The People’s Presidential Forum: Organizing Power to Visionary Solutions

Last month, HEAL Director Navina Khanna attended the People’s Presidential Forum in Iowa. Here’s an insiders looks to what the Forum was all about.

Written by Navina Khanna

Last month, I accepted an invitation from Adam Mason of Iowa CCI Action to speak at the People’s Presidential Forum organized in collaboration with People’s Action. The two organizations brought together progressive  leaders from working class communities to engage with democratic presidential candidates on a variety of issues including healthcare, labor, corporate control, immigration, mass incarceration and climate justice. 

Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Julian Castro and Pete Buttigieg were confirmed to be speaking as were many grassroots organizers and movement leaders! I was excited to share space with all of them and engage with all the issues being discussed, especially those relating to corporate control of the food system, environmental justice, wages, prison reform, immigration, survival of rural economies and the green new deal—issues that form a core part of HEAL’s Platform for Real Food

The day of the forum, the mood at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines was electric and uplifting. The 2500-seat auditorium was packed and beautiful art by local artists and organizers served as a fitting backdrop to incredible testimonies from organizers and community leaders. Between the event organizers, candidates and invited speakers, a range of issues were covered: ending corruption and lobbying, breaking up Big Ag; the  Green New Deal as a pathway to addressing corporate power, sanctuary for migrants, and universal healthcare. The candidates were informed by speakers offering testimony on personal, local, and movement levels.

It was a powerful experience for many reasons. The hall was packed with people, mostly local Iowans representing their unions or other organized efforts like #Fightfor15: urban and rural folks coming together, committed to change. To see all these folks come together and get on their feet to cheer issues like immigration reform and hold presidential candidates accountable on these critical issues was beautiful. Some other folks, like me, had travelled to Iowa just to be part of the forum. It was great to run into and be in community with folks from HEAL member organizations like Rural Community Workers Alliance, International Labor Rights Forum, and Land Stewardship Project. I connected with folks who are really bringing issues together, striving for intersectional solutions, and grounding it all in how we build power, and how we can run our own candidates and hold these leaders accountable to our issues. Although the event was about much more than food and agriculture, a lot of what was being shared by local midwestern leaders about the impact of corporate control of agriculture and food system resonated strongly with HEAL’s own mission

Our people are no longer waiting on any particular candidate to have all the solutions. Our people are committed to organizing for the long haul; building power and co-creating the change we seek. 

Representing HEAL, I talked about how these issues tied together with our movement. I wanted to drive home the point that this is the time for us to move: we’ve assessed the problem. Now’s the time to organize people power towards a visionary solution. The energy in that room helped me believe that we are doing just that. 

Watch the full video stream here

Featured image credit: Mackenzie Feldman

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