“Young People For” National Summit for Progressive Leaders
National Education Association headquarters
Jan. 11-15

The Industry: Progressive leadership development

The Attendees: 220 young activists who want to do the rights thing

The Issues:

Who’s Laughing Now? Introducing the political comic troupe “Laughing Liberally,” Justin Krebs, founder of the Drinking Liberally social club network, suggested it’s easier to lure fence-sitting friends to clubs than political rallies. “We’re not going to beat [conservatives] on talk radio,” he said, “but we can reach new people through comedy.”

Lib and Let Lib: New York comic Harry Terjanian’s take on anti-gay sentiment: “I don’t care what you do unless it fucks up my TV reception.” Comedian Negin Farsad recalled how events in Iran affected her social life in America: “Friends would ask, ‘Hey Negin, you want to go out tonight…if you’re not working on your nuclear particle accelerator?” Julie Goldman observed, “The gays are not as obsessed with the gays as the Christian right is.”

A Firm Hand-Chakra: “Your entire life energy is exchanged in one handshake,” said musician/theatrical director/media trainer Joel Silberman as he applied Eastern spiritual wisdom to power-up “elevator pitches” (one-minute attempts to win hearts, minds, and ears). “It’s not how long you shake or how hard. Combining web-to-web with eye contact is how to make a real connection”—where “web” refers not to the Internet but the web of skin between thumb and forefinger.

Power Plant: “I love the sound of the words coming out of my mouth.…At my age this is the closest I’ll get to sex.” Silberman described how to transform oneself into a communication vessel. First, ground yourself, sinking imaginary roots from your feet into the earth below. Focus even your sexual energy into your feet. Then stack your body straight. If you’re on camera, think “my butt is so heavy.” Next, find and control the energy of your hands. “It’s not that you don’t use them,” he said, “but know when to stop using them.”

Surreal ID: Speaking on civil-rights progress during the closing plenary on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Neva Walker, the first black woman to serve in the Minnesota legislature, recalled some uncivil setbacks. For example: Three years ago, a legislator said, “The only contribution Africans have made to America is AIDS.” Then there was the event program listing her as “Neva Walker-Black.” When protesting the mistakenly appended label, Walker was called “oversensitive.”

Netrooting the Room: Said prog blogger Markos Moulitsas, “Don’t wait for permission to be a leader, don’t wait for help. Build something, and people will come.” As proof that technology makes activism affordable, he disclosed start-up costs for Daily Kos: $6 for the domain and $10 monthly posting fees. More advice: “Issues divide; values unite.”

Tube-U: Attendees practiced speaking on camera, receiving critiques from professional media trainers. Tips from America Votes communications director Denise Cardinal: Never pass up the “takeaway”— the opportunity to repeat your key point at the end of an interview. Avoid looking to the heavens for an answer. Don’t ramble. (“It’s OK to say ‘stop’ and rephrase comments.”) Avoid dangling earrings, political buttons, and other distracting glare-catchers, as well as thin stripes and white shirts, which look washed out on light skin and too contrasty with dark skin. “French blue looks good on anyone,” she says.

Breeding Excitement: At event’s close, attendees shared inspiring moments. One decided to become a lawyer. Another planned to travel with Roadtrip Nation, the consciousness-raising PBS show. Rhapsodized another, “Before this, I never thought about having kids, but now I’m excited about it! No seriously, I am, and a lot of others feel that way!”

Neocons Would Agree: Professed one fellow during the lessons-learned “Fishbowl” session, “Before [the summit], I thought of the media as an entity.” Now, he realizes, “It is a tool.”

Free With $8.14 Million Purchase: To inspire future leaders, People for the American Way Foundation founder and TV producer Norman Lear loaned his framed original copy of the Declaration of Independence. The document (the 25th copy of the Dunlap broadside) was found within the lining of a painting purchased in 1989 at a Philadelphia flea market for $4. Lear paid $8.14 million for it on an online auction.