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Re-Energizing The Progressive Movement

By Zaid Jilani  

"Re-Energizing The Progressive Movement"

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This past Thursday, over 2,000 progressives — including the team from ThinkProgress — attended Netroots Nation 2011, where bloggers, elected officials, and activists came together to strategize about how to reinvigorate the progressive movement and more effectively battle the right. During the four-day event, conference-goers attended panels on topics ranging from the Federal Reserve to the Arab Spring, heard speeches from members of Congress, peppered a high-ranking White House official with questions, and strategized with some of the nation’s biggest names in progressive politics. Although the blogosphere has often been derided by traditional media and the political class, Netroots Nation was a clear demonstration of a simple fact: the blogs and social media outlets that make up the netroots are a pivotal part of shaping not only the progressive movement but the very future of America.

MEET THE NETROOTS: Netroots Nation began in 2006 under the label “YearlyKos,” serving as an annual get-together for members of the progressive DailyKos blogging community. Soon, the annual convention was renamed Netroots Nation to reflect the fact that it had become a gathering point for bloggers and social media activists across the nation. This year’s Netroots Nation had a record number of attendees, attracting over 2,000 bloggers and activists, including overseas bloggers from 24 countries. In addition to bloggers and other social media advocates, the conference featured representatives and sponsorships from a wide variety of organizations, ranging from labor unions like the National Education Association to political parties represented by the Democratic National Committee. The broad swath of attendees represents a new truism about American politics: To have influence and truly change the country, you need to reach out to the netroots. Polling agency Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a straw poll among attendees, and found that 80 percent of attendees said they approved of President Obama’s performance, while two-thirds say they want him to focus on job growth.

A ROBUST AGENDA: The variety of issues represented on panels and presentations demostrated the growing prominence of the netroots in American politics. At a panel titled “Fed Up: Decoding Monetary Policy Matters,” ThinkProgress’s Matt Yglesias discussed Federal Reserve policy with the National Journal’s Tim Fernholz and the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal. At a panel about the Middle East titled “The Arab Spring: A Case Study for New Media as a Catalyst for Change,” a number of Arab bloggers explained how new media is helping them fight for liberty in their countries. Bahraini blogger Lamees Dhaif explained how her sister had been arrested by Bahraini authorities due to her activism, but that the State Department was hesitant to help due to the sensitive relationship with the monarchy. During one particularly emotional moment of a panel titled “What To Do When The President Just Isn’t That Into You,” Lt. Dan Choi — who was discharged from the military for being gay — declared that he would not vote for President Obama in 2012 if he did not endorse marriage equality, ripping up campaign literature he was given by an Obama volunteer in the process. And on the topic of education, the conference also featured a speech by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and a number of sessions about the pushback against the school voucher and school privatization movements.

BUILDING A GREATER MOVEMENT: The conference also reflected themes and tensions within the wider progressive movement, and featured speeches by many movement leaders and elected officials. Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold delivered the opening keynote speech, where he blasted corporate influence in both major political parties, railed against the Citizens United ruling, and decried efforts by some Democrats to raise unlimited corporate funds for the 2012 presidential election. CAP Senior Fellow and former Obama adviser Van Jones unveiled the “American Dream Movement” where he implored activists to come together and defend the American Dream and fight for the future of the country. Jones said progressives are not just fighting against conservatives like Tea Party members, but also for them because progressives want them to achieve the American Dream as well. He also implored Fox News host Glenn Beck to debate him on Beck’s TV show during his last week on air. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) delivered a rousing closing keynote, calling on the netroots to champion a progressive movement independent of public officials that moves the country forward. He told attendees that when the netroots can “walk with the President, we should walk with him, but when we can’t, we have to walk ahead of him. The movement must inspire the politicians.”

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