Last week in Las Vegas, the blogosphere gathered together for our first convention. Arianna, Peter Daou, Ari Melber, Stephen Elliott and I joined a cast of almost a thousand of the top bloggers from around the country. It was quite the event.
On the way back to Boston from Las Vegas, I struggled to find the moment that summarized the spirit and soul of the first YearlyKos convention. To me, it was when a French newspaper reporter saw Arianna and asked her "I am surprised that you are here - are you and Kos not rivals?" Arianna smiled "Of course not, we are all in this together." And indeed we are.
Of course, while we are in all this together - we had all been in it virtually for the most part until last Thursday. Few of us had ever met bloggers in person that we felt we knew through reading their sites, emailing with them or talking to them. Ergo, the most valuable talent at the Riviera last week was the ability to read tiny name-tag type at great distances.
Arianna and I faced this problem when we walked into the Blogosphere Expert Panel on Saturday to check in on Peter Daou, fellow Huffposter and founder of (www.daoureport.com) We recognized Peter and after 5 minutes, it was clear everyone else on the panel was equally passionate and smart - we just had no idea who they were. (Afterwards, I discovered it was, among others, Matt Stoller, Tim Tagaris and Matt Debergalis.)
But knowing net names and not faces didn't bother anyone. In fact, there wasn't much that bothered anybody. I have been to more than my share of political conventions, get togethers and meetings and the biggest thing I saw at this event was spirit - a sense of common purpose and unity - not false unity of everyone being the same and thinking the same, but true unity where everyone is respected, everyone is equal, everyone is loved for who they are, and everyone is welcome. It was a beautiful thing - it's absolutely unique in politics.
Even candidates were welcome - you may have heard about Mark Warner's ice sculptures. But as much as bloggers enjoyed meeting Governor Warner www.forwardtogetherpac.com, the remarkable thing was that the bloggers were equally thrilled to meet a candidate like Admiral Joe Sestak www.sestakforcongress.com, who began his remarks by thanking the blogosphere for rushing to his family's defense when his opponent attacked him for taking care of his daughter who had a brain tumor. (Joe Wilson also thanked the attendees for their support as his panel began - support that was well-deserved and woefully lacking from the mainstream media.)
Of all the candidates I saw, I think that Warner and Sestak understood the spirit of the netroots at a deeper level than the others. They walked around, shook hands, posed for photographs, laughed and seemed to truly enjoy the experience - and, in Joe Sestak's case, even if he didn't completely understand it, he certainly appreciated it. These two men's willingness to dig right in was unlike three other potential 08 candidates, one of whom ran upstairs in double time, clearly out of his element and two more who were whisked around by a large - physically and number-wise - entourage.
Another thing that was completely different about YearlyKos is that if this had been the Iowa Democratic Breakfast Society or some such thing, the missing 08 contenders would have been widely discussed and debated. In fact, some traditional political events would have been devastated if the current frontrunner Hillary hadn't bothered to show up.
But here's a critical point that everyone who wasn't there and their staffs need to understand. No one cared.
That's right. Outside of the panel that I had the privilege of serving on with Chris Bowers, www.mydd.com, Tom Matzzie, www.moveon.org, and Mark Blumenthal, www.mysterypollster.com, no one mentioned Hillary, or John Kerry or Evan Bayh or John Edwards.
You were either there and joining in or you weren't. End of story.
A few other conclusions I came to wandering the halls of the Riviera for four days.
YearlyKos Takeaway Number One - No Constituency Within The Democratic Party Is More Aware, Educated, Influential And Committed Than The Netroots.
Jerome Armstrong felt that the netroots survey that Chris Bowers presented at the convention "was both unique and compelling." I couldn't agree more. A review of Chris's presentation, a look back at the Pew Study on Dean's supporters and a review of Henry from Blogads great reader survey, www.blogads.com all leads to the pure and final destruction of the myth of the netroots as a young, freaked-out far left contingent on lunatics.
In fact, the conventional wisdom about the blogosphere can be torn apart with two sentences.
The netroots are not web users who have become Democrats.
They are Democrats who have become web users because it's the most efficient way to foster change within the party - extend that change to the country and hold the mainstream media accountable in the process.
As such, this is an attitude-based not age-based movement - the hard facts of the surveys reveal that the average age of Democratic bloggers and reader is solidly in their forties. A quick glance at any panel, meeting or hallway at YearlyKos confirmed this.
The netroots are also extremely well educated - some surveys put the percentage that have graduate degrees at OVER 50% - compared to low single digits of the population at large. I confess to feeling most under-educated person at the conference. Atrios? Phd in Economics from Brown. Jerome Armstrong? Two Phds. Chris Bowers? Phd. Markos? Two Phds. The fact that I don't know a single mainstream media journalist with a Phd? Priceless.
What happens when you take a large group of aware, educated people who are willing to invest time, energy and money to support each other and their beliefs? It will accomplish more than the mind can imagine. One key part of that is something that Peter Daou pointed out.
