Today hundreds of progressive Internet activists gathered in Chicago for the second annual YearlyKos convention, the official gathering of the national netroots. Today's programming has been intimate and low-key, with workshops, documentary screenings and blog "caucus" gatherings filling most of the day. Then the stars come out tonight, with an opening keynote by Howard Dean and Senator Dick Durbin. And during the rest of the convention, every national Democratic leader is scheduled to appear, including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel and all the major presidential candidates. In fact, the only question mark is Dennis Kucinich. Standing in the registration line this morning, DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas said he still had not heard confirmation of whether Kucinich would attend.
Of course, politicians are not the only ones focusing on YearlyKos. The convention drew 1,500 paying attendees, over 250 media credential requests - organizers say they had to stop issuing media credentials today because of the demand - and over a hundred activists, policymakers and writers who are speaking on panels and workshops. This year's convention also features more speakers who have adversarial relationships with the netroots, such as former New Republic editor Peter Beinart, who will discus the "next progressive foreign policy," and Politico reporter Mike Allen, speaking on a panel I'm moderating tomorrow about blog-media relations.
The high profile crowd here leaves no doubt about the blogosphere's clout. As The National Review's Byron York wrote today:
The turnout in Chicago shows that the Kossacks and colleagues from other activist websites have taken their place as the newest wing of the establishment in Democratic-party politics. They're not exactly the new bosses; it's not as if the unions and interest groups have disappeared, but it is true that the netroots now rank alongside them. A candidate who wants to win can no longer ignore the netroots, even if he or she would like to. Politicians like Reid and Pelosi, who not too long ago paid little attention to blogs and new activist groups, now cultivate the netroots at every opportunity.
On Saturday, of course, the presidential candidates will have a historic opportunity to court the netroots, on their turf, in a dignified and thoughtful forum. After the 2-hour forum, which will feature questions drawn from across the blogosphere (see information and disclosure here), each candidate will then meet with a group of activists for unscripted "citizen dialogues." Convention attendees select which candidate they want to hear by choosing colored wristbands during registration. No one knows if people are flocking to their first choice or using the meeting to vet candidates they hope to learn more about. And until Saturday, no one knows exactly how this opinionated, partisan, amorphous and increasingly influential community will use that time in the spotlight.
Ari Melber writes for The Nation, where this post first appeared.