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We the Blogs

Well, kids. I’m back. Thank goodness for your optimism and tremendous insights on Friday night. You pulled me back from the  brink, after my depressing dinner with some of the centrist and monied Dem gentry. Thank you kindly for your heroic efforts in the comments section. You fortified me so that when I saw this piece about the netroots in Time today, I resolved to get to work immediately on some posts and other writing that will drive home the truth about the budding blog infrastructure being both a vital medium for exchanging information and ideas, and for organizing. Maybe it is, as Jeffrey Feldman suggested in the comments, a matter of leadership and habits. In other words, I agree that we, who see the tremendous possibilities and value that blogs offer our democracy, must be the ones to lead the funders to the promised land, and teach them new media habits.

Afterall, it’s not surprising that Democratic funders do not understand the ballast that progressive blogs are and will continue to be to the Democratic party. They don’t know us. They eat a mainstream media diet, perhaps peppered with the occasional Nation or American Prospect article, if we’re lucky. And the mainstream media regularly trash the blogs, with few exceptions, with pieces like Perry Bacon Jr.’s this week:

…Moderate Democrats say it with remorse, conservatives with glee, but the conventional wisdom is bipartisan: progressive bloggers are pushing the Democratic Party so far to the left that it will have no chance of capturing the presidency in 2008.

Or maybe the Netroots aren’t all that. Make no mistake, these online activists are having a profound impact on the Democrats and on politics in general. But the phenomenon is in its infancy. Compared with established interest groups like organized labor and conservative Christians, the Netroots play a small role in national politics. Even their most ardent players now recognize that you can’t create a true movement using nothing but modems and instant messaging.

Oh, if only Perry and his ilk would spend a week really learning what the progressive blogs are about. First of all, they cannot lump all blogs and bloggers under a one-size-fits-all label, as there are those who are citizen journalists, researchers, commentators, activists, historians, Constitutional attorneys, movie producers, radio DJs, public relations professionals, professors, teachers, soldiers, and, increasingly, former and current members of their own media ranks. You name it, and you’ll find it on the blogs. We are their fellow citizens, and we’ve finally found ways to share ideas and information without having to rely on Perry’s editorial judgment, time constraints and, sometimes, outright biases.

And while some blogs focus on writing and investigating, or commentary and media criticism, many are also run by activists and pols who communicate with each other and organize their fellow citizens to stand up for our democracy. Perry thinks this is new. 

What’s more, the Netroots are, paradoxically, attempting to maximize their effectiveness by going off-line. MoveOn is organizing its members to make a combined 5 million phone calls before Election Day, asking people to vote for Democrats. Markos Moulitsas, who runs Daily Kos, is talking about building real, bricks-and-mortar gathering halls where progressives can meet and organize political activities in person. Jane Hamsher, who runs the piquant online hangout Firedoglake, and other bloggers have started the "roots project," in which they employ nonweb political tactics like writing letters to the editors of their local newspapers. "We can hammer the New York Times and the Washington Post forever," Hamsher said, but "candidates are more influenced by what we’re doing in their own backyards."

Even with these changes, the Netroots won’t be kingmakers. The fact is, day-to-day campaigning in 2006 is not very different from how it was in 1996: candidates call a few very rich people to ask them to give money so the campaign can run ads on television and hope soccer moms catch them between cooking dinner and driving to practice. If the Democrats win in the fall elections, the roots of that victory will not be on the Net. 

First, I don’t think any bloggers I know are out to be "kingmakers." In the year that I have gotten to know many in this community, I have primarily experienced, in myself and others, the thrill that citizens can talk to each other, share ideas, build alliances and take action. There is a true desire to build a movement that will make this country more fair for more people, and one way to do that is to help elect more progressive candidates. And, there have been offline campaigning and organizing activities such as these all along. Maybe the Perrys are just waking up, and perhaps the funders are, too. So, back to Jeffrey Feldman and his very good thoughts on leadership and habits, and how to help people understand the need for continued growth of the progressive blogosphere:

I don’t think that the only reason we all see your points and (mostly likely) agree is simply because we understand the arguments or see the ideas. It’s also because we are now politically built of a new set of habits. In order to bring the “big” folks in your narrative into the story, we will also need to bring them into our habits.

Why not give these guys the blog equivalent of personal trainers? Send them a person everyday who sits with them for an hour and walks them through the basics of how to participate in the blogs–sets up their profile, logs them on, shows them the sites, helps them participate in a comment thread, post a diary. And we could do this for them from now until 2008. A blog personal trainier program for potential Liberal/Progressive/Democratic philanthropists.

Habits. That’s the key. Miraculously, we have changed our habits–but they have not changed theirs. But we can help them along. Would they be open to a blog personal trainer? Some might not be, but it only takes one to succeed and the rest will follow. 

