Monday, July 21, 2014

Netroots Nation-- What Next?


I don't know a lot about Netroots Nation and I've never been to one, although everyone else from Blue America usually goes and generally speaks well of it. I always thought Markos from Daily Kos was the founder and owner. But over the weekend I read a post he wrote about next year:, Netroots Nation is going to Arizona, Daily Kos is not. That provoked an evolving discussion of Netroots Nation both at Kos and among progressive bloggers in general. And it certainly went beyond Markos' complaints about Arizona's anti-immigrant posture. Our old pal, author Dave Neiwert, summed up a lot of complaints about how Netroots Nation has been evolving:
For me, Markos' decision underscores a lot of my growing unhappiness with NN. It's been obvious for some time that this convention is less and less about its heart and soul-- the bloggers, journalists, and other content providers who gave its founding impetus-- and more about organizers and political professionals. That's a natural and probably necessary evolution, to some extent, and understandable, but it has now reached a tipping point to where that heart and soul has been completely marginalized and shunted into a corner.

Look at this year's panels: Not a single one was about blogging. And where is the environmental community? They were nohere to be seen, and not a single panel focused on environmental issues. That's inexcusable in an era when Keystone XL and climate change are defining issues for progressives.

Instead, the overwhelming majority of panels were about and for organizers. The meat-- a discussion of the issues themselves that face progressives-- was as thin as a slice of prosciutto. It all felt like a big fat fuck-you to the bloggers and journalists.

My overwhelming feeling this year was that there was little there for me and my friends and writing colleagues. The chief draw always been and will be about the great NN community, and that is being systematically gutted into nothingness.

Considering that it usually costs a large sum out of my not-very-large personal account to attend, it no longer seems worth that expense or my time. If NN works to repair that damage over the coming months, I will reconsider, but as things now stand, I cannot justify going to Phoenix for what would have been my ninth Netroots.
Wow, 9 Netroots nations; I think that's every one of them! I never went to any although I almost did a few times and I've been supportive financially and used to encourage Blue America candidates to go and to participate and network. But it reminded me too much of the music business conventions had had seen start up so strongly and then devolve into profit-making, corporate endeavors whose ideals and vision were easily compromised away.

In 1980 I had been running a small independent record label in San Francisco, 415 Records, for a couple of years, writing for local alternative rock publications and doing a weekly alternative/punk radio show. There were people all over the country working on the same kinds of projects. Some of them worked with alternative rock bands-- managers, agents, indie labels-- and other worked at supporting the bands and the ethos around a DIY music scene-- publications, radio, a new distribution network, etc. Organizers in NYC launched the New Music Seminar at an SIR rehearsal studio in Manhattan. Everyone in the alternative/punk rock business was there-- all 200 of us-- from everywhere in the U.S. If it cost anything-- I don't recall that it did-- it was certainly never about making money for the organizers. It was about building a community and an infrastructure for a cultural revolution we were helping to define.

That first New Music Seminar was great in so many ways and for me that included meeting, for the first time, promoters who were booking my label's bands, journalists, record store owners and djs who were getting our music out across the country, other record label folks who who facing the same trials we were facing... It was a major turning point for a new genre of music. And it became an annual event and got even better-- for a few years. But then it got so much better that the major labels-- the Establishment it was organized in opposition to-- wanted in, a music biz version of the DNC, DCCC, DSCC... Joe Biden. And it died. It died ugly and unloved, but-- by then a stinking wretched zombie corpse-- it kept moving, although it really was just for the Establishment by then-- no one could even afford it anymore unless they were having their expenses picked up by corporate entities-- and had nothing substantive to do with the indie spirit.

15 years after it started, it finally realized it had been dead for a decade and... well, not many who hadn't been making money from the corporate enterprise bothered going to the funeral. And no one missed it. For some reason-- not sure exactly why-- it was relaunched in 2009, an entirely corporate affair with relatively minimal pretense about having anything whatsoever to do with anything grassroots. Mayor Bloomberg's office was a cosponsor by 2012. The president of Clear Channel gave the keynote address. (Another president of Clear Channel gave the keynote the following year too. And-- note to people who don't know about the music biz-- Clear Channel means the exact same thing there that it means to people working in progressive politics.) I had stopped going many years before and never heard anything since that would have made me want to go again.