"The blogosphere is a new power base, a stand-alone entity with its own ethos.... the real question for the progressive netroots and the establishment media alike is whether or not the online community will prevail upon the media to stop caving in to rightwing pressure. It's a war between two distinct centers of political power."
So how big is this new power base? Well, that's my takeaway number two.
YearlyKos Takeaway Number Two - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.
I was speaking with Jerome Armstrong about what traffic was like on mydd.com back in the summer of 2002. I was pretty stunned when he told me the daily traffic was between four and five thousand unique visitors.
I sought out Atrios and then Markos. They all agreed. In the summer of 2002, the top sites were getting between four and five thousand people a day. It was approximately two years from November 2, 2004.
Now the top sites are getting between 150,000 and 600,000 unique visitors a day.
If a community the size of X raised $60 million for Howard Dean and had a tremendous impact on the 2004 Presidential Race, what does a community that is X to the thousands have the potential to do this time around?
How big is the community now? The most common number I heard was 3-5 million active people but I also heard numbers approaching 10 million. With MoveOn's size, and their turnover numbers as reported in our panel, I suspect the netroots is more in the range of 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 active Democrats.
The size and strength of this community was obvious to everyone at YearlyKos - in fact, I think that this is where the quiet confidence of the crowd came from. The blogosphere and Democratic Netroots Community doesn't have to prove a thing to anybody. Who else can bring 6 million Democrats to the table? Who else has an equal power to influence and activism like the netroots? No one.
Hence, takeaway number three.
YearlyKos Takeaway Number Three - Some Politicians Get It. Some Don't. Some Have A Future....
If you have a thousand leaders and influencers of a passionate educated community that is informed, active and committed,
If you have the chance to mingle and learn with this community,
If even you do so thinking quietly to yourself, 'this group will raise $100,000,000 plus in the 2008 Presidential Campaign,'
And despite raising that much money, potentially impact the election more from an issue and activism angle,
Wouldn't you take it? Three did. Many others didn't. And no one spent more time and energy than Mark Warner. Someone asked GovernorWarner if he spent too much time and money on the event, he was quoted as replying "Do I look like a fool?"
Not a chance.
YearlyKos Takeaway Number Four - Arianna Is Right - We Are All In This Together.
Having barely survived the Boston Convention in 2004 where so many people were so worried about themselves that some of John Kerry's oldest and best friends were never given tickets, I loved the spirit at YearlyKos. I felt like a fish out of water on the Kerry Campaign - I felt much much more at home at YearlyKos and I thank everyone for that.
And in that spirit, here are a few more impressions from some other folks who were there.
Chris Bowers www.mydd.com
"The most interesting thing, in my opinion, was that the entire conference was organized by volunteers, ran on very little money, and yet still drew so much attention and praise. I think that is a microcosm of the entire people-powered progressive movement.
My favorite thing was not being able to walk five feet without talking to someone else. The conference was thick with a desire for continuing to improve the community."
(My favorite thing about Chris Bowers was that he jumped in, hosted at least three panels and raised the money himself to put together the Netroots Survey discussed above- soon to be released and covered here. All because it was the right thing to do. And not to make money. Then, when my connection to the project flaked, he and the other panelists welcomed me to finish out the project - in the D.C. legacy world, I would have been shut out - he's one of my YK heroes.)
Mark Warner (I think he's running for something but I'm not sure)
"Before I came to Yearly Kos, I had spoken with some individual bloggers as I traveled around the country. But in Las Vegas, I think everyone got a real sense of strength in numbers--and that whatever the netroots can agree on and get behind will do a great deal to strengthen the Democratic party. Since I've been back and reading the comments, I can see the energy that will help us take back Congress and statehouses across ths country this year. And if Gina promises to do the second annual Yearly Kos, I promise no coconut shrimp."
Christy Hardin Smith www.firedoglake.com
The one thing that came across loud and clear at YearlyKos? We want the politicians to represent us - really represent us, not just the big donors, not just the lobbyists, not just the whomever happens to be writing checks today crowd, but US.
Ambassador Joe Wilson (panelist at YearlyKos)
"YearlyKos was both inspirational and heart warming. Inspirational because it showed the extent to which Americans really care about this country and the principals on which it was founded. Heartwarming for the outpouring of support Valerie and I received. The participants understand what is required to take our country back and are prepared to work to do so."
Jerome Armstrong (the Blogfather)
"My favorite event was the panel I moderated that was billed as the debate over the South and Democratic chances, because it certainly was lively as billed. Also, the survey of the netroots was really unique and compelling. Great job by Chris Bowers with that panel."
To everyone who was there, until we meet again.
To Gina Cooper, the Project Leads, the Champions and all the volunteers who made YearlyKos, thank you.
And to MoveOn.org and Andy and Deborah Rappaport, the event's Founding Sponsors, it couldn't have happened without you.