I have just finished my first Netroots Nation. I came to Pittsburgh without really knowing what was in store, or what I was going to do there. I attended panel discussions, political speeches, screenings of trailers and a full-length movie, and a rollicking party, too. I met and got hugs from a few of the folks I have only known previously by their dkos handles. As I am not a prolific diarist and have a fairly low profile around here, I was able to attend the panel discussions without attracting attention, so you could call me a spy in the house of blogging.
In addition to the memories I take away of all the events I witnessed at this conference, I also have been stoked to act as best I can on a number of fronts that are crucial to success for the progressive movement. I have my work cut out for me (as we all do, really). To see precisely what I learned, and what I'll be acting on, please follow me over the fold...
So, here are the lessons I learned, roughly in chronological order:
1. The road to marriage equality in California (and, ultimately, elsewhere in the nation) runs through Maine.
The first panel I attended was entitled "From Prop 8 to Full Equality in All 50 States: Fighting for Marriage Equality and LGBT Rights Across America." The panelists were Julia Rosen, Pam Spaulding, Michael Wilson and Monique Hoeflinger. A great deal was said regarding the post-mortem of California's campaign to defeat Proposition 8, but it was clear that the issue requiring the most attention was Question 1 in Maine, which will be on the ballot in the coming November election. A majority of "yes" votes would reverse the law issued by the government of Maine just months ago. Both sides know that the outcome of this particular fight will set the theme for challenges in other states. If we lose this battle, marriage equality will suffer yet another defeat, increasing the likelihood of defeats for possible referendums in other states. If we win, however, this could be the turning of the tide on this issue, with further states, including California, ultimately following suit. While opponents of marriage equality have more money, our side is better organized. As such, it is crucial for all who want to see marriage equality become a reality to contribute to the cause in one way or another: donate money, phone-bank, and/or come to Maine and canvass. In order to do any of these, the place to go is www.protectmaineequality.com. This is going to be a very close election. No one can predict the outcome. The fight in Maine is important to all LGBT people and their allies, and requires advocacy by all. I'm going to push it as best I can in my home community.
2. It's easy to figure out which Congresscritters are naughty and which are nice.
Next, I attended Joshua Grossman's training session entitled "Staying on Top of Congress' Shenanigans." He demonstrated the use of the free on-line utility he developed, progressivepunch.org. The utility rates Representatives and Senators according to how they perform on politically partisan votes in general sessions. In addition, he creates a category of "crucial votes" in which either progressives won by only a few percentage points, or they lost. The definitions of what, precisely, is considered "progressive," and how the various votes are counted, can be found on the website. Descriptions of what was voted on are also there, in plain language for those who are not political junkies. Progressivepunch is a valuable tool for judging your own congresscritter, or determining which candidates deserve our support, and which need to be primaried out of the Congress. I also learned a new word: Schmendrick (used to describe the Republican members of the Alaska delegation to Congress).
3. There are some very good and powerful progressive documentaries being made.
I next attended the screening of the trailers for four documentaries, and a segment of a fifth. Four of these films were principally about the environment and/or the environmental movement: Earth Days, about the history of the environmentalist movement; Free the River Park, which describes how a community fought CSX to allow at-grade access across their tracks to a park running along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia; A Sea Change, about the changes that have already occurred to the world's oceans due to build-up and absorption of carbon dioxide, and what may be in store in the future if trends are not reversed; and Dirt! a film about, well, dirt, and its importance in life and culture all around the world. The fifth film was entitled The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove, and this consisted of interviews with many low-level Democratic politicians who had been unjustly indicted and often ultimately pressured into guilty pleas and jail time due to the machinations of Karl Rove and the cooperative U. S. Attorneys (the ones that didn't get fired).
Also, Friday evening, I went to see a screening of Outrage, a film that outs gay conservative Republican politicians and operatives. people who have worked to block advances in LGBT rights. Yes, we all know about Larry Craig and Mark Foley, but there are others with substantial power to do evil, but whose sexual orientation is less well-known. Mike Rogers and Michelangelo Signorile, both of whom were interviewed in the film, were present to answer questions afterward. Both Rogers and Signorile have outed numerous celebrities and politicians
All of these films were powerful, and I would recommend seeing all of them.