There is something to Jeffrey’s idea. Whether it’s a blog personal trainer who actually sits with these funders, or whether there is some other way to best introduce them, I’m not sure and would like for us all to discuss further. But the notion that we should teach them some new habits seems like a course worth pursuing. We must start at the beginng with these folks, and then keep them abreast of the work being done in the blogosphere, so that they see us as an integral and worthy component of the infrastructure for disseminating ideas and info, as well as organizing and bringing more people around to voting for Democratic and progressive candidates. Perhaps it starts with some outreach and a report that aggregates some of the successes we’ve seen emanate from the blogs, something created particularly for Democratic funder types.

And, as we find the ways to introduce ourselves to the funders, we must bring more people to the blogs. Perry’s article says there are an estimated six million folks who are a part of the netroots. After writing that piece on Friday, and getting charged up by your enthusiasm, I decided I had to personally start sharing my enthusiasm for the blogs with everyone I meet. So, I started talking to friends, who kind of get it and those who don’t at all. I’m sending links to posts and encouraging people to read them and to check the blogs regularly. I aggregate posts from many blogs, to give them a taste of what’s out there. At a party this weekend, I chatted up total strangers and urged them to get involved. You might expect people to look at you like you’ve got two heads when you start talking about blogs, but I found quite the opposite. In fact, I came home with the business cards of three people from that one party, who said they really wanted to find some way to get more involved, and to understand what is happening in the blogosphere. Ironically, one turned out to be a program officer of a major liberal foundation!

Just think if all six million of us could bring another ten people to the blogs and get them engaged in various ways, online and offline, over the next month. We’d certainly start getting the attention of funders quickly, perhaps they would finally see the value in investing in WHAT WORKS and what is connecting the citizens of this nation more and more. Perhaps some much needed money for operating support would finally be funneled into the blogs.

We just need to keep showing people how necessary the blogs are, in getting the word out and building momentum for necessary change. And if we are indeed pushing the Democratic party to the left, maybe it’s because the wingnuts were so successful in skewing everything so utterly and grotesquely to the right. We’re talking about a necessary corrective to the political spectrum in this country. Letting the media paint us as "left-wing radicals" and "crazy 60s types" is effecting how funders see blogs as well. We are about winning elections, and standing up to authoritarianism. Nothing radical there. But, it sure is telling that Dem funders see us as radical, so it’s time to attack that meme.

I want to leave you with some other possible actions to take this week, in addition to these longer-term goals. With the midterms fast approaching, we’ve got to do our part to point people toward tangible actions they can take over the next few weeks. And since the corporate media cannot be counted on to cover the myriad problems concerning voting and elections, and to point citizens toward action, I hope you’ll join the incredibly energetic and whip-smart organizers at Mainstreet Moms: Organize or Bust and Pollworkers for Democracy.

This is about protecting our elections. Trex has been doing a stellar job of pounding away at Diebold here at the Lake, but feisty Megan Matson and Felicity Crush, from MMOB, are hoping to get the word out about their Give a Day for Democracy campaign, which is being co-sponsored by VoteTrustUSA and Working Assets. First, watch their video, above. And check out this site for a new movie on this very subject, out this week.

With the current national shortage of pollworkers–by nearly 500,000!–and all the persistent controversies around voting machines and elections, they’ve come up with an easy way to do something about it. Sign up to work the polls, people!

“It’s time to give a day for democracy and sign up to work the polls,” says Megan Matson. "The only way our democracy can truly work is by turning concern into action and becoming part of the solution. Helping voters and assisting elections officials is a simple, supportive and paid way to do this."

At present pollworkers are hired, trained and paid by their local election officials to work in their county on Election Day – the average age of a pollworker is 72. Pollworkers for Democracy is recruiting pollworkers to help with the kind of problems seen in recent primaries: thousands of frustrated would-be voters, long delays, and confusion generated by failing voting machine systems. These problems, combined with a recent flurry of lawsuits and a growing stack of government and institutional reports against electronic voting machines have lead to low public confidence in the American electoral system.

The Pollworkers for Democracy campaign also plans to collect pollworker observations through an online survey. Participants are encouraged to keep an eye out for problems at the polls such as the mishandling of voter registration requirements, delays and errors due to failing electronic voting systems, voter intimidation,and issues surrounding the use and counting of provisional ballots. The campaign will also be looking for reports of well-run precincts and best practices among elections officials. The pollworker survey is linked to a national Election Incident Reporting System supporting informed election reform

Ummm, I know my plate is pretty full with hijacking the Democatic party and making it succumb to my evil plans for irrelevancy and unelectability, but I think I’ll go sign up now to offer assistance to my local elections officials.

Let’s all give a day for democracy, and show those Dem funders and the media what the blogosphere is truly about.


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