makingpeace : Netroots in Fertile Ground

T-Shirt Humor.

The Rag Blog’s Dreyer and Organic Consumers’ Cummins
By makingpeace / July 28, 2008

Following another computer crash and a friend’s valiant attempt to fix it, we headed out yesterday to buy a new machine. Now we’re getting used to the new set-up and hoping the machine’s memory outlives that of its predecessor (if not its owners.) I admit to feeling generally uneasy using too many things that I don’t know how to fix. Wood and paper are mediums that I understand – and under the right conditions, their longevity is greater than wired circuits. Maybe Austin’s supercomputer, “Ranger,” knows more than a forest worth of trees — but I doubt its memory is longer, nor are its roots as deep. But, maybe the forest and the ranger can yet develop a relationship as symbiotic as their natural counterparts.

For some insight in these matters, I spoke by phone Friday morning with a couple of other attendees of the Netroots convention: Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association (, who had just returned to his home state of Minnesota after driving back with his family in their camper van, and Thorne Dreyer, who is a local blogger (and happened to have a letter in yesterday’s AAS about Netroots).

On his way to Austin, Ronnie had attended the Green Party Convention in Chicago. He said he’d like to see more interaction between those who blog about electoral politics and those who are involved in public interest campaigns. He said that there were only a few folks who attended both the Green Party and the Netroots conventions, even though he feels their “world views are almost identical.”

Ronnie appreciated all the networking opportunities at both conventions, and he is passionate about making connections between people and issues — war funding and the environment, consumers and farmers, green builders and peace builders. “I think for the first time since 1970, people are seeing the whole picture,” he says. He hopes the US is moving toward a “New Green Deal” or a “New Peace and Green Deal.” He is optimistic, but also stresses the urgency of our global crises. “We don’t have unlimited time left to turn things around.”

Ronnie is still active with the Organic Consumers Association that he co-founded 10 years ago and is editor of the group’s online newsletter, Organic Bytes. The network has grown to about a million people who are connected online. A new lobby arm at aims to further green awareness throughout political campaigns, especially in local elections.

I learned that Ronnie grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, where “from an early age, I saw the power of the oil companies and how they bought off politicians.” He attended Rice University and also spent a brief time in Austin in the early 1970’s. He has worked in peace and justice efforts since those years. He is committed, energized and hopeful. “The Rainbow Coalition we hoped for did not come about, but now we have a real chance to make it happen,” he says.

I sensed similar optimism from Thorne Dreyer, another long-time writer and social justice advocate who, like Ronnie, grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast. Thorne edits The Rag Blog (, an online revival of the underground newspaper that flourished in Austin in the 1960’s and ’70’s. Thorne edited The Rag then, saw the paper influence the explosive growth of underground publications around the country and is delighted to see the parallels with the burgeoning alternative press now. He likens the internet to the technology of the offset press in the 1960’s that allowed more people to contribute to the media. The Rag Blog is doubling its readership every month, and Thorne is pleased with the feedback he and the other blog contributors have been getting.

Like Ronnie, Thorne expressed enthusiasm about the opportunities he had to meet folks and learn from the speakers and panelists at the Netroots Convention. “It was like the old days — it gave you a sense of the immensity of the movement. I didn’t think there was a weak moment in the convention,” he said. He was glad that Netroots attendees could come to Austin to see that a spirit of populism survives and that “Texas is fertile ground for maverick thinking.”

Embracing the internet hasn’t diminished Thorne’s passion for the printed page. He’s a long-time journalist and a book collector whose father was a reporter and editor at the Houston Chronicle. He remembers three daily Houston newspapers when he was young, and not that long ago was able to have the Houston Chronicle delivered to his doorstep in Austin. Now it’s not even available at most news stands here. He’s not sure what the future holds for the major dailies, but he sees a real problem with their concentration of ownership.

“I still love hard copy,” he says. “Something I can spill coffee on, read in bed — I’m still old school in that sense. I don’t think the internet can ever take the place of the print media. We need both.”

[Susan Van Haitsma posts as makingpeace, news and commentary about nonviolence in action /]

The Rag Blog

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