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One of the advantages of NN14 being held in my hometown is that I get to put together a retrospective while most attendees are still flying or driving home.

The first thing you need to understand is my history with dKos, YK and NN. Namely, I've been an active member of dKos since November 22, 2003 (my UID is 3,620), yet this was, technically speaking, the only Netroots Nation that I've attended...because the one time I went before was in 2007, when it was called Yearly Kos. That was the 2nd YK, at which the name change was announced because in Markos' words at the time (at least I'm pretty sure it was him...who else would be the appropriate one to make this announcement), the event and the netroots had already grown "too large to be limited to any one website". I'll come back to that decision and announcement a bit later.

My point is, although I've only been to 2 of the annual events, I've been a member here since very near the beginning (I actually just checked Kos' account--it dates back to October 11, 2003...and believe it or not, he's not even UID #1, but #3).

Of course, being here a long time doesn't necessarily mean that I contributed much. I don't remember posting much worth remembering for almost 6 years, until...

--February 2009: Lansing, MI Mayor kicks FOX News' Ass!
(About Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's epic pro-union rant vs. FOX News, which was then picked up by Salon...which means that it's conceivable that I may have indirectly helped turn Bernero into the 2010 Democratic nominee for Michigan Governor...which isn't exactly something I brag about, since he turned out to be kind of a terrible nominee in the end, although admittedly pretty much any Dem would have been crushed that year.)

...after which I seemed to finally get the hang of this "blogging" thing and I had a few more notable series:

--February - April 2010: School disciplines student for inappropriate...
(aka WebCamGate...the continuing saga of the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, which secretly modified and installed spycam software into thousands of Apple iBook student laptops...and then illegally spied on the students for months even at home, in the kids' bedrooms and bathrooms, pretty much whenever they wanted to before being busted)

--March 2010: The Day of Bread & Roses
(Arranging for thousands of roses to be sent to Nancy Pelosi on her 70th birthday to thank her for shepherding the ACA through the House and getting it signed into law a week earlier)

--October 2010 - June 2011: "The Sickest Pieces of Shit in Michigan"
(The long, tragic saga of little Kathleen Edward, the girl who eventually died from Huntington's Disease, and her disgusting neighbors in Trenton, Michigan who tormented her and her family throughout her ordeal)

--October 2012 - Present: The GOP Rape Advisory Chart (originally inspired by connecticutie)
(Featuring Todd Akin & Richard Mourdock's Greatest Hits...Now in it's 8th full volume, sad to say)

--October 2014 - Present: The ACASignups.net project (originally called ObamacareSignups.net)

Pretty sure I don't need to review this one...although for the record, I also found my very first comment which led to the ACA site from October 11th:

Seriously, though, HHS should really start releasing the official (accurate) numbers of actual signups for all 50 states (or at the very least, the 36 states that they're responsible for) on a daily--or at least, weekly--basis. I don't care if it's a pitifully small number. 100,000? 10,000? 100? 10? Even if it's in single digits, release the damned numbers. Be upfront about it. Everyone knows by now how f*cked up the website is, so be honest and just give out the accurate numbers as they come in.

Besides, that'll make it all the more impressive when those numbers start to (hopefully) skyrocket over the next 2 1/2 months.

The point of all this is that my take on NN14 is heavily influenced by a long membership of the dKos community (I've never cared for the term Kossack, to be honest).

To that end, here's my take on NN14:

THE GOOD

First and foremost, I finally got to meet Markos, Joan, Susan, Chris, Ian and many other members of the core dKos staff in person...and to thank them (along with other assorted dKos regulars) in person for all the support that they've given me since I launched the ACA Signups project last fall. This, above all else, was the main reason why I attended this year...although the fact that it was in my hometown certainly helped...)

The second key reason for attending this year was so I could show the ropes to Mary Belden, the progressive Democrat who is running against the incumbent Republican in my state House district. She's been politically active locally for years (especially on education and womens right issues), but has never run before and wasn't very familiar with the blogosphere, etc. She brought her daughter Hanna with her (as her acting campaign manager), and after a bit of hand-holding they were off on their own for by the end of the first day.
For the record, while we were waiting for Joe Biden to show up (he was running late due to dealing with the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 tragedy), someone put out a call for everyone to call Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's office to demand that the water be turned back on in Detroit. Mary was among those who did so.
As for the actual panels/sessions themselves, it was kind of a mixed bag for me; some were kind of mediocre, like a Twitter-centric one I attended on Thursday (the presenter spoke way too fast), but for the most part they ranged from good to excellent.

