Off To Netroots Nation

Bill Scher

Most of us Campaign for America’s Future bloggers are headed to Austin, Texas for the third annual Netroots Nation conference and what’s sure to be the largest gathering of progressive bloggers to date.

It’s a notable moment for Netroots Nation as it changed its name from YearlyKos, NetrootsNation-horiz.gifmore accurately reflecting its role as an organizing point for all blogger-activists and not only DailyKos diarists. Symbolically, it speaks to the constantly growing and evolving nature of the blogosphere.

And evolve we must. The political landscape has shifted dramatically since the blogosphere shook up politics in 2002.

From 2002 to 2006, there was an implicit sense of a shared mission. The Bush Administration was repeatedly lying the public. The traditional media was relaying White House propaganda instead of reporting facts.

Progressive bloggers stepped into the breach, providing a service to readers craving good information and fresh analysis. That paid off substantively when many bloggers led the charge against Social Security privatization, rebutting false claims of a “crisis,” and successfully rallying opposition to kill the proposal.

With the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2007, and a change in the legislative agenda, progressive bloggers faced a more complicated environment. The need to challenge conservative propaganda and shoddy journalism remained, but a fresh need emerged to push an ideologically diverse Democratic caucus towards strong and politically astute policy.

Bloggers did adapt, and continued to display an ability to ignore the political limits often arbitrarily imposed by the Washington punditocracy.

It is extremely rare for congressional incumbents to lose their seats, especially in primaries. But several bloggers targeted corporate-friendly Democrat Albert Wynn, showering attention and stoking support for challenger Donna Edwards. Now, Congresswoman Edwards will triumphantly appear at Netroots Nation.

More recently, leading bloggers helped rally opposition to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, putting heavy pressure on Democratic congresspeople and forcing the legislation to go through multiple procedural hurdles and revisions. The effort fell short in the end, but it did show the ability of bloggers to take an issue and argument — or in the case of Rep. Donna Edwards, a candidacy — dismissed by traditional media, and give it energy.

If that’s all blogs can do to impact the political process, that’s plenty. It certainly has given citizens more influence in their democracy that they had before.

But as we potentially move into a new political era with a Democratic president and Congress, completely transforming the policy agenda in Washington, it’s worth exploring how progressive bloggers could chose to adapt further.

Instead of reacting to bad legislation, there may be good legislation to defend from conservative attacks, or mediocre legislation that needs strengthening. How can bloggers help set the agenda and pro-actively frame the issues, and not just react to conservative misinformation and Democratic timidity?

Instead of elevating issues otherwise ignored, big issues impossible to ignore like health care, global warming, trade and Iraq may dominate. How can bloggers help foster understanding of the issues when traditional media reporting on issues sows more confusion than illumination?

In essence, how does the progressive blogosphere help strengthen an independent progressive movement that effectively pushes the parameters of political debate and fortifies the mandate for lasting change?

I don’t know what will be on the minds of my fellow bloggers this week, but I’m eager to find out. Like any group, progressive bloggers are not a monolith. The essence of blogging is individuality, and every blogger has their own sense of what’s important and what works.

But I sense that everyone knows that with the close of the Bush Era, so closes the first chapter of the progressive blogosphere.

Off to Texas…

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