As many of you know, July 19th (this Thursday) marks the 3rd anniversary of Blogosphere Day. As I type this, I am sitting at the same desk where I began the fundraising phenomena three years ago (albeit at a different computer). For me, it's hard to believe that the liberal blogosphere has evolved so strongly in just three years. Three years ago, when I was a front page poster here at Daily Kos, you considered your post a success if you recieved 80 to 90 comments when all was done. The number of bloggers has skyrocketed since 2004, together with massive expansion of local blogs all across this country. American politics has changed a great deal since 2004, and we bloggers are a major cause of that.
But how did the progressive blogosphere become a national influence on the Democratic Party, and on politics in general? One could say it began with Howard Dean's Presidential campaign in 2003, when he shattered all previous records for online fundraising and activism. But Dean was defeated in Iowa and New Hampshire, which sunk his campaign. And Dean would not rise to power again until early 2005, when he became DNC Chair. Even with Dean as our Chairman, many national Democrats continue to downplay or ignore the progressive blogosphere, dismissing us as "radicals" or "idealists". And Daily Kos, MyDD and other national blogs were already producing excellent work before Dean's campaign came into the spotlight. I know this because I've been blogging here since the beginning of 2003. I've seen the changes and fluctuations on this site and elsewhere. And believe me, there was a progressive blogosphere in "B.D." (Before Dean). I think there are some mummified articles somewhere, if you want to dig them up.
All kidding aside, the national media tended to downplay or ignore us bloggers during in the aftermath of the Dean campaign. Even when Ben Chandler and Stephanie Herseth were sent to Congress in special elections in mid-2004, the online donation surge was credited to the DCCC, not us (truth be told, credit should have been shared equally). Raising $80,000 in 14 days for Chandler was impressive enough, but it was the only game in town (so to speak), and the DCCC had its donors helping out there as well.
Virginia "Ginny" Schrader was not getting much "help" at all from the DCCC in July 2004. She was running an uphill battle against Republican Congressman Jim Greenwood, who had won his previous race with 62%. Schrader herself had won a primary with only 60% against a frequent Republican candidate who had switched parties. As of the June 30th filing report, she had $7,000 on hand. Her chances, to put it mildly, were slim to none. Despite Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional district having voted for Gore in 2000, Greenwood's moderate social views (he was pro-choice, for example) enabled him to win reelection easily, over and over again. This race would be no different.
4PM, July 19th, 2004: I am sitting at my desk at home, keeping myself occupied by visiting numerous political websites. I would be leaving for Boston in a few days as one of just 30 fortunate bloggers to be given credentials for the Democratic National Convention (I owe Mike Liddell, now the DSCC's Internet Communications Director a great deal of thanks for that). Absentmindedly, I checked my e-mail for the upteenth time that day.
At the top of my e-mail was a "Breaking News" dispatch from RollCall.com.
Greenwood Named President of Biotechnology Association
(Note: Subscription required)
Just as it is now, whenever a piece of "breaking" news occurs, there's a mad rush to be the first to post it online, both here and at other "big box" websites. As luck would have it, I had recently found Schrader's website, so I knew something about the seat and Greenwood's opponent.
410PM: I used Politics1.com to find Schrader's website, and quickly noted her main positions on the issues, her biography and the district demographics (it voted for Gore, for example). I then set to work typing up an article on the front page of DailyKos. As I did, I checked PoliticsPA.com to confirm the news, and found out that Schrader had just $7,000 in the bank.
440PM: I finished the article, and published it on the front page. This is what it said:
Breaking News: GOP Congressman Greenwood (PA-08) Leaving Congress This Year
I just read this at PoliticsPA.com and in a breaking news e-mail from RollCall.com. Congressman Jim Greenwood, a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional district, just announced he will not seek reelection this year, instead removing his name from the ballot. The Democrat, Virginia "Ginny" Schrader, is an attorney who has just $7,000 in the bank as of June 30th. Greenwood's district voted for Gore in 2000 by a decent amount, and the GOP is now scrambling for a replacement.
Schraeder's website is http://www.ginnyschrader.com Note: Link is now inactive]. A good place to contribute to would be at ACTBLUE at [Note: Link is now inactive, as it will track the donations recieved for the campaign.
I would suggest that we get involved ASAP. This seat is a Democratic-leaning one, and is too good to miss. Schrader is a liberal-to-moderate, pro-choice Democrat. In addition, she supports civil unions and is against Bush's positions on Iraq and the Patriot Act. She is an attorney who ran for State Rep. in 2002 and lost by a respectable margin.
This is completely out of left field, folks, and it gives us another opportunity for a pickup. Ginny Schrader is the luckiest candidate in the nation today, but can her luck hold?