The Marriage of Policy & Organizing through Communications

Markos going over some details of the upcoming dKos 5.0
Chris "Eclectablog" Savage's excellent (if chilling) Education Takeover panel
Fighting "Junk Science" (3 panelists--one each about anti-choicer medical lies, climate change deniers and the "pray the gay away" nonsense)
Digital campaigns (that's dKos' own Chris Bowers on the right...I also got to meet his adorable son Linus in person, who is cute as a button)
For me, the highlight of the event was the Q&A with Howard Dean, who seemed relaxed and in positive spirits as he told one hilarious war story after another about his historic (if doomed) Presidential campaign 10 years ago. I really wish I had recorded this one, especially the Emmanuel Rahm story...
Then, of course, there were the keynote speakers. Unfortunately, I was running late on Saturday morning so I missed Michigan Gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, but I was there for both VP Joe Biden and, of course, MA Senator and Uberawesome Progressive Extraordinaire Elizabeth Warren, who was introduced by MI Senate candidate Gary Peters:
One completely unexpected and surreal moment came immediately after Warren left the stage, when actor and (apparently) UberDreamboat Mark Ruffalo suddenly popped up on stage, gave an endorsement of Warren running for President (I think...it happened pretty quickly) but mainly wanted to promote the "Take Back the Tap!" rally/march that was happening right afterwards to protest thousands of Detroiters having their water turned off in the middle of July.
As for the rally itself, I only caught part of it because I had already arranged to attend the Peters/Warren fundraiser taking place a few blocks away at around the same time, but I did stay for part of it:
The fundraiser itself was nice enough, although in retrospect I probably should have just stayed at the rally.
On the other hand, I did get to have my picture taken with Senator Warren...
I also got to do the selfie/photo op thing with other candidates, including Gary Peters, Mark Schauer, state Rep and state Senate candidate Ellen Cogen Lipton and Maine Senate Candidate Shenna Bellows (who, I should note, is my choice for "sleeper race" of the year; I have no idea what the situation on the ground in Maine is, but she gave an excellent speech at the dKos welcome dinner and was a breath of fresh air to my wife and I).
Of course, it wasn't just the dKos staff who was there; I met a bunch of other great folks, Kos members and others alike...
The most fun event overall was the Annual Pub Quiz, presided over for the 8th consecutive year by NN Chair Adam B...who also announced that he's stepping down as NN Chair this year. My team, the Michigan Marauders (led by team captain Chris Savage) tied for 12th place, which doesn't sound very good except that there were like 30 teams and some of the questions were HARD.
After the Pub Quiz, dKos staffer Paul Hogarth led us all in an impromptu series of Show Tunes while playing a baby grand piano which was set up in one of the lobbies of Cobo Hall for one reason or another...making this the first (and likely last) time that I've ever sung a song from "Oklahoma" in public...
There was also this shot, which is a little surreal in context: It's me, taking a picture of healthcare writer extraordinaire Amy Lynn Smith while she was taking a picture of photographer extraordinaire Anne Savage while she was taking a photo of her husband and Eclectablog webmaster Chris Savage.

As for myself, I don't think the "Ready for Warren" hat quite works on me.
THE BAD:

As noted in the title, I did have a few concerns. The main one was this: Out of something like 200+ different panels/sessions throughout the weekend, take a guess how many were devoted to the Affordable Care Act (or to healthcare in general).

One.

That's right. The single most significant piece of legislation of the entire Obama administration, the law which impacts the entire healthcare industry and sector of the economy directly and the rest of the economy indirectly, the law which tore Washington apart and sucked much of the oxygen out of the air for 4 years, the law which the Dems lost the House of Representatives over and which led to a shutdown of the Federal Government last fall, the law which caused the bitterest, nastiest town hall "meetings" in my memory, the law which had (seemingly) the entire U.S. media breathlessly tuning into my website at ACASignups.net every day for several months this past spring...

...warranted exactly 1 panel at Netroots Nation 2014.

And it wasn't even really about the ACA, for that matter. It was mainly about how to move from the ACA to Single Payer.

