The political blogosphere has come of age here in Chicago. The highlights for me of day one are not the big names or the headliners to come. I'm always happy to see Howard Dean, who reminded the crowd of our growing influence. And it'll be fun to see the presidential candidates (sans Hillary Clinton, who apparently got some sort of internet flu at the last minute). Their presence here tonight and over the next three days energizes the crowd and says that the establishment has to pay attention to the netroots, to open democracy. But the key to success in organizing of any form is, well, organizing.
By November 2006, the blogosphere and online organizers (not one in the same) had been known for talking and writing a lot, leading the mainstream media to focus on certain stories, raising money and having some pretty spectacular victories in a few races. But can we organize? Can we cohere? Can we agree on how to work together for the long haul?
The answer from Chicago is decidedly yes. Today at a heavily attended session on local and state blogs, a roomful of otherwise nearly invisible writers introduced themselves and offered best practices to each other. Screen names such as Kid Oakland came alive to applause as the real life Paul, who played a key roll in putting the words "former congressman" in front of Richard Pombo's name, leading the netroots and others to replace him with Jerry McNerney. Bearing witness to several candidates running against truly odious members of Congress, including David Drier, the group understood that with the decline in newspaper coverage of local politics, local and state blogs are all the more important. These thoughtful, determined and focused activists are in many ways the descendants of Ben Franklin, who was the first blogger with his locally produced and easily accessible writings. The skeleton and muscles of a progressive structure are clearly emerging.
The follow-up session was a regional (California in my case) meeting of bloggers and a few online activists. Again, introductions took up most of the session, as 100 or more people told their brief stories, many meeting for the first time. The central question for this group was how to get Californians to care about California, something we at Courage Campaign and the bloggers at Calitics have been working on for a couple of years. And it's a tough one, because national issues are the most attractive. Yet, we all know that if our state leads on marriage equality and on election protection, for example, two issues high on the agenda right now, the nation will follow. It always does.
And that's the real learning here. The "movement" is growing up fast. People want to build from the ground up, taking the best of ideas, research and activism to lead on local and state issues. That's what the right wing did for decades. They worked slowly but inexorably on issues. The candidates they ultimately elected carried those issues for them and contorted America. The online communities are embracing the slow work necessary to build and win, aware that working locally can, and always does, lead to national success, aware too that online activism is transparent and increasingly the bedrock of democracy.
Howard Dean spoke extensively tonight of the need for verfiable vote counts so as to avoid any more Ohios or Floridas. The netroots in California joined with the traditional grassroots to elect Debra Bowen as our Secretary of State. On 3 August, Secretary Bowen will decide how the county election officials shall assure that the each vote is counted without doubt. One state will again lead the nation. Congress dithers. California and other states will act. The nation will follow.
The publicity from here will be about the big speakers. The work here is not from the famous, but from those who know that together they are building a truly progressive country, one issue, one city and one state at a time.