There are some obvious observations—it used to be called "Yearly Kos" and was more of a reflection of the Daily Kos community that birthed it, now it's "Netroots Nation" and has a much broader scope. "Netroots" activism is any activism waged online. Once upon a time, that was blogs and email forwards. Nowadays, it's Twitter and Facebook and myriad other social networks and Tumblrs and whatnot. The conference may have been created by bloggers, but it's a much bigger netroots these days.
That's been a big change, of course, but not the most significant.
In 2006, we gathered at a second-rate Nevada casino for the inaugural Yearly Kos conference. I was literally expecting to ask where the conference was, and be told, "Go down the hallway, take a left at the ice machine, third room on your right." Instead, I was greeted by a real conference. A NY Times reporter told me, "I've been going to these liberal conferences for decades, and this is the first one in which every session started on time." High praise, since part of the Crashing the Gates message was that amateurs could do just as good a job (or better!) than the so-called professionals.
But amidst all the hoopla of our little inaugural event, there was real tension with old-school progressive organizations. A handful of labor unions sponsored that initial event, and they chaffed at the poor attendance at their panels. Us netrootsy types looked at them and waved them off dismissively—"They're part of the dinosaur establishment that has led to so many Democratic defeats!" They looked at us and sneered, "What are these dorks with their computers going to do, bonk George Bush over the head with their laptops?"
In other words, neither of us saw the value in what the other brought to the table.
About a month after that convention, a coalition of labor and netroots activists helped boot Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party. And baby step by baby step, we learned to tolerate each other. Then came respect. And now?
This is where things have changed. For the first time this year, I could no longer discern a divide between "them" and "us." There is just "we." And I don't mean this in the corny "we're all in this together" way. I'm not saying that we're all part of the same coalition. I'm saying there is no longer a distinction between most of the old-school progressive institutions and the netroots.
Labor unions like SEIU and AFSCME have sophisticated in-house netroots operations. It's hard to find any advocacy group that doesn't focus significant effort on building their email and Facebook presence. If you want to be a factor in today's political world, you have to play online. It's virtually impossible to stay relevant otherwise.
Meanwhile, the individual independent blogger is an endangered species, as many have been sucked up by traditional media outlets or larger group blogs/communities. Traditional netroots operations like Democracy for America, MoveOn, PCCC and Daily Kos work to funnel their members into on-the-ground (a.k.a. "grassroots") activism.
Everyone knows that a successful modern movement needs both the on and offline components to be successful. Slice one off, and your effectiveness is compromised.
So Providence couldn't have been any more different than that original conference in Vegas in 2006. That original divide is now gone. We all organize online. We all organize offline. So much so that if labor wins, the netroots wins. If labor loses, the netroots loses. And vice versa.
It's much nicer this way. More effective, too.