I can't tell you how disturbed I was by this, and yet no one was able to give me a straight answer as to why this was the case. Several people suggested that I should have submitted a panel myself (especially since, as it turned out, I had the entire field practically to myself), but I was too busy actually updating the site at the time to worry about preparing a session submission.

Even more disturbing was this: At Netroots Nation, an old friend of mine who is solidly progressive (obviously) and politically active/aware (obviously) didn't know that she and her husband could still enroll in a private healthcare policy via the ACA exchange during the off-season due to her husband losing his job.

Apparently my work is not done yet.

THE UGLY

OK, this one is pretty obvious, and this goes back to my reference at the top to the netroots having grown "too large to be limited to any one website".

When Markos made that announcement back in 2007, I have to imagine that he knew that, in doing so, the day would come sooner or later when Daily Kos and Netroots Nation wouldn't see eye to eye on some issue of significance. The fact that he was willing to cede control of the convention even knowing this makes me respect him all the more for doing so. It couldn't have been easy. Frankly, while I didn't attend any of the 5 NN's between then and now, I'm rather surprised that it took this long for this sort of rift to occur.

I have no idea what the decision process was, who was involved in it, how much say Markos had in it and so forth. I can understand the logic of whomever made the decision (ie, the "take the fight to the enemy" etc etc), and there may be a case to be made that it's inconsistent to boycott Arizona for their "papers please" policy while still coming here to Michigan in spite of our "emergency manager" policy.

However, Markos has an equally strong argument on his side, and the bottom line is that 1) this is his website and 2) without this site, there would never have BEEN a Netroots Nation.

The issue of immigration policy isn't one that I'm an expert on, but I know that everyone has certain hot-button issues which they take VERY, very personally, and they are unwilling to bend their principles on. If this issue is that important to him that he refuses to have dKos participate officially, then I understand.

Of course, I wasn't planning on going next year anyway (I hate flying and am not a fan of extreme heat), so it's unlikely to change my plans for next July, but I at least wanted that on the record.

Anyway, I certainly hope that some sort of accommodation/reconiciliation can be made.

UPDATE: OK, back from dinner; as promised, here's some updates re. various questions, criticisms and concerns from the comments:

1. Why haven't you labelled the people in the photos???

Answer: Because, frankly, while I know who most of the folks in the photos are, there's about 1/4 of them who I can't identify, either because I never caught their names or because I did but I'm too damned tired/forgetful to remember now.

Rather than snub anyone by listing all the names except theirs, I've chosen not to identify anyone (with a few exceptions). If anyone wants to ID themselves, please feel free.

2. Why didn't I mention Peregrine Kate, Chris Savage or the Motor City Kossacks crew?

Well, I actually did mention Chris a couple of times, although that was admittedly in the context of the panel he moderated (which was amazingly good, btw). However, I do owe Kate and the MCK folks a huge apology for not mentioning them; they did indeed do a FANTASTIC job, and deserve a virtual standing ovation for their efforts.

The truth is, while I did show up at one or two early MCK meetings about NN14, I realized that I was too swamped with other obligations myself to actually do much to help. In the end all I really did was spread the word about the event to my local Dems club, which isn't particularly noteworthy.

Worse yet, I never ended up seeing any of the MCK folks other than in passing. I saw Kate a couple of times for a moment or two, and a couple of others, but I never even made it to the Michigan Caucus, for example. I thought that we were all going to see each other at a reserved table for the Warren keynote, but when I got to the ballroom I was told that they had to remove the table signs...no reservations allowed, other than possibly for NN volunteers.

As for Chris Savage and Eclectablog, no one sings his praises more than I do. He's a friend, client and colleague who has done more good for progressives in the state of Michigan than any 50 other bloggers combined in my view, and deserves far more credit for his efforts than I've received for mine. That's not false modesty, believe me.

3. Why didn't I mention the Reverend Barber speech?

Well, first of all, at least one person who criticized this assumed that I caught his speech; what if I hadn't?

However, as it happens, I did watch his speech, and thought it was truly amazing...but I also felt--and criticize me as you will, but I stand by this--that it ran about 10 minutes too long. That's not a criticism of the content or delivery, mind you, just the length. Much of that is probably because I was dead tired at the end of an extremely long day. What you have to understand is that while I do live in the Detroit area, it's actually about a half-hour drive from my house, I didn't know how bad morning traffic would be and I had stuff to take care of that morning...which meant that I had to get up at 6am and I'm not in the best of shape, which is my own fault.

