From the loss of abortion rights to a Stanley Cup win for the Avalanche, here's how major news shook up Aspen Ideas Festival
It’s not easy to plan two weeks of conversation with high-profile politicians, business executives and intellectuals when historic news breaks. But that’s exactly what the Aspen Ideas Festival did this year.
As medical professionals, politicians and high-profile media figures gathered for the third day of the health-focused festival opening, protesters gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. The ruling dominated several of the Aspen Ideas Festival panels, even when it wasn’t the intended subject matter.
Across the board, panelists found common ground when agreeing that the end of Roe could play a role in the upcoming midterm elections.
But they disagreed on whether the ruling will help Democrats.
Yamiche Alcindor of NBC moderated several panels throughout the festival. She also was a panelist on a talk about the future of the Democratic party, and said that the end of Roe won’t necessarily help the party at the polls.
Rather than thinking about showing up at the polls, many women are first dealing with “survival” instead, Alcindor said.
Ashley Kirzinger, a public opinion researcher for the Kaiser Family Foundation, spoke on a panel that revolved around women’s reproductive health in a post-Roe world. Kirzinger said other issues could carry more weight for voters by the time November rolls around.
According to Kirzinger’s public survey research, there’s no indication that “inflation and gas prices are going to be trumped by abortion access.”
Although the court’s ruling could galvanize more voters, Kirzinger said it remains unclear as to whether it will subdue the leverage Republicans are poised to have going into the midterm elections.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was a late addition to the festival. Her conversation was initially billed as a remembrance of Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who died in March, but Roe also dominated the conversation.
The Supreme Court’s reversal on abortion rights was made possible by Clinton’s defeat in 2016, but she said it was a long time coming.
“Before the overturning of the Roe decision,” Clinton said, “there has been, and we have been seeing it building, a real pushback against women’s advancement and progress in many places of the world.”
Clinton warned that there could be more restrictions if Republicans win again in the next two general elections, and for her, the next step for Democrats is focusing on the midterms.
“People act as though we should do everything except talk about electing people who will stand up against this kind of regressive pushback [which is] rolling the clock back on our civil rights, our human rights, gay rights [and] women's rights,” Clinton said.
The festival was disrupted by good news for hockey fans in Colorado. Halfway through the festival, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, prompting Gov. Jared Polis to skip a panel so that he could attend some of the celebrations in Denver.
He made it to Aspen in time to highlight the state’s efforts to shift toward more-inclusive hiring practices, such as moving toward a skills-based workforce.
He said the move helps break down equity barriers and takes advantage of skills and experience that aren’t necessarily gained in a university setting. Polis said this includes knowledge gained from starting a business, being in the military and raising children.
By the end of this year, Polis said 50% of the state’s job postings won’t have degree requirements and are motivated by the need for “a supply chain for skills that can match our economic demands.”
Each year, the Aspen festival hosts an “Afternoon of Conversation,” which serves as the centerpiece for the two-week-long festival. This year, the afternoon’s headliner was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who again made a plea for more support from Western countries.
“When you're defending democracy, you shouldn't look for long explanations and talks,” Zelenskyy said in a prerecorded interview with NBC. “We need to bring in tough sanctions because when a terrorist state is attacking you, only a show of strength can stop it.”
The festival is over, but the Aspen Institute continues its regular summer programming. On Friday, a series of Socratic-style seminars kicked off, where audience members engage with speakers in sessions that are more like conversations than speeches. Topics include climate change, how to make the United States a "more perfect union," and the status of privacy and surveillance in the new digital world.