 25. She is a member of San Juan County Democrats and Our Revolution, San Juan County as well as a member of the following organizations:
- Energy Roundtable of San Juan Islands Conservation District
- Washington State Progressive Caucus
- Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy (WA State org.)
- Progressive Democrats of America
- Local 1000 North American Traveling Musicians Union,
- American Federation of Musicians, AFL-CIO
Within 24 hours this spring, both Limbach and Abreu became aware of the People’s Summit and filed their applications. Sharon had heard of it through her membership in the Progressive Democrats of America, an organization that grew out of the 2004 “Kucinich for President” campaign and which was instrumental in the Sanders 2016 Presidential campaign. Learner was contacted through a network in Bellingham.
Last weekend’s conference involved inclusive, plenary and break-out sessions and workshops and programs with actors, poets, musicians and historians of similar movements from abolition through labor rights and the civil rights movements.
‘Bringing it back home’ involves “playing within the system,” Learner says, “and winning back seats in legislatures and Congress that represent the people; and then using that power to change laws in place now.”
Abreu addresses what she calls “the big questions” –how do we do that? where do we start? She speaks of the efforts to connect the dots between issues. As an example, at the Summit, the National Nurses United promoted Medicare for all, single-payer health care, AND how it relates to environmental pollution and jobs in the economy; the relationship between illness and economic hardship.
Abreu intends to continue her work with local organizations such as the Energy Roundtable and education around climate change. She also works to promote the concept of a “Just Transition” to an economically and environmentally healthy economy that will adequately transition people to good jobs.
Limbach says that while it is important that we plan long-range, it is equally important to “respond to what’s happening in the moment and rally around each others’ issues, such as the Orcas Women’s Coalition (OWC) immigration Initiative, now available for signatures at the Orcas Food Coop and Ray’s Pharmacy.
“You can build a lot of positive momentum by doing one thing at a time. Through that strengthened coalition and bridge-building and networking, we can harness energy and put it in positive direction,” he says.
Their personal takeaways from the Peoples’ Summit can inspire others in the work of taking power from “the ruling class” and creating a more egalitarian society:
- Abreu recalls the words of the grandmother of Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator on what it takes to be successful: You have to have a wishbone, a jawbone and a backbone, and use all three.
- Abreu also emphasized that we need to listen to each others’ stories: “All of us have stories– they’re our strength.”
- If you run for office and lose, don’t get discouraged, run again, keep reaching out and keep learning
She spoke of the challenge in knowing when to compromise and when to draw a line beyond which you can’t compromise. “At some point you have to realize, ‘This is not working.’ You want to be sensitive to where other people are, but you have to know for yourself where that line is on every point.
“Cynicism is the intellectual side of despair; people are so afraid of being disappointed, they won’t allow themselves to be hopeful again, or ‘unrealistic.’ They won’t go there emotionally.”
Limbach described the challenge in “tuning out those that will try to undermine your effort. Nay-sayers who insist that things can’t get done come from all directions; but we continue to work towards our goals and do positive work.
“Things always seem impossible until they’re done, by just putting one foot in front of the other. When one effort succeeds, the cause is advanced.”
Other ways to promote progressive causes are to:
- sign up Our Revolution San Juan County mailing list signup: http://eepurl.com/co7zMP
- join with the Orcas Women’s Coalition www.orcaswomenscoalition.org
- contact San Juan County Democrats http://sjdemocrats.org/
- change banks and credit card companies to those that are more in synch with the people’s movement
- send postcards
- join groups such as Indivisible, https://www.indivisibleguide.com/ a group created by former Congressional staffers
- Sharon Abreu and Learner Limbach are still raising funds to cover their expenses at the People’s Summit. To help contribute, go to their GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/send-to-peoples-summit