Netroots Nation Report

I thought our readers might like to get an insight into how last week’s annual Netroots Nation convention went, and how it keeps the blogging world energized. Here is an inside look at the event. (‘Netroots’ stands for the online, networked, “bottom-up” grassroots of democracy.)
First of all, Austin is like a big, very very very very very very hot Santa Cruz. The daily high temperature was between 96 and 104 each day I was there. The convention facilities were great, and are located right downtown, surrounded by restaurants and the entertainment district. The hotel was next door to the convention center with several other hotels nearby. It’s also near Austin’s famous “bat bridge” from under which hundreds of thousands of bats emerge each day just after sunset.
Two thousand people attended the Thursday through Sunday event. The crowd and speakers were much more diverse than previous years. This is a gathering of all ages and demographic groups, centered around the progressive blogs.
Netroots Nation used to be called YearlyKos. This event sprang up from the large community that had grown up around the DailyKos website, but the gathering itself is a larger Netroots gathering not just associated with that particular site. Hence the change to Netroots Nation.
The first day, Thursday, was set aside for caucuses. There was a labor caucus which really wish I could have attended. There were a few state caucuses. There were caucuses like Native American and GLBTQ, and even a Geek caucus. There were caucuses for websites like MyDD and Firedoglake.
The evening Keynote on that first day was Governor Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic Party, introduced by General Wesley Clark.
Friday the panels and workshops started. Friday and Saturday were arranged with two panel slots before lunch and two after. Each of those slots had THIRTEEN different panels to choose from! And of course everyone wanted to attend at least tow, more likely four of those at any given time. For an idea of what one of these panels was link, here is the description of The Next President and the Law:

Fri, 07/18/2008 – 9:00am, Exhibit Hall 4
A new Democratic president will take office on January 20, 2009, facing a federal judiciary stacked with Republican appointees in 20 of the last 28 years, and a Department of Justice that has been more tied to the President’s policy interests than the impartial enforcement of law. What should the next president do with the courts? What should the priorities be for his attorney general? What legislative initiatives are needed to restore fair access to the courts?
PANELISTS: Cass Sunstein, John Dean, Adam Bonin, Michael Waldman

There were thirteen sessions like this to choose from at 9am, then thirteen more at 10:30am. Then for lunch Markos of DailyKos and former Senator Harold Ford, now head of the right-leaning DLC, had a discussion on stage. I wrote about this at my personal blog, in the post, Harold Ford at Netroots Nation on FISA:

Harold Ford and Markos held a discussion on stage at lunch here at Netroots Nation. I didn’t catch all of it, but at one point Ford was talking about FISA and telecom immunity, along the lines of “If you have a company, and the government comes to you and says ‘If you do this for us it will help national security’ then what can you say?”
I’ll tell you what you can say. You can say, “DO YOU HAVE A WARRANT?”

Then two more groups of thirteen panels at 1:30pm and 3pm, with an evening “Netroots Candidates Event” where what seemed to be fifty candidates for office around the country who the netroots are supporting were introduced. (I spotted Pete McCloskey at this event. McCloskey was a California Congressman who ran against Richard Nixon in the 1972 Republican primaries, and who co-founded Earth Day.)
And then there were the parties… Parties and parties. There were lots of parties. And there were parties.
Saturday kicked off with “Ask the Speaker”. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was on stage taking questions that had been solicited in advance from blogs all around the web, as well as live questions from people attending. Then there was a surprise. One of the questions that came over the speakers was from Al Gore! And Gore walked onto the stage to give a brief talk about climate change and the nature of our politics, and took questions as well as Speaker Pelosi.
Then more panels … The lunch keynote was Lawrence Lessig who talked about the destructive nature of money in politics — whenever money is involved you can’t trust the results, just like with medical research funded by pharmaceutical companies. So of course you can’t trust money in politics.
Then more panels. I put on a workshop titled, “Blogging and the New Green Economy,” described as follows,

This workshop will discuss how bloggers can support and organize around the efforts of environmental justice activists, union leaders and city government officials to help create a new green economy.

(Last year I put on two major sessions and participated in three other panels, and the year before i was also involved with several. So just doing this one was a relief.)
Saturday wrapped up with a keynote speech by Rep. Donna Edwards. This is significant because the Netroots supported Edwards in a primary race against another Democrat who was supporting a corporate agenda. She won, and it has sent a signal to other Democrats that they can start to change their behavior. And now the SEIU and others are planning to run at least ten primary challenges in the next round of Congressional elections. This is a very important development which I wrote about in my post SEIU’s Accountability Project — Making Politicians Do The Right Thing. I wrote,

First, it finally gives politicians whose hearts are with us a reason to vote with us. Second, it tells politicians who don’t agree with a progressive agenda (of reducing corporate power over our lives and restoring democracy to the people) that their time is past, that we will run candidates against them in the primaries and these candidates will have strong support.

Then there were parties. And more parties. Lots of parties.
And parties.
Finally, Sunday began with a multi-faith service led by “Pastor Dan” who posts at the DailyKos-associated blog Street Prophets. Following that the keynote speaker Van Jones was introduced by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom was great but Van Jones gave a memorable talk that will be available in video online soon.
A tremendous amount of networking happens at this event. I once called it the largest gathering of people who know each other but have never met. It is events like this one and the Take Back America conference where a new progressive movement is being built. One this that was significant this year was the exhibits, where organizations involved with the Netroots have booths to show off what they are up to. There were quite a number of these this year, which shows that an ecosystem is starting to develop.
Someone caught a photo of me speaking to the California Caucus:
(That’s a really bad shot of CA-46 Congressional candidate Debra Cook in the front.)
There are several blogs (here, here) and diaries at DailyKos with pictures, (here, here, here, here), and a Flickr album I located.