Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I had the opportunity to attend Net Impact 19 at the TCF Center. I sort of stumbled into the conference at the last minute having no idea was I was getting into, which is always convenient when it happens to be a gathering of a number of like-minded people. This was my first time back in the building since the great renaming. Apparently, naming rights sold to the highest bidder speak louder than historical embrace of a segregationist Republican. Incrementalism! And I’ll take it! The coffee is still terrible.
Net Impact is an international membership organization of students and professionals interested in social and environmental causes. The Oakland-based organization has more than 300 chapters around the world and has hosted an annual conference since 1993. NI19’s theme was “widening the lens,” which, NI staff told me, included, among other things, inviting a, ahem, diverse range of participants.
The usual suspects were spotted, but then a handful of surprising ones including Shell and Koch Industries. Koch was apparently allowed in owing to their strong push for criminal justice reform. Along with their historical interest in promoting paths to citizenship and programs like DACA, it is one of maybe two political viewpoints the Koch Klan has been involved with that do not fit among the most draconian, awful, conservative platforms. In an era so extraordinarily partisan that it produces increasingly bizarre characterizations of what things are “liberal” (reducing energy waste, adequately funding buses, reducing waste), a rare point of bipartisan agreement is quite welcome. The Kochs have also donated money to various youth programming, museums, and even the United Negro College Fund.
So, great! But beyond that, they’ve also underwritten climate change denialism, pro-austerity, anti-poor-people movements, and worse.
In the age of corporate hegemony and austerity, I certainly don’t really believe that we have the luxury of ideological purity. But I do believe in holding companies like Koch accountable. Which I tried to do– in a session with Jenny Kim, senior counsel with Koch who was talking about building an inclusive workforce. I asked how the pursuit of inclusivity was even possible given the Koch empire’s history of lobbying against transit expansion, which is fundamentally necessary for economic access.
Kim, who had thus far adeptly executed the gymnastics required for explaining an oil hegemon’s interest in making the world a better place while simultaneously destroying it, stumbled with this one a little bit. But I did have a great exchange afterward with Rebel Nell‘s Amy Peterson about the issue, and I also got a couple of expressions of appreciation from other attendees for asking the question.
I’m always a little bit dismayed when the purported next generation of leadership– in this case, people in their early mid-career or late-early-career, one- simply decline to ask tough questions. But I enjoyed most of the sessions I was in in spite of a couple of moderators or audiences who failed to exceed a little league level of questioning.
While we’re thinking about the Koch’s anti-transit efforts, though, check out this (subsequently published) post on the future of mobility.
Thanks to the inimitable Kristin Shaw, Manager of Digital and Social Media for the TCF Center for the deal on conference registration.
Hopefully will see everyone next year and I look forward to staying in tune with NI’s local chapter in the mean time.