Quite frankly, the biggest mistake I made was in not treating it as an "out of town" event and just getting a hotel room for the weekend; that would have saved me an hour of driving time and a couple of hours of sleep each day.

However, yes, it was an amazingly powerful speech indeed, and I should have at least mentioned it. Someone embedded the video in the comments, thanks.

4. Expanding on my "No ACA Panels = Bad" point.

I want to clarify: I'm not criticizing anyone here, really, and I'm not angry, I'm just extremely surprised. Maybe there was only 1 healthcare-related panel submitted in the first place. Maybe there were 3-4 of them but they were all exclusively about moving to single-payer, resulting in only one being scheduled. If so, then that's no one's fault...but it's still surprising to me that no one submitted anything about the ACA itself.

As for what I expected that 2nd panel to be, I was figuring it would be along the lines of "Where the ACA stands and where it's going", "The state of Medicaid expansion and strategies for pushing it through in the Red states", "Turning ACA Lemons into Lemonade in November"...that sort of thing.

In fact, on this last point, when I asked the "Midterms/Getting Ready to Rumble" panel that very question ("What impact do you think the ACA will have on the midterms"), none other than David Nir informed me that in West Virginia's 2nd House district (I think it was that one), the Democratic Congressional candidate has been hitting his GOP opponent HARD over opposing treatment for Black Lung Disease for coal miners--because there's a little-known provision in the ACA which expands coverage of BLD.

(I have to go get my kid to bed, will be back soon with the rest of this update)

OK, back...

Don't get me wrong, the Single Payer panel was a good one, and they did touch on both of the above issues briefly in the "set-up" portion of the event, but each of those is worth a full panel by itself IMHO.

Regarding the not-at-all-veiled criticism of the ACA as being a corporatist sell-out law, bla bla bla, I partly agree...but it is NOT an insult or "pony/STFU"-ing to recognize that the ACA is going to be the dominant law for at least a few years to come (assuming that the upcoming Halbig decision doesn't blow it out of the water altogether, in which case things will be messier than ever). Even Vermont's single-payer experiment (which was one of the primary focuses of this panel...one of the panelists is a sitting Vermont state rep) won't kick in until 2017, and it'll take a few years to tell whether that sinks or swims.

Like it or not, we're gonna be dealing with the ACA, for the most part in its' current form, for another 5-6 years at least, and there's a ton of important stuff which people--even progressives--need do be educated about with regard to it. Didn't you read my next paragraph?? There are intelligent, politically aware progressives who didn't have any clue about the off-season enrollment options. That alone could have made up half a session, apparently.

5. Phoenix

Thanks to Adam B. for correcting my completely ignorant understanding of how YearlyKos and NN were (and are) organized. Here's his comment from below:

[On the Phoenix question, the only thing I'll note here is that Markos never "ran" YearlyKos; it was a volunteer org built from C&J readers to which he gave his blessing. He served on our board of directors until early 2012, when he stepped down and we elected Joan McCarter, at his suggestion, to replace him.]
So basically, I completely misunderstood the leadership situation, which means my statements above regarding him "ceding control" etc. are completely off-base. My apologies for this, crow is being eaten followed by humble pie.

However, my larger point still stands: I don't think it should have surprised anyone that as YK turned into NN, and as NN grew larger and larger--thus making DK a progressively (hah!) smaller portion of NN (even if DK's presence itself also grew), that there would come a day when the two would simply have a strong disagreement about some key issue or another. If it hadn't been the choice of Phoenix this year, it would have been some other issue some other year.

Again, there are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the Phoenix issue, and I sincerely hope that some mutually positive agreement can be reached. However, again, in the end it is completely within Markos' prerogative not to allow his resources or brand to go towards something which cuts against what he feels is one of his core values. He said that dKos would be back the following year (or, I presume, if the "papers please" law in Arizona is repealed before next July), and as far as I know he isn't trying to forbid anyone from attending individually; he's just saying that he won't be there and dKos won't be sponsoring it, which seems reasonable to me.

In other words, as I said in my final post in the NN14 iPhone App, regardless of where you stand on this issue, "just don't be a jerk about it." (anyone who attended the closing Ignite event will get the joke, I hope.)

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