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Bold New World: Reflections on Netroots Nation 2010

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Netroots Nation 2010 was an inspiring and patriotic gathering of the We Generation of American politics -- activists who come together around a cause, build together despite diverse backgrounds and views, and stay together through egos and setbacks to make positive change. From the workshops to the keynotes to the hallways the Netroots Nation message was the same: beyond left and right, America's netroots envision a bold new world of activists and leaders.

Who are the "we" in the We Generation so active at Netroots Nation 2010? We are "we the people" -- we are activists challenging ourselves to build a more perfect union. Beware the myth of the monolith -- we netroots activists come from all walks of American life to do the hard work of creating harmony from cacophony in a tradition as patriotic as our country's motto, E Pluribus Unum.

Having participated in this movement for several years, I'm particularly proud of our progress on the "pluribus" front. I can recall Howard Dean running for President and DNC chair talking about having to diversify the online progressive movement to bring in people on the other side of the digital divide. At the first netroots convention in June 2006 -- called Yearlykos -- there was a question "should more women and people of color be blogging?" By 2010 we had a woman of color -- Cheryl Contee, aka Jill Tubman of www.jackandjillpolitics.com --interviewing America's first woman Speaker of the House - Nancy Pelosi - as well as expanded ranks of women bloggers, presenters, and candidates.

In 2006 I co-emceed a candidates night with less than a handful of diverse candidates -- by 2010 there were as many women as men and several more candidates of color stepping forward to carry the netroots banner in districts spanning red to purple to blue. The fact that bloggers of color could respond forcefully to the Shirley Sherrod vs. Breitbart imbroglio and provide a truth squad to the "snookered" is a bold step forward from where we were just a few years ago. Word in the halls and the workshops was that we must be even more aggressive in creating a diverse online presence, and in promoting net neutrality which allows the free, open communication of both content and context and for many netroots activists is the First Amendment cause of our time.

What leaders survive in this bold new world? Those who have the guts and grit to pick up the banner, stand for the cause, and keep their word. Those who aren't uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, who can channel their inner FDR and say to netroots activists what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Frances Perkins about Social Security "you've convinced me; now make me do it." Those who can successfully navigate the inside maneuvering and outside mobilization. Lately much has been made of whether activists pull parties to the left or right -- my impression from the trenches is that activists pull them from the pragmatic to the ideal. Over and over I heard people say we shouldn't start in the middle or water down our values -- we should start with the ideal not the lowest common denominator.

For all the mainstream media coverage of Democratic primary fights (and these days, what traditional journalist isn't paid to report a political food fight?), progressives' antagonists are conservatives, not Democrats. Indeed, many centrist candidates receive netroots acclaim for being populist not for passing a liberal litmus test. Yes, President Geroge W. Bush remains a constant (at YearlyKos 2006 I was introduced by a Bush impersonator; at NN10 many speakers called for repeal of the high end Bush tax cuts and drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) but today's netroots Polaris is the quest for a positive agenda that holds President Barack Obama to the standard he set for himself and urges leaders at all levels of service to promote people power over corporatist cash. The strongest Netroots Nation 2010 messages were centered around equality for all people -- be they openly gay and lesbian servicemembers in the military or LGBT workers on the job or immigrants and their children -- and economic opportunity -- Main Street jobs, Making it in America, healthcare reform, Wall Street reform, and the fight to preserve Social Security. As impatient as netroots activists are with the pace of change, I heard no one advocate losing an election to purify the movement -- we may be moving incrementally forward but no one is willing to go back.

My takeaway from Netroots Nation is the challenge to be as bold as we want others to be. I had the honor of speaking at this year's candidates reception and the pleasure of attending the "Ask the Speaker" keynote session (tweeting intermittently while chasing my one-year-old around the tables and trying to keep her from rushing the stage to hug her "Mimi.") From her shrieks of delight at the plastic chairs and shiny beanbags at the reception to her tugs at the orange lanyards of many an indulgent blogger at the keynote, my daughter reminded me that today's activism exists to give tomorrow's generation more opportunities. Our call is as timeless and patriotic as that articulated by President Adamshttp://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Adams, who wrote to Abigail Adams in 1780, "I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." Creating a bold new world through activism isn't cheap -- public service takes time, money, effort, and risk -- but we cannot demand boldness from our leaders if we cannot deliver it ourselves.

As the netroots activists and candidates gear up for the 100-day sprint to Election 2010, the question is really simple -- beyond "are we progressive enough?" or "are we going forward or back?" it's "are we bold enough to leave our kids the America we inherited and the world we promised them?"

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