4. The fight over health care reform in winnable!
Listening to the keynote address by President Clinton, and the conversation the next morning with Governor Howard Dean left me with the opinion that health care reform is ours to lose. Clearly, we could lose it, but the loss will be due simply to progressives' lack of action. Even if the bill that passes does not contain everything we want, the act can be modified later. This is a big issue. The ball has never been moved successfully. Any movement can be interpreted as a progressive victory. However, I would agree with Gov. Dean that any health care reform bill that does not contain a public option is probably not worth doing. But I think enough blue dogs can be pressured by various means to come around. It happened with Sen. Ben Nelson (as I learned at a later panel) who claimed a public option would be a deal breaker. His funding ties to the insurance industry were exposed, and he spent an embarrassing amount of time defending himself, and digging the hole deeper. He has finally said that he would vote for the final bill if it contained a public option.
5. Arlen Specter has a strong opponent in Joe Sestak, and we have a good chance of having a real progressive in the Senate representing Pennsylvania.
I attended the candidate forum between Senator Arlen Specter and Representative Joe Sestak. As a Pennsylvania resident, this race is important to me. I feel that during the Bush years, Specter fell down on the job of defending the Constitution, and that he does not deserve to be re-elected, certainly not as a Democrat. Sestak disappointed us on FISA reauthorization and telcom immunity, but I'd rather take my chances on Sestak's promise of progressive action rather than continue with a Senator who has allowed indefensible legislation get out of his committee and then voted for it.
6. The situation regarding global warming and the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is dire, but just as in the case of health care reform, the political fight is winnable!
The first panel I attended on Friday afternoon was entitled Setbacks in Environmental Policy and Law: Can the Obama Administration Reverse the Trend?" The panelists were Denis Hayes, Nan Aron (moderator), Phil Radford, Adam Siegel, and U. S. Representative Jay Inslee. The principal topic was global warming, and the current proposed legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The activists on the panel tended to think that the legislation, with it's provisions for "clean" coal, had been critically weakened. Though none felt that passing the bill was completely pointless, Radford, of Greenpeace, went so far as disparage Obama's role in the legislative process. Rep. Inslee staunchly defended Obama and said that it did not matter if the legislation was weaker than ideal, that we can go back and modify it later. At this point, I got a sense of deja vu, from the health care reform discussions. Again, this is a ball that has never moved before. Getting Congress to move on this issue, against the moneyed interests (the fossil fuel industry in this case) is going to be enormously difficult. But if progressives get behind it and push hard, it will pass! We can make progress, but just as in the case of health care reform, we have to show up and support it in every way we can.
7. Scientific fact is back in the driver's seat in Washington.
Next I attended the panel entitled "Science Denial and Science Policy." The panelists were Joshua Rosenau, Bryan Rhem, Michael Stebbins, Mark Sumner (moderator) and Susan Wood. Being a scientist and an educator myself, this topic is near and dear to my heart. As most of the panelists were biologists, most of the discussion centered on issues dealing with the teaching of biology (i. e. denial of evolution) and biomedical issues. It was clear that the administration has eliminated the denial of scientific fact or requiring scientist to change data, or permitting bureaucrats to rewrite scientific reports to reflect partisan ideology. Dr. Wood did point out that politics may still result in policy at odds with scientific recommendation, but that the science must still at least be acknowledged.
8. When it comes to political organizing, the fundamentals always work.
I attended the panel entitled "The Challenges of Organizing in Rural Areas" because, well, I live in a rural area. I was hoping to gain some insight on reaching out to my rather conservative neighbors. The panelists were Lynn Allen, Mindy Diane Feldman, Lauren Reichelt and Jill Richardson (moderator). The panel mainly focussed on sparely populated portions of the country, in the southwest, with principally Latino or Native American populations. On its face, the discussion did not have a great deal to do with my own situation, but it was stressed that in rural places, where sometimes old-fashioned phone lines or even addresses are not available, one has to fall back on the old tried-and-true techniques of face-to-face interaction to build an organization.
9. Kossacks are all DFHs.
I went to the hootenanny in the Westin Hotel lobby on Friday night. I had no idea I had this much in common with so many other kossacks! And I got to meet brillig, texasmom, Cedwyn, Moody in Savannah and others.
I missed Valerie Jarrett. So sue me.
