Photo via the People's Summit website
Every year, the political world watches with interest, either frightened or frantic, as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) brings the world’s Brooks Brothers card holders, Rand-worshippers, xenophobes, Franco-apologists, and social Darwinists together for a good old-fashioned white folks party. As someone who greets this annual circle jerk as one of the great “who cares?” moments of any news cycle, CPAC seems to represent the worst of the pompous and self-congratulatory right. So when it was announced this week that Bernie Sanders would be the headlining speaker at the second annual “People’s Summit” this June (6/9 through 6/11), it was difficult to suppress a pang of fear: will this summit eventually just be a leftist version of the Right’s week-long excuse to try to bang the cutest University of Virginia young republican without any pesky political correctness cramping their game?
Answering that question might be impossible until we see just how big the People’s Summit can get, but looking at the early history of CPAC can offer at least a blueprint for how such an event can become the douchefest of each year’s political calendar. Founded in the mid-70s as a meetup where right-wingers who felt like the only true believers left after the falls of Goldwater and Nixon, CPAC could have been the last gasp of the counter-revolution to the counterculture. The first CPAC in 1974 hosted 400 delegates, yet just five years later, the conference was well on its way to helping elect Ronald Reagan (who’s still their figurehead today). For example, the Reagan Award is presented each year and was, according to CPAC, “designed to honor ‘a soldier’ not a general—an outstanding activist in the ranks who had done significant service to the movement at the grassroots level.”
As Senator Sanders continues to act as the elder statesman of the still-nascent resistance to King Donald the First, it should be the hope of the resurgent and insurgent left that the People’s Summit can act as the kind of catalyst that brought Republicans the unity to fleece the American people for the better part of the 1980s, 2000s, and now late 2010s. With that kind of unity, a progressive agenda from health care as a civil right to an end to CItizens United could suddenly be within real reach, no longer tantalizing us from the branch just beyond our wingspan. This year, that work could very well start in earnest as Our Revolution gathers the most progressive minds from politics in Chicago — proving to conservative America that the city is not, as Sean Hannity and our Tang-marinated Chief Executive would have you believe, a Hiroshima-like shell of a town. The first big pushes to be discussed there will be the introduction of a Medicare-For-All plan in California, which would be the first true single-payer experiment in the United States.
So as CPAC descends deeper into a yearly opportunity for old white millionaires to congratulate each other on the flowery scents of their own flatulence, here’s hoping the People’s Summit will take after the grassroots heyday of CPAC and not just turn into a place where Corey Booker can hit on Mindy Kaling.