Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gives the closing address during the fifth anniversary event of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, sponsored by the Americans for Financial Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2015.
Photo by Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/AP

Progressives descend on Phoenix for Netroots Nation


PHOENIX — Just days after Donald Trump drew crowds to rally behind anti-immigrant rhetoric here in Phoenix, thousands of the country’s progressives are descending on the same city and same convention center for Netroots Nation — a weekend of politics at the other end of the spectrum.

The left wing of the Democratic Party will join together for three full days of organizing workshops, at least one protest, an immigration talk, and happy hours. The organization Media Matters is hosting a gathering gleefully marketed as something “that the Koch brothers don’t want you to attend.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren — the hero of the Netroots crowd — will rally the base as the Friday keynote speaker, while Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will duke it out as a presidential panel on Saturday.

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Notably absent? Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who spoke previously at the event to tepid crowds. Instead, she is campaigning this weekend in Iowa, the state that helped derail her first presidential bid, instead of trying to rally the left wing behind her. 

“Our campaign looks forward to earning the support of the Democrats participating in this conference but Hillary Clinton has scheduling conflicts which will prevent her from attending. She wishes them the best on their conference,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson told msnbc in June.

Clinton’s absence underscores both the uphill battle she’ll face with the most progressive wing of her party — who often see her as too moderate and too cozy with Wall Street — and the growing appetite for a more progressive candidate in 2016.

Sanders has been soaring in the polls in recent weeks, and he’ll look to capitalize on this progressive crowd to continue his momentum and further paint his candidacy as the Clinton alternative. O’Malley, of course, will likely do the same, though he’s so far struggled to get a foothold with the party.

The fourth Democrat running for president — former Sen. Jim Webb — was not invited to speak at the event, organizers told msnbc, because he was not yet running for president when they planned it.

Organizers say they’re hoping to zoom in on immigration as a top issue.

Arizona has routinely battled with the federal government over immigration laws and enacted some of the most anti-immigrant polices in the nation. In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down several key portions of state law as unconstitutional, though they left one controversial element which allows police to check a person’s immigration status in the course of other police work.

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Phoenix, in particular, has become a pressure point in the national debate on immigration and discriminatory policing because Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department have been repeatedly accused — and found guilty by a federal judge — of profiling Latinos and other discriminatory policing. This week, the county agreed to additional training from the Justice Department in a settlement of another suit, too.

“We hope to expose some of the unjust practices in our current immigration system (racial profiling, militarization of the border, etc.) and elevate the people who are organizing around those issues around the state,” spokeswoman Mary Rickles said in an email to msnbc. 

On Friday, Netroots attendees will rally against the county’s immigration policies and Arpaio in a protest focused on demanding the sheriff’s resignation.