Let me say this is no uncertain terms -- our ONLY ability to influence the Democratic caucus in Washington D.C. rests in our ability to defeat them in their primaries next year. No other elections are more important for purposes of our movement (as opposed to the nation as a whole) than these two. If Dan Lipinski and Al Wynn hold on, it will tell other Democrats that they have little to fear from us. If we defeat them, it will put the entire caucus on notice that we can and will target them if they lose touch with who they serve (i.e. the people, not themselves and their lobbyist cocktail party hosts).
This has been my hope as well, if for no other reason than that we might induce more Democrats (Barbara Mikulski and Steny Hoyer, say) to, if not actually end the Iraq debacle or stop the Bush administration's abuse of civil liberties, than to at least put the Republicans in the position of fully owning what they have wrought. As it stands, Democrats are becoming willing enablers of policies that have weakened our national security and made a mockery of the Constitution. It's become hard for me even to blog about it anymore: More money for the Iraq debacle, no string attached? A weak-ass energy bill that continues to heavily subsidize coal and oil? It just keeps piling up.
But Donna Edwards keeps me hopeful, as does the fact that primary challenges really do seem to make incumbents uncomfortable, and even change their tune on the issues of the day. Say what you will of Al Wynn, but nearly losing to Edwards in 2006 really did put the fear of God in him; and while his attempts to mend his ways are laughably transparent, it's still a sign that those of us committed to a more progressive future can intervene meaningfully in the political process that often seems hostile to such a future. If Edwards beats Wynn on Feb. 12, I think we'll see a lot of hand-wringing from the Washington establishment, but over time, more Democrats with backbone.
Saturday was an historic day for the netroots. In our little conference here in mid-America, only in its second year, we were deemed important enough to merit a visit by almost every declared Democratic presidential candidate for the 2008 election. But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves; the morning hours featured a few more panels and roundtables, with only one flaw -- as always, all the good ones were scheduled simultaneously. This needs to be a four-day event -- and hopefully we can get some more of us Maryland activists out here next time.
Arrived in Chicago yesterday in the early afternoon -- the time change was a welcome small favor -- and now I'm sitting here in the grand ballroom of the Hyatt Regency McCormick, waiting for Wes Clark to arrive to deliver his Friday morning keynote.
There are about 1,400 attendees here from all parts of the country. I went to a small MD/VA bloggers' caucus yesterday, and Teacherken from Daily Kos introduced us to the young man who started the process of liberating America from George Allen -- S.R. Sidarth, the Webb campaign staffer who was the recipient of the infamous Allen racial slur. I identified myself as a Frederick County Dem Central Committee member, and encouraged others in the room to join their own local committees. (If we want no more Liebermans, that's the best way to make that happen in the long run.)
A big topic among the netroots is, as one might expect, Internet policy -- making sure that broadband Internet is accessible to all Americans, and that people doing politics online aren't subject to unnecessary regulations, either from the government or from the telecom industry. Matt Yglesias, reporting from the YearlyKos convention in Chicago, muses on why this is so:
People -- lots of people -- want to hear Copps talk about telecommunications regulation and what they can do to help fight for a better regulatory environment. And the people aren't lobbyists for phone companies or cable companies or television networks or anything. They're ordinary citizens (relatively speaking) who've gotten interested in telecom regulation and doing public interest activism on that topic.
This is, in my view, one of the aspects of the netroots that gets most overlooked in the media coverage I tend to see. This nexus of issues is an area where until very recently the conversation was entirely dominated by interested corporations. There was no equivalent to labor unions or environmental groups to anything else in civil society to way in. And now there is! It gets much less attention than anti-war activism or sending mean emails to journalists, but these telecom and media regulation issues are a very big deal to the netroots. People didn't just show up to hear Copps speak (and he's not a very good speaker), but gave him a standing ovation when he took the podium and are laughing at his broadband policy jokes (which aren't, in my view, especially funny). And it's not just an audience of obsessives, either, of the dozen or so people I recognize here none of them are specialists in this area as such.