In my rush to post the article, I mispelled Schrader's name at one point. I also forgot to include her ActBlue account, which I added later on at one poster's urging. In addition, I as of then had not figured out HTML, so there was no bolding or italics in the post. Reading it today when compared to my "modern" work is like comparing Sumerian clay tablets to a Medieval manuscript in its aesthetic beauty.
And yet my appeal worked. I didn't know Ginny Schrader from Adam; in fact, nearly all of the bloggers who responded that day didn't know her either. But people gave, people wrote kind words and let others know the news: that a Congressional seat could be won that had been not been looked at before.
By the end of July 20th, Ginny Schrader had raised $30,000 from the Internet. That number would continue to grow in the days that followed. As Salon Magazine reported on July 23rd:
When Armstrong, Moulitsas and Yellin had all played their hands, that's when the readers started really jumping on the Schrader bandwagon. According to some estimates, the money was coming in at the rate of about $3,000 an hour on Monday night and Tuesday morning. It's probably fair to say that at this point, a kind of madness had overcome the denizens of the lefty blog, and many of them were giving Schrader money just because they knew that others would be giving. "There's a whole stimulus-response type of reaction to it," Armstrong says. "It feels good. Joe Trippi" -- who headed Dean's campaign -- "used to tell me that people would give because they felt that other people would give and they didn't want to miss out. They'd want to be able to say, 'I was part of this thing. It's bigger than me, and I wanted to be part of it."
Benjamin Rahn, the president of ActBlue, a political action committee that runs a popular Web site that allows people to donate to Democrats of their choosing, echoes this thought. "One of the exciting things about online fundraising is that it gives people who are giving small amounts very tangible evidence that they are part of a strong community that, together, will be giving a lot. It's not because people are writing $2,000 checks, it's because you can see that lots and lots of people are sending in money."
And people also donated to Schrader just to show that the Web -- and Daily Kos in particular -- is a powerful political force. Jon Schiffman, an attorney in New York who is a very dedicated fan of Daily Kos and who gave $75 to Schrader, says that "there was a sense that this is something you do because you want to support Markos as a player among the big people. We wanted to show that there's an activist base out here and we should be listened to."
As the article mentions near the end, the DCCC at first considered asking Schrader to pull out and enable them to find a candidate with more political clout. The effusion of support online for Schrader caused them to back off, and they endorsed Schrader soon after. While Schrader ultimately lost the election to Republican Mike Fitzpatrick (who lost his seat to Patrick Murphy last November), a statement had nonetheless been made: "We are the Democratic base - hear us roar!"
And I think that is what was most remarkable about July 19th, 2004, and what's made it an annual tradition here on the blogs. It was the first time that the progressive blogosphere had created a "story" for the media to follow on its own. Howard Dean may have been the prototype for online fundraising, but Ginny Schrader was the first spontaneous example of what could be done online. And the media responded with fawning acclaim on the blogs. A week afterwards, my picture was in the New York Times, along with Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. Their article was on the "old media" and its influence on the 2004 election; the article I was in discussed the "new media", and the bloggers that came to Boston that summer. It reminded me of one of Bob Dylan's many beautiful songs:
"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And learn to accept what you can't understand;
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command;
The old order is rapidly fading,
For the times, they are a-changing..."
Our generation of the media - "the blogosphere" - has begun to and will forever change the way Americans learn about the world around them. The progressive blogosphere is not going away; indeed, the quantity and quality of bloggers is increasing with every week. I'm saying this not as hyperbole, but as a reflection on everything I have seen and heard in the last five years as an Internet blogger and Democratic activist. Just as Howard Dean has urged us to do, we are taking this country back, one step at a time.
In 2005, we ultimately raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Paul Hackett in OH-02's special election - with the heaviest load coming on July 19th. Last year, Markos drew up a list of excellent candidates for bloggers to donate to - and the money flowed in on July 19th. This year, I want to make Blogosphere Day a local affair - where every blogger can raise some money for their favorite candidates. There will probably be no massive influx to one candidate or another - but that's not the point.
If we in the progressive blogosphere can turn our focus towards the grassroots - towards electing progressives on the local levels of our nation, ensuring a steady rise of progressive politicians to higher office in the future - then we will someday undo all the damage done to our nation over the last 40 years, and restore our country to the progressive values that we so dearly cherish. $50 to your town council candidate means a lot more than $50 to Barack Obama or John Edwards, if I may say so. And if you can persuade your friends, your fellow bloggers to donate as well, then you may just have a local representative who cares as deeply as you do about the future of this country.
And if that dream is replicated across this country, then Blogosphere Day will become more than just a fundraising clearinghouse. It will become a day for activism on the grassroots level, a day for working to create change from below, a day for decision-making on how to best make our country great again.
Perhaps, then, many years from now, future generations of progressives will look back to July 19th, 2004 and say: "This is when the blogs became part of the national dialogue". And I will able to say that I started it.