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March 06, 2006

Blogs Leading the Democratic Reformation

"We're going to be the establishment", says Matt Stoller of mydd in an article at "In These Times" by Lakshmi Chaudhry.  The netroots, the word that describes the online grassroots constituency of the progressive blogging community, aims to allow and encourage ordinary citizens to participate in politics.

Stoller predicts that as an organizing tool, "blogs are going to play the role that talk radio did in 1994, and that church networks did in 2002."

The article focuses on the rise of the blogsphere and on the possible new elitism that could arise from the idea that the best known bloggers are already primarily young, white guys.  (As an older white woman, I'm not too worried about this yet and think that as long as those of us in more "established" websites stay open to linking with and hunting out new voices as they discover the Internet, we'll be okay.)

So back to the impact of the blogosphere on the Party and the nation.

The galvanizing cause for the rapid proliferation of political blogs and their mushrooming audience was a deep disillusionment across the political spectrum with traditional media--a disillusionment accentuated by a polarized political landscape.

<snip>

Both 9/11 and the Iraq war reminded people that "politics was vitally important," and marked the "moment people were looking for some kind of expression outside the bounds of network television," or, for that matter, cable news or the nation's leading newspapers.

Progressives took to the blogs as an way to channel our rage at the lack of opposition to the Iraq War by either the media or the Democratic establishment.  The article references a study by the New Politics Institute which says that progressives have quickly overtaken conservatives in readership.

The article in In These Times describes the dream of the progressive bloggers:

Internet salvation: harnessing an inherently democratic, interactive and communal medium, with the potential to instantaneously tap into the collective intellectual, political and financial resources of tens of millions of fellow Americans to create a juggernaut for social change.

They go on to emphasize the role that bloggers have played in challenging the traditional media and holding them accountable for discussing stories that are initially incorrect or have not yet seen the light of day.  Bloggers are most effective at amplifying pressure from the netroots that puts pressure on politicians and journalists (as we saw several times in last fall's election here in Washington State).

The biggest question is "Can the netroots grow the grassroots?"  Can the support of bloggers and their constituencies influence platforms, encourage volunteers to provide time and money, and make a difference in elections? 

The test will be this year and it will be at the state level.  Can the blogs coordinate with Democratic Party activists to do the needed field organization?  The article says the challenge is to create a virtual "community center" to compensate for the the network of physical meeting places the Republicans have - churches, gun clubs and chambers of commerce.

The article quotes Jerome Armstrong, founder of mydd and co-author with Markos Moulitsas of "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics" coming out this month.  He says:

"We are at the beginning of a comprehensive reformation of the Democratic Party--driven by committed progressive outsiders. Online activism on a nationwide level, coupled with offline activists at the local level ... can provide the formula for a quiet, bloodless coup that can take control of the party. Money and mobilization are the two key elements of all political activity, and if the netroots have their way, the financial backbone of the Democratic Party will be regular people."

Increasingly the top bloggers are becoming campaign consultants and unofficial advisors. 

Armstrong sees the rise of the blogger-guru--or "strategic adviser," as he puts it--as a positive development. Better to hire a blogger who is personally committed to the Democratic cause than a D.C.-based mercenary who makes money irrespective of who wins.

The focus of the blogosphere so far has been to engage the base - and mostly the urban professional base.  One big challenge is to extend the on-line conversation to a larger and more diverse group of people.  There are models.  GrowOhio is one.  It is an online effort to mobilize rural voters and create a progressive grassroots movement.  Our own Washblog is another blog that is attempting to reach folks across the state. How we as bloggers figure out how to reach and motivate people, either online or offline, who don't have "citizen skills" will determine in the end how effective we will be.

Hat tip to Samantha Moscheck for the pointer to "In These Times".

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 6, 2006 at 10:25 AM in Strategery | Permalink

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Comments

From my experiences in other organizations and enterprises, I have to disagree with and say we do need to worry about the demographics of the blogosphere. Not sure what I think we should do about this though! I am an older, white male who is part of the priviledged class myself, married to an asian-american female who has helped me understand this issue better.

