Democratic Party reform and money in politics were two central topics of the New York Progressive Action Network’s spring conference held this Sunday at Binghamton High School.
Over 300 people gathered at the conference, which featured panels on Social Security and Medicaid, energy democracy and running for public office. Zephyr Teachout, candidate for New York state governor in 2014 and the House of Representatives in 2016, was the featured speaker.
Other speakers included Stephanie Miner, the mayor of Syracuse, and Nomiki Konst, an investigative reporter for “The Young Turks,” a progressive news and commentary YouTube channel. Binghamton City Councilman Conrad Taylor, a junior majoring in political science, was also present at the conference, where he spoke on a panel covering effectively running for office.
The New York Progressive Action Network is a newly founded progressive organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, and its focus is on uniting progressive organizations such as Long Island Activists and Democracy in Progress of Central New York. The network’s treasurer, Arthur Schwartz, hailed Teachout as the “godmother” of the progressive movement in his introduction to her talk.
“At the end of Zephyr’s campaign [for governor] I told her that we had to take her campaign energy and launch a group out of it, and with a little help from [Sanders], now we’re here with [the New York Progressive Action Network],” Schwartz said.
Teachout’s talk highlighted money and politics. An associate law professor at Fordham University and author of “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United,” Teachout began with a lesson on the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution, which states that any officer of the United States may not receive gifts, offices or titles of nobility, of any kind whatever, from foreign governments.
“On the day that our president took office, he began violating the constitution,” Teachout said. “The Chinese government is one of the largest tenants in Trump Tower. That is money going from the Chinese government going into our president’s pocket while we are negotiating our trade relationship with China.”
Teachout also spoke of President Donald Trump’s international royalties from “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which in some foreign countries come from government-owned entities.
“We have to be honest about Trump voters who wanted something to change too,” she said. “If we ignore the reason why so many people feel there is corruption in our system, we really ignore at our own peril.”
She went on to speak of the need to rework the Democratic Party vision to one that exists without the fear of butting heads with the wishes of big donors.
“We can’t stand for the clean air and the clean water we need if at the same time we are being silent about fossil-fuel infrastructure because of who’s paying our candidates,” she said. “So often corruption in money and politics doesn’t work to lead to loud shrills and loud voices. It leads to silence.”
Stephen Carpineta, ‘04, director of Tioga County Progressive Committee, which is a member of the New York Progressive Action Network, was the main organizer responsible for bringing the conference to the city of Binghamton. He said the city’s central location in the state made it an easy choice.
“We have a lot of business to cover being a new organization,” he said. “But this is our public-facing, more fun, upbeat conference.”
Carpineta said most of the conference’s speakers are members of the network or are people he personally met when he helped organize the Sanders rally in Downtown Binghamton last April. He added that all of the major talks and panels from the conference will soon be available to watch online on the network’s Facebook page.
Kayleigh Eames, a member of the Roosevelt Institute and a sophomore majoring in political science, said that she thought hosting the event in the city of Binghamton was a huge step for the area.
“People are really ignoring the progressive movement in Binghamton,” she said. “I think it’s really important that it’s coming here and that people in upstate New York who are progressive are organizing and mobilizing.”