FDL Late Nite: Netroots’ Year in Review, 2006
Just a few quick thoughts about the netroots' year in review. The following ideas are in no particular order, and I make no pretense that this is an exhaustive review. This is just the stuff off the top of my head. I'll also try to identify some areas for continuing growth.
My point here is not to identify top stories per se, but to talk about movement growth and infrastructure. In the comments, please chime in with whatever I've left out, or with areas you think we need to grow throughout 2007:
Fundraising/ActBlue: ActBlue has been an amazing and indispensible bit of infrastructure, which really began to come into its own this year. Online communities like the DailyKos/MyDD/SwingStateProject Netroots page and our own C&L/Firedoglake/DownWithTyranny Blue America page raised around $2 million. Even more important than the total was the way the money was raised: small dollar donations from people who, by and large, have not been political donors in the past. That means many of them will become new, long term funders for campaigns. We also allocated that money to outsider, progressive candidates whose very presence challenged the DC status quo, devolving power away from the DC/K Street Elites in DC.
Activist Development: 2006 was the year many online readers became real life activists. They made phone calls. They sent faxes. They attended social and political events. They got out from behind their keyboards to meet and work with each other, even volunteering for campaigns all across the country. People and passion are worth a lot more than any dollar representation of their time and work, because they get other people involved, make other people aware. Social networks are everything in politics, even before you talk about money. This has seriously revived the Democratic Party and has begun to change the country.
Media Messaging: We created a megaphone and an amplifier that seriously upended the conventional wisdom on Iraq over the course of the year. For many of us, it was a long time in coming, and events surely helped, but we also built, and perhaps more importantly, matured the infrastructure to capitalize on the reality of events to provide interpretation of those events. We backed Murtha, came to his defense when no one else would. We finally succeeded in pushing the DCCC and the DSCC to allow Democrats to nationalize the election on Iraq. Without that, we would not have seen the victories we saw in taking back our majorities.
When establishment elites who already can command media attention work with us, as the Clintons did following ABC/Disney's Path to 9/11 fiction, we can change the national conversation overnight. So far, the Democratic establishment has not been able to coordinate with us in any meaningful way, but there's some communications infrastructure being built on the Hill that may allow us to work together more effectively during the next two years.
Over the next year, we'll have to transition a bit to include, not just rebuttal of the lies pervading our political and media establishment, but also good policy discussion and promotion. Having majorities in both houses will place a new emphasis on wonkery that did not really exist when we had no power to shape events. This will be even more true when we win back the presidency in 2008.
Movement Unity: For the most part, no matter what our underlying arguments and frustrations with each other on occasion, major voices in the national portion of the political netroots abstained from making their disagreements public. That's a big deal. We can't succeed without unity, and in the past, liberal movements devolved into single issue fractiousness that prevented any growth or the establishment of meaningful centers of power. There's a lot of communication going on outside of the public view, and while some people think's that's a bad idea or somehow elitist, it's absolutely necessary for progress. We need to be able, not only to share information, but to work out differences and disagreements outside of the public view. Families that fail to do this are dysfunctional, and the same goes for our loosely networked, affiliative, non-hierarchical movement. No one gives orders. We just work stuff out.
There is a problem for some people that the existing infrastructure, to allow that kind of trust building and communication, can only realistically accommodate so many people before it becomes an inefficient cacophony. Still, there are many more voices and people growing in the movement, and so there should be the development of, I think, more listserves and elective groups, as long as people don't use these infrastructures to compete destructively with or to damage the movement progress of others who share the same basic progressive goals. This will be a continuing developmental challenge during the next year, especially as tempers may get short when some feel passionately about one Democratic primary hopeful or another. Local area blog communities, focused on local issues, are my bet for the next big growth area, rather than single issue interest sites, which more clearly approximate the old, 1990's failed model of party and movement building (or destructive fragmentation).
