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Netroots at a Crossroads in Minneapolis This Weekend

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Today, I leave for Minneapolis to attend the sixth annual Netroots Nation -- where thousands of liberal bloggers, online organizers and liberal politicos gather to network, strategize and focus on what lies ahead for progressive politics. Back in 2006 at the first such conference, George Bush was still President and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress -- so it made sense for bloggers to pour their energy into helping elect more Democrats. But five years later, progressives feel betrayed -- and the netroots haven't figured out how to evolve in this brave new world. Blogs like Daily Kos still focus on "target races" for the next election cycle, leaving many grizzled veterans like myself with a distraught feeling of "who cares?" In fact, one of the panels I'm really looking forward to attending is called "What to Do When the President is Just Not That Into You." It's clear that liberal bloggers have a lot of soul-searching to do this weekend, and what better place to do it than the home state of my all-time political hero -- the late Paul Wellstone.

At my first Netroots Convention in 2007, Democrats had just taken back Congress -- and we were in the throes of an exciting presidential campaign. Every Democratic candidate was there, and the feeling of "change in the air" was palpable. By my next convention in 2008, Barack Obama had dislodged the Clinton dynasty -- and we were on the verge of a Democratic rout in November with our patron saint -- DNC Chairman Howard Dean -- working to build the Party from the ground-up. Obama was going to win, and the netroots were going to be powerful.

By 2009, we finally had a Democratic trifecta. But while we were still anxious about health care reform, the overriding feeling was that the Obama White House was still our partner. Little did we know that while the President sent Valerie Jarrett to meet us in Pittsburgh that year, the New York Times was quietly reporting that same weekend that Obama killed the public option behind closed doors with pharmaceutical lobbyists. One year later in Las Vegas, the netroots smelled looming defeat in November -- and worst of all, it was not our fault. We left that Convention with a determination -- we would only fight for "better" Democrats.

By far the best fireworks this year will be Friday morning, when White House P.R. flak Dan Pfeiffer will be there for a Q&A session. At least they're not sending one of his predecessors -- Robert Gibbs -- who insulted the netroots, and other liberal critics of Obama, by calling us the "professional left." I expect we will be polite and respectful with Pfeiffer (just like we were with Hillary Clinton), but don't confuse a warm reception with any sign of support. I look forward to this session, but I adamantly refuse to attend the workshop later that same afternoon -- on how to help Obama get re-elected. I will vote for the guy, but would rather help progressives in Congress hold him honest.

But before the press starts piling on Netroots Nation as a gathering of disaffected liberals, there will also be a lot of panels, workshops and speeches about positive and pro-active things the netroots can do for progressive change. The Wisconsin labor struggle (which Obama has ignored) will play a starring role at this Convention, as will the DREAM Act and growing Latino political power. And on Friday afternoon, bloggers will join Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback, Congressman Keith Ellison and labor leaders at an off-site rally for jobs. And keynote speakers will include Senator Al Franken and former Senator Russ Feingold.

Even if the President whom we all worked hard for (Obama was the first time I ever picked a "winner" in the presidential primaries, after 15 years of Democratic Party politics) cares more about the deficit than jobs, caves to the Senate Republican minority on the Bush tax cuts, and proposes draconian budget cuts for the poor, now is not the time to just give up. There are many ways to get involved, and Netroots Nation is always a great way to meet with activists across the country. For example, I would never have gone to Maine for the gay marriage campaign -- and helped co-ordinate their out-of-state volunteers -- if I hadn't gone to Netroots Nation in 2009, and met with some of the campaign coordinators there.

It's been a tough year for the netroots. I have not written as much about politics in the past twelve months, in large part because the national scene has been way too depressing. I look forward to this Conference as a way of re-engaging in the national struggle, and harnessing the energy everyone with a Wi-Fi connection can take to fight for progressive change. As Howard Dean told us at my first Netroots Conference way back in 2007, "the Internet is the most empowering and democratizing invention since the printing press." I still believe that, and I still hope we can change the political dialogue and effect good public policy.

Paul Hogarth has been involved in online political organizing since 1997, when he started his own "Paul Wellstone for President" website -- when the Minnesota Senator was mulling a run in 2000. He's been the Managing Editor at Beyond Chron since 2006, posts regularly on various national blogs, and attends Netroots Nation every year.

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