Netroots Nation Comes to Austin

Netroots Nation director Gina cooper.

Progressive politics meets the internet
By Sarah Lai Stirland / June 25, 2008

Gina Cooper is the director of an annual phenomenon now known as Netroots Nation.

The four-year-old annual gathering, formerly known as the YearlyKos convention, takes place this year in Austin, Texas, between July 17th and 20th.

Last year, it brought together more than 2,000 people who participate in progressive politics, and who are part of the liberal DailyKos group blogging community.

Cooper expects the same level of turnout as last year’s meeting.

Last summer, the convention also commanded the attendance of all of the Democratic presidential candidates, and it received the bizarre attention of Fox News’ political show host Bill O’Reilly, who blasted Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut for attending a conference put on by the “far-left.”

Cooper got involved in progressive politics through her participation in the DailyKos as a blogger, as The New York Times magazine’s politics writer Matt Bai has documented. Prior to being executive director of Netroots Nation, Cooper taught high school math and science.

As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais have shown in their book Millennial Makeover, the blogging community has come to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to political campaigns, but especially in congressional races. Political bloggers shape media coverage, influence public opinion and break news.

So, it’s no surprise that Cooper expects politicians of all stripes to show up again at this year’s convention.

Barack Obama has been invited, and Nancy Pelosi will be there. (Republican candidates for Congress can also show up, if they want to, and they’ll be feted along with their Democratic counterparts, Cooper says.)

Cooper characterizes the convention as a place where the progressive electorate comes to set its own agenda, and to consummate a “love affair” started off on the web.

This year’s agenda is wide-ranging. It includes subjects that would definitely interest’s geeky readership, such as space policy.

Threat Level asked Cooper a few basic questions about the convention at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York on Tuesday. One of them was whether John McCain would be welcome in Austin, since he does have a link to the DailyKos on his campaign website, and since he’s been courting progressive bloggers.

Read on to find out more.

Tell our readers a bit about what Netroots Nation is.

Netroots Nation is formerly known as the YearlyKos convention, and some people call it the bloggers’ convention. But it’s really more than that. It’s the intersection of politics, technology and media on a grassroots level.

But it also includes the upper echelon of people involved in netroots politics as well, the deep thinkers, the big thinkers. It includes regular people who are also big thinkers and deep thinkers, but politics is not something they do for a living — it’s something they do out of passion.

How do you think all these bloggers getting together helps the progressive community?

I think in many ways it, you could have a love affair over e-mail, but it’s not really anything until you get together and consummate it.

So if we want to use that sort of analogy, I think it’s the sort of thing that when people come together, then they are tied together more tightly. They feel that they have more of a community. So it seals that community, which has been built online, with personal interaction.

How many people were there last year, and how many people were there the first year?

The first year, we had around a thousand. Last year, I don’t know. We’re a really small organization doing big things. We were only one-and-a-half people [who were getting paid last year] so we never really got a final count.

But when we had the presidential debate among all the Democratic primary candidates, the room was set for 2,100, and it was standing room only.

And we expect about the same size this year.

Why did you choose Austin?

There really are a lot of reasons. One of the reasons: I think Austin has a chance of swinging blue.

So even looking back last year, we saw that there was going to be an opportunity.

But what drew us there even more was the community. They sought us. They have an amazing grassroots, netroots community. They have an amazing progressive bloggers’ alliance there. It’s very tight. They were recruiting us through the blogs. They were sending us e-mails. Just progressive bloggers in Texas randomly sending us stuff.

I guess some people might have thought of this as harassment, but I thought it was lovely. I thought it was wonderful.

It was regular people who see that when you bring people together in a community, the energy electrifies them, and as a result it expands, and it grows.

So they chose us as much as we chose them.

Who are all these people who come?

Political professionals, but also more wonkish types who think about policy on a regular basis very deeply, as opposed to the rest of us in terms of our own lives.

But you bring those people together with regular people. You bring together politicians and candidates. You bring together progressive organizations.

The speakers often absorb their own expenses. We’re very co-operative. Sometimes they are the sponsors. They want to reach this audience, they’re believers in the people who are there. They’re fans of the political process. They believe the political process offers them a meaningful way to be a part of how we direct our country.

Is this a mini Democratic convention for activists, where the party people can come and plan things to motivate people all around the country?

In some ways, I would think so in terms of it being a gathering of people of like mind. But not everybody agrees at all.

And that really actually is the difference. People are able to come in with their own ideas. So for example, this year, we’re going to have self-organizing sessions. People will be able to come in with their own ideas.

There’s a lot of activity, and people are unplugged, and I love seeing that.

One of the most amazing things that you find there are that the political professionals become inspired by the audience because there’s such sincerity.

You said that Pelosi is coming, and you’ve invited Barack Obama.

Yes, and yes. Everybody’s invited really. To be honest, it’s not like we’ve recruited people. Because the politicians want to meet this audience, so it’s not like we go out and invite somebody, it’s more that it’s kind of out there and people come.

One thing that’s really special about our convention is that it’s not based around a specific constituency.

The politicians aren’t coming to pay their respects, or kiss the ring, or anything like that. They’re coming here to engage these people. The politicians want to be there but there’s no hard sell.

What about John McCain? Has he been invited? He’s got a DailyKos button on his website.

You know, we would love to see him there, but I don’t know if he knows that we exist because we’re mostly on the internet. His wife is the one who helps him with his e-mail. So if she’s a fan — obviously somebody had to be a fan — because somebody had to put that DailyKos button on there.

Of course, we’re love to see them there.

What about Congress? Will any members of Congress be there? Obviously Congress is a big battleground this year.

Yes, there will definitely be Congressional candidates there.

Again, I don’t necessarily track that. If they want to come, they go on the website, and register. They show up, they do their thing.

There is going to be a party, because we definitely appreciate them coming out and reaching out to us.

We’re going to have an event that will feature whatever candidate, Democrat or Republican, that would like to show up, and celebrate them for reaching out to us.

I’m not one of these people who hate Washington, D.C. In fact, one of the most-surprising things that I’ve learned in this process of putting together this convention is that there are real champions for regular people there that have made their way to the inside to influence things for the better.

Darcy Burner, (a Democratic candidate running for office in the 8th District of Washington) for example, submitted a panel. And it was a good one, so we accepted it.

But this is mostly just about getting to examine the agenda of the regular folks.

Source. / Wired

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