10. The fight to make election campaigns publicly financed is winnable!
I actually came to this panel on Saturday morning by mistake: "Game Changer: Why Now's the Time to Move from Special Interest-Funded Elections to Citizen-Funded Elections." I think I got more out of this panel discussion than the one I intended to go to. The panelists were Prof. Lawrence Lesig, David Donnelly, Adam Green, as well as a very young state legislator from Connecticut (can't recall his name), and U. S. Representative Chellie Pingree via Skype. The two legislators told how the reform of campaign finance laws in their states (Connecticut and Maine) for state offices had shifted the focus of the lawmakers from fundraising to actual lawmaking. Rep. Pingree talked about how frustrating it was to have to spend so much time making phone calls in order to raise the money necessary to run a successful campaign. She said that even Republicans hated doing it, and that the only politicians who enjoyed raising money this way were all in jail. Prof. Lessig described the charge to change financing of elections, and the "bad cop" website he launched called change-congress.com. The pertinent bill is called the Fair Elections Now Act HR 1826, and there is hope that it will pass. Change-congress.com is asking large donors to strike, that is, not to donate money to members of Congress who do not pledge to vote for reform of campaign finance. Again, we have to push. This discussion made me hopeful that the elimination of the distortion of legislation by moneyed interests is within reach. Am I deluded?
11. The Strip is cool!
Kossack tobendaro showed me where the Pittsburgh Strip is, and all the great food you can buy there. I loved it, and will have to bring my partner next time. By the way, the price of this expedition is that I missed the discussion on the 21st century economy. Again, sue me.
12. Successful organization and campaigning require both new media and traditional techniques.
I went to the panel "Yes We Did? How Blogging Can (and Can't) Support a Field Campaign" because kath25 invited me, and I got to meet her afterward. (!) The panelists were Janice Caswell, Pamela Coukos, Katherine Haenschen, wunderkind Karl Singer, Sean Quinn (moderator), and Jeremy Bird. The theme of this panel seemed to be that more bloggers need to get off their butts and go out and canvass, while more canvassers should be encouraged to blog in order to share their experiences. I certainly found the accounts of the achievements of the panelists to be inspiring.
13. The NFTT team is very efficient.
Immedaitely after kath25's panel, I went over to help the Netroots for the Troops team pack boxes to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, but by the time I showed up, a mere 45 minutes after they started, they were done. Damn!
14. State government in California is essentially fucked.
The last panel I attended (since I couldn't help make care packages) was entitled "California: How Process Creates Crisis," with panelists David Dayen (moderator), Robert Cruickshank, Jean Ross and Kai Stinchcombe. While I'm not currently a California resident, I did spend four years of my life there, and my "in-laws" all live there. This panel seemed particularly depressing because it seemed that nothing was working, and no politician was displaying the initiative necessary to ward off impending financial disaster brought about by unprecedented political gridlock. The term "clusterfuck" occurred to me on hearing this description. Most of the panelists supported the idea of rewriting California's constitution, and I can't disagree.
15. WE MUST ACT NOW!
Darcy Burner's keynote speech closing the conference provided an appropriate summary and a sharp prod to every person present to put our ideas into ACTION! "Sometimes, you have only one chance." We have to incite our lawmakers to do the right thing. It's all up to us. All of it. Health care reform. Reduction of greenhouse gases. Marriage equality. Public financing of elections. All of these things, and all the ones I missed. We have to tell our representatives, and tell everyone we know to do the same.
Now word comes that the public option is dead, from none other than Nate Silver. I'm not sure I believe it. Maybe it's false hope, but I still think it can be done. It must be done! We can't continue to tolerate 50 million plus individuals in this country with no access to affordable health care, and millions of others living in fear of losing their health care benefits. Can our representatives be so dumb, so corrupt, or both? Maybe I'm living la vie en rose, but I firmly believe that it ain't over quite yet.
16. Kossacks can displace rubble.
I participated in the day of service in Braddock today, helping to move leftover rubble from the urban farms that have sprouted under the care of Mayor John Fetterman. I thought it was kind of fun, even though we got quite dirty. We had pizza afterwards in the Mayor's home.
So, in conclusion, we have our marching orders. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency was not the end of our efforts. It was not even the beginning of the end. It was the end of the beginning. If we're ever to see Obama achieve his objectives, and we ours, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
So let's get to it!