Donna Edwards' victory over Congressman Al Wynn in this week's Maryland primary is not only a triumph for progressives and prominent bloggers. It is also the most successful web-powered challenge to the Congressional Black Caucus in the history of the "Blackroots," a less hyped but increasingly effective network of bloggers, activists and groups that are using online and traditional activism to advance a new type of open, transparent and progressive politics.
One of the largest Blackroots organizations is ColorofChange, led by James Rucker, a 36-year-old former MoveOn official who helped stymie the proposed Fox News Democratic Presidential Debate last year. His group does not typically issue endorsements, favoring a focus on activism campaigns, but it made the first endorsement in its history to back Edwards. "We believe she embodies the accountability that citizens should come to expect from their elected representative," explained ColorofChange's Mervyn Marcano, who touted her positions on mortgage oversight, education and healthcare. "CBC incumbents should take notice of a Black electorate that is increasingly diverse and engaged. They no longer have a free pass. It's a new day for Black leadership in Washington and we're proud to have supported Donna throughout her campaign," he told The Nation.
Across the country, over 7,000 netroots activists donated $400,000 to Edwards via ActBlue, spurred by a diverse range of blogs, while labor, environmental and women's groups spent nearly $1 million backing her candidacy. Wynn tried to make the national support a campaign issue, blasting a "vast left wing conspiracy," a complaint that Edwards and bloggers' used to raise even more money and interest in her campaign. As an incumbent, Wynn was backed by the CBC and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held a late fundraiser to boost his campaign.
Professor and blogger Spencer Overton analyzed the rise of the Blackroots in a prescient post last May:
While the "grassroots" are romanticized, in the past couple of decades Black politics has been hierarchical and limited by orthodoxy that constrains debate. An MLK/Malcolm model has defined the leadership styles and political philosophy of Black elected officials, non-elected figures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, organizations like the NAACP, and neo-Black Nationalist commentators and figures. Those not with the program essentially had the option of becoming Black Republicans. Older Black folks often complain about complacent black youth who don't vote, march, or otherwise live up to their model. Black blogs offer not only an opportunity to break from old orthodoxy, but to do so in a way that is flatter, and allows for more engagement through comments from readers (which are often more provocative than the posts)....
He cited the successful Fox News campaign as a "significant development" that fit into a larger effort to advance wired collaboration and force "transparency [to] hold Black elected officials more accountable." During the Fox fight in April, Afro-Netizen blogger Chris Rabb questioned how the CBC could cut deals and take contributions from Fox while neglecting its own constituency:
Do these [CBC] folks know what the "netroots" is? Do they think it's just made up of by young, white college-educated geeks far removed from their own congressional districts? Do they know that the vast majority of Black voters who elected them are accounted for in the much larger population of African Americans who regularly access the Internet, approximately 20 million strong? Will they come to understand that the Black netroots community is presently a slumbering giant who, it seems, only the likes of a Fox News Channel can begin to awaken?
Need we remind any indifferent CBC member that incumbency is a privilege, not a right, as the November elections should have made quite clear to all -- but especially to the arrogant, out-of-step and complacent? (emphasis added)
The voters just gave the CBC that reminder.
Katrina vanden Heuvel on why Donna Edwards is a New Kind of Democrat.
Photos: OpenLeft blogger Matt Stoller with Edwards Campaign Manager Adrienne Christian and the volunteer director. Credit: Matt Stoller.
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