Unfortunately, Free State Politics is not going to the big progressive confab, YearlyKos, this weekend in Chicago. But in the interest of solidarity, I'd like to follow some of the topics that will be discussed there on this blog, and how they apply to the Maryland political scene. To start off, here's Chris Bowers talking about a subject near and dear to my heart: Support from progressive donors for the progressive blogosphere, and progressive activists in general:
It is remarkable what a couple million dedicated progressives can do when they have a place to freely congregate, talk and organize. What I call the progressive working class is just another term for the progressive grassroots, which, I believe it is fair to say, had atrophied during the 1980's and 1990's. By serving as the largest media that is directed primarily at the progressive grassroots, the progressive blogosphere has helped to more fully tap the potential of the progressive grassroots. This is an absolutely vital service, since it impossible to have a successful political movement, or even a successful political party, if your grassroots activist base feels apathetic, disengaged, and alienated from the organization, party or "movement" it is supposed to be supporting. The progressive blogosphere has helped re-connect, excite and more fully engage "working class" grassroots progressives after the corporate dominance of the 1990's, and the failure of many liberal and progressive elites in stopping one conservative power grab after another over the past ten years. Finally, there was a place for them too, a place where other progressive grassroots activists were talking with one another and fighting back.
Given this, to leave the progressive blogosphere in its current state of under-funded, perpetually near-collapse subsistence would be one of the biggest mistakes in the entire history of the progressive donor community. Even though the economy for progressive, political donations surpasses $1B annually, the entire economy of independent, progressive, political blogging is less than $10,000,000 a year (and most of the that goes to a handful of larger websites). Considering that the progressive blogosphere provides as much activist support to the Democratic and progressive cause as any other constituency, the lack of money directed toward the progressive blogosphere is, quite frankly, scandalous. There are even a few advocacy organizations, not to mention larger newspapers, which run on annual budgets surpassing that of the entire progressive blogosphere. To allow such an important development in the progressive ecosystem continue to starve is a travesty.
Over at Open Left and other activist blogs, they're celebrating the fourth annual Blogosphere Day, in which the left blogosphere rallies to support some progressive campaign that isn't getting the support it deserves. In 2004, it was Ginny Schrader; in 2005, it was Paul Hackett; in 2006, it was Ned Lamont; and this year, it's progressive PAC ActBlue:
ActBlue allows small donors to organize themselves to raise real money for progressive candidates. With money, especially early money, driving so much about political campaigns today, from a candidate's credibility with the MSM to the perceptions of whether the campaign should be targeted by party committees and national PACs; from the ability to attract quality staff to the ability to do effective early targeting, polling, analysis, and research- early money is essential. And ActBlue allows regular folks, rather than just special interests, to organize themselves and get in the game. It allows all of us to influence how campaigns are perceived, and how well they are organized. Today, on Blogosphere Day, please give directly to ActBlue to allow them to keep building and expanding their ability to help all of us. Supporting ActBlue directly, allowing them to expand their reach, will do more to strengthen progressive politics than any other contribution you could make.
Congratulations to FSP contributor Bruce Godfrey on his successful blogswarm against harassment of and threats against women online, Take Back the Blog. Bruce is one of Maryland's longest-running bloggers, if I'm not mistaken, and it's great to see him hit the big time.
I had meant to submit a post to TBTB, but I moved to a new apartment this past weekend, so any non-essential tasks got thrown out the window. I was going to write about the netroots, feminism, and the uproar over Markos Moulitsas' comments about online harassment. The argument would have gone something like this:
The netroots' rise to prominence was spurred in part by a rejection of the self-defeating tactics of liberal interest groups, particularly NARAL, who endorsed pro-choice Republicans even though the Republican Congress could not have been a more hostile arena for choice.
The netroots' team mentality about the Democratic Party helped save it from permanent minority status, and contributed significantly to the Democrats' success in 2006.
Now that Democrats have some power, though, it behooves us to pay more attention to its allied interest groups, so the pursuit of power does not become an end in itself. In this case, it means learning that rooting for Democrats doesn't mean much if you're not embodying a core principle of liberalism: respect for women's equality, in all areas of life. Many in the netroots get this, but some don't, and that's a problem.
As you can see, it would have been a rather convoluted essay, not to mention fairly abstract. But it would have been fun to write.