Lamont/Lieberman: Lieberman just wrote a pro-escalation op-ed for the Washington Post, but it doesn't carry the sting it might have if he were still a Democrat. When people got behind Lamont, it was with the wild hairy goal of teaching Lieberman to be accountable to the party, and while many hoped for more, no one really expected Ned to win his primary. He did, and Lieberman had to spend $20 million and lie his ass off to win the general election, with the backing and background financial and campaign support of the Republican Party. Lieberman has his seat, but Ned's campaign accomplished a lot while making Iraq a national issue for November. That itself changed the country.
Yearly Kos: This overlaps with my point above about activist development, but the convention deserves a special mention. Aside from the "gee whiz" feeling about meeting people we'd only known as pixels before, that event put the netroots on the map and helped it grow in a way nothing else could or did. National Democrats came to curry favor. The next convention will be more about policy, governing and organizing, with less wonderment at simply being there, and that's a good thing. But this years' convention was a major event, the work of many tireless hands and minds, and represented stunning movement growth.
PAC Development: The Blue America PAC produced innovative commercials and original music to help promote progressive causes. There's a tremendous amount of creative talent available to us in the netroots. We've only begun to tap the surface of what's possible there.
Coalition Building: We've begun to make some strides here but there's much more to do. We've become more collaborative with organized labor, which can do a lot of things we can't easily do, such as deliver a bunch of bodies, organized, to a particular location on short notice. On the other hand, we're more nimble and pretty sophisticated with media and messaging in a way many unions aren't, particularly at the local level. Expect to see more collaboration and coalition building on this front. Taylor Marsh's blogging of the nurses' lockout in Las Vegas is just the surface.
We also need to do more coalition building with some of the most vulnerable people in the country who are not well represented online, such as the progressive roots of the African American community and the immigrant/latino community. Look for more efforts on those fronts over the next year, even as progress comes slowly. Those communities are not organized in quite the same ways we are, and so helping those communities interface and coordinate well will take a bit of extra work.
There are other groups well suited to become our allies on a more institutional level, including seniors, small business owners and others in the business community who seek greener policies or better health care for those employed, at a more efficient delivery process (national health care, getting the private insurers out of basic care, or "Medicare for all"). There's a strong movement in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that should become more coordinated with the netroots, and we'll have to do more outreach.
The year saw the development of a very large and successful coalition of diverse groups, including religious groups, consumers, technology businesses, small businesses and political activists on both sides, all coming together to preserve net neutrality. That's a successful model that must be replicated over the longer term if we are to make fundamental change in our environmental policies, health care or our policies in support of vibrant middle and working classes, with appropriate safety nets for the poor.
Voter Registration: We sucked at this in 2006. We need to get really good at this if we're going to make a long term difference. It's far less expensive, and far more effective, than buying commercials late in a campaign cycle.
Pop Culture: We remain pretty cool. Here at Firedoglake, we've worked consciously to bring pop culture into the mix of what we do, through music ("Have You Had Enough?") and through Donita's weekly "The Spin I'm In" musical selections. We'd like to do more with the artistic community, helping to bring about more holistic cultural change that gets past the political junkie class, helping others who lack the time or the inclination to get a more real sense of what we're about as progressives. Robert Greenwald has done this with some success through his films, like Iraq for Sale, but there's much more potential for growth on this front. YouTube exploded this year and has made us much more able to deliver images and film shorts to dramatic cultural effect.
Publishing: Glenn Greenwald, Markos Moulitsas, Jerome Armstrong and others went from blogger to published author this year. There's a bunch of them represented in our FDL Book Salon archives, but the use of an old medium by those of us in new media has been a notable, welcome development of 2006. Books reach an audience blogs don't, while allowing for a different kind of writing that develops an argument or work of research with greater depth. Bound books also carry with them a tangible reality that confers and conveys a greater degree of credibility among those who reflexively dismiss online writers.
That's all I've got for now. What have I missed? Where would you like to see our movement grow over the next year? What would be your dream goals for the online progressive movement?
From my point of view, we've far exceeded any expectation I had for us a year ago, though I don't want to be complacent, because I feel we've only begun to tap our collective potential. What grade would you give the netroots movement this year? I guess I'd give us a cautious B+, though that may be stingy. I'm just paranoid about triumphalism or laziness: there's so much to do to help put the country right, especially after the last six years.