06/26/2013 12:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Touching Our Netroots: African-Americans Create Place and Space at Annual Progressive Conference

"If we do not go out of our way to make ourselves visible we will not be."

Progressivism at all times should be about ideas, coalition building and  if nothing else, respect. What is important is that we move forward, yet, never mistake mere action for progress. So as I reflect on my first Netroots Nation, a conference where the majority of attendees were white, I was able to find spaces where I (a black Southern woman living and working in Los Angeles at a tech start up), felt included, comfortable, even if these spaces had to be carved out on the fly, on demand. Like starting a hashtag of #nn13black. Effin' Brill.

(Myself w/ fellow southerners & activists LaToia Jones & Angelique Roche)

While many were asking where are the Black folks, I was thinking, "yippee! the gang is all here!" Netroots Nation provided a rare and necessary moment for me to get to know other young leaders of color making moves in the progressive space. While Blacks may not have been in the building in large numbers, we're a critical constituency within progressive politics. If we don't tell anyone we're here, if we don't show up at events like Netroots Nation, how will anyone know we exist, that there are unique concerns in our community and furthermore, build alliances able to help us combat them?

Netroots Nation went so far as to hold a formal Black caucus as a part of the official Netroots Nation. Charlene Carruthers and Elon James White, two people I've grown to have tremendous respect for their leadership and activism, led a discussion on the need for a Black Agenda. While lively, it's a conversation that's been had. And it was the informal moments, the side caucuses if you will, held in the hallways, at the bar, over coffee in the lobby or on short walks through the alleys of San Jose that proved most powerful/useful/enlightening as I sought to understand what I can contribute as an activist personally, a writer creatively and an employee professionally.

We have no further to look than Washington to see the precarious position partisanship mixed with prejudice puts us all in. It was obvious folks were offended at our having the audacity to be Black. Progressivism can't fuel the absurd notion race--especially when it comes to African-Americans, is divisive. Race is culture, race is community and our ability to openly and thoughtfully solve challenges in every community must be rooted in an acceptance of diversity in all its forms, be it ethnic, religious, gender, or geographical. 

Netroots Nation didn't fail in its diversity effort, it failed in its tech one.  Many felt the tech side was non existent or not enough. There were indeed standouts like Chris Cassidy's presentation on digitizing the press release, the tech open forum I heard was superb and the "New Tools Shootout" was brilliance. Still, for those who came to Netroots looking for entry level learning on digital activism, they surely went home lacking.

In contrast, some of the best panels featured leaders of color. Writer and media personality Zerlina Maxwell was flawless, conducting a live interview with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. NAACP President Ben Jealous and Jotaka Eaddy, Senior Director of Voting Rights led "Voting Rights for a Shifting Demographic". L. Joy Williams and John H. Hackson provided tremendous insight during "Education Reform and Communities of Color," even my own panel, "Ask a Sista" broke new ground when it became the only panel in Netroots Nation history to trend nationally on Twitter. 

(l-r. Charlene Carruthers, L. Joy Williams, Zerlina Maxwell,  Kimberly "Dr. Goodess" Ellis, Jennifer "the Friendraiser" Daniels et moi.)

And herein lies my point. There is space for people of color at Netroots Nation. What will become of that space in coming years is entirely up to us. Will we use this place to connect, create, educate ourselves and others? Will we invite other progressive thought leaders of color to Detroit in 2014 to help deepen Netroots breadth and scope? I give Netroots Nation its props for setting a stage in San Jose that revealed to me how much power and potential progressives of color truly yield.