Posted by: howieinseattle | Mar 6, 2006 6:36:31 PM

Thanks for posting on this. There was just an in-depth discussion of a Common Dreams article which says nearly the opposite on a listserv I belong to. Here's the article:

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0305-29.htm

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Mar 6, 2006 10:04:33 PM

I think that the blogs are replacing the traditional media, NOT replacing organizing. The Internet should supplement traditional shoeleather-based human contact, not replace it.

Something old
(the shoeleather canvassing that Dems used to be pretty good at)
Something new
(making use of the new possibilities of the Internet)
Something borrowed
(Repubs repeat their talking points a lot, something that we need to do more of)
And more places will turn blue.

Will Pitt has a great writeup of a shoeleather success story.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/030606J.shtml

"There were nearly 30,000 eligible voters in Cheshire County who didn't vote during the 2000 election," says Perkins. "Bush won the state by a margin of 7,211 votes. Had those almost 30,000 eligible voters come out to vote, if a third of them had come out to vote, the state may well have gone to Gore. Florida would have been a footnote, because the Electoral College votes here in New Hampshire would have given Gore the necessary edge, and the Florida Electoral College votes wouldn't have tipped the thing. The Supreme Court would never have gotten involved."

Analyzing these numbers, the might-have-beens became unendurable to Perkins. He decided that the next election was going to be different. It worked like this: Perkins, along with Swing the Vote steering committee members Bonnie and Leah, cobbled together a group of volunteers as the 2004 election season began to loom. They mapped out Cheshire County and parceled out areas for volunteers to work. The volunteers went out in pairs, clipboards in hand, and knocked on as many Cheshire County doors as they could manage.

This was not, however, your standard canvassing project. First of all, the volunteers were sternly instructed not to stand there and proselytize to the people they spoke to. They had a series of questions to ask, beginning with "Are you registered to vote?" before moving on to "Do you vote?" and concluding with "What issues are of most concern to you?" The basic idea was to get people talking.

Another aspect of their work that was different was the choice of who to canvass. There were many groups making similar efforts in New Hampshire at the time. Some spoke only to registered voters, some only to registered Democrats, some only to registered Republicans. Swing the Vote decided to talk to everyone, Democrat or Republican, registered or unregistered.

Each volunteer was given a specific goal: so many doors per day, per week, per month. They wore out the shoe leather in Troy, Alstead, Swanzey, Keene, Dublin, Jaffrey, getting people to talk about what concerned them in the upcoming election. If people weren't registered, they explained how to register. They let people know that New Hampshire allows same-day voter registration, and if they wanted to, they could go down to their polling place on election day, register right there, and vote.

It worked. On election day 2004, Cheshire County saw the largest voter turnout in recent memory. Some 6,000 unregistered voters came out, people who had not been targeted by any other group because they were not on any voter roll. They registered, and they voted. Cheshire County went blue, and for only the third time since 1948, New Hampshire was won by a Democratic presidential candidate.

Posted by: eridani | Mar 6, 2006 10:29:13 PM

I think the blogs will only be effective if they midwife a new kind of organizing which takes advantage of the online community. It's a partnership - the netroots and the grassroots and will only work in that way.

And, Noemie, I think the article on Common Dreams, which I just read, is off - for the US. (It argues that only in the streets protesting is effective in changing the path of this country.) It seems to me that the American media is not covering protests well or at all these days over here anyway.

So there is something new that is needed. I would argue that we are already seeing it with blogs like firedoglake organizing people to call or email or fax specific journalists or politicians on specific issues. I would bet - and we will see if the online organizing around the primary election in Texas today between fake Democrat Henry Cuellar and read Democrat Ciro Rodriguez is impacted sufficiently by a storm of online support from several major national blogs.

We saw some of that locally last year with David's impact on the Sims/Irons race and other races. We haven't yet seen real organizing locally but I think we will this year.

I think we'll see a lot more of it this year and will see the impact it will have on elections as well.

Posted by: Lynn | Mar 7, 2006 10:11:57 AM

It's nice



Posted by: fish_hfd | Jun 30, 2007 8:41:56 AM

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