Like Dave suggested, this is usually the way these kinds of great ideas become victims of their own initial success. Genuine progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren, Raul Grijalva and Shenna Bellows still go-- worth the price of admission, I'm sure-- but hey also invite conservative careerists like New Dem Gary Peters, Third Way mainstay Joe Biden, and Chuck Schumer who represents Wall Street banksters in the U.S. Senate. NSA enablers/partners Google and Facebook were sponsors, as was the anti-progressive Beltway political operation EMILY's List. I have no first-hand knowledge about where Netroots Nation is in the cycle-- getting better, declining, zombie-like... True believers I trust, who are not on the commercial side of it, have assured me they are getting value out of it. When I read Markos' post, I sympathized with the personal and political argument he made for reconsidering Phoenix. Sounds like it might be worth doing even if just to avoid a schism-- either moving it to a random other city not in Arizona or compromising on Tucson, a progressive bastion in Arizona. Maybe some day John and Digby will persuade me to go with them... although, neither one of them-- for whatever reason-- went this year... so they haven't been to as many as Dave. Hard to imagine going to a convention with Chuck Schumer other than to throw rotten tomatoes at him though.

Always an early adapter, I think this is when I may have stopped going to the New Music Seminar:

UPDATE: Netroots Nation And The Environment

Brad Johnson sent me a note this morning:

Hey-- I appreciated the critique of NN14, but one of the factual claims in the post was straight-up false.

"And where is the environmental community? They were nowhere to be seen, and not a single panel focused on environmental issues."

This is simply false. There were three exclusively enviro panels (all with a focus on environmental justice, not the mainstream green priorities), the enviro caucus, and three panels that were cross-issue and included environmental/climate voices.

Fighting Fake Science: When the Right tries to Derail Your Movement with Misinformation

Panel; Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:30am, 140 G

This panel will discuss right wing tactics-- from climate change deniers to misinformation campaigns on birth control, sex ed, and abortion-- that use fake science to try to attack progressive movements. Panelists will present successful strategies devised to counter the right’s attacks, and identify best practices on how to respond when the right comes at you with fake science.

Led by: Travis Ballie
Panelists: Peter Sinclair, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, Erika West

Climate Justice Against Koch's Tar Sands from Detroit to New York

Panel; Thu, 07/17/2014 - 04:45pm, 140 AB

The Koch brothers’ petrochemical empire is poisoning the world and the American political process. From Detroit, home of the Koch petcoke mountain, to Sandy-ravaged New York City, where David Koch is the richest resident, leading climate justice activists will speak about how they’re fighting back against the corrupt fossil-fuel barons and building a better future.

Led by: Brad Johnson
Panelists: Marion Berger, Lisa Graves, Rae Breaux

Hunger First: The Importance of Food Security in Detroit, and Why We're so Hungry (for Change)

Panel; Fri, 07/18/2014 - 11:00am, 140 D

Detroit natives can easily point to any number of challenges to food security in their community. Whether it’s the lack of fresh and affordable options or the insidious targeting of our kids by fast food outfits, the “healthy meal” is under attack. This problem isn’t unique to Detroit: these are problems facing communities of color and children across the country. Join us to explore the importance of—and threats to—food security in Detroit and lessons we can apply to broader campaigns around food justice. This panel will tell stories you’ll remember, offer lessons you can use in your work, and further weave us together as a community of food activists.

Led by: Dream Hampton
Panelists: Monica Patrick, Tepfirah Rushdan, Kadiri Sennefer

Changing the Climate on Climate Change: A Showcase of Films for Environmental Action

Screening Series; Fri, 07/18/2014, 12:15pm, 142 C

This screening showcase focuses on films that address our environmental challenges, and the moral questions these issues raise.

This showcase will tie films to action directly.  After the discussion, presenters will invite the audience to join them at the nearby rally asserting that access to water is a basic human right-- and calling on the city of Detroit to keep the water turned on for all its citizens.

Please join us for short presentations on three films followed by a moderated discussion. At 12:50, there will be a pause for anyone who wishes to join the march for water rights.  We will end promptly at 1:30 to join the rally for water rights taking place at 1:45 (only a 7-minute walk away).

Led by: Matthew Filipowicz
Panelists: Angela Alston, Julie Bergman Sender, Dave Saldana

Civil Disobedience Gets Results: Lessons from the Immigration, Labor and Climate Movements

Panel; Fri, 07/18/2014 - 03:00pm, 140 D

Across the progressive movement, activists and organizations are embracing civil disobedience on a large scale as a tactic to escalate pressure in our most crucial fights—and getting results. We’ll share how progressives have leveraged the commitment of activists to increase pressure on decision makers.

Led by: Becky Bond
Panelists: Rae Breaux, Cristina Jimenez, Eric Schlein

Environmental Caucus

Caucus; Fri, 07/18/2014 - 04:30pm, 354

Join us for an engaging discussion on environmental issues. We’ll seek to come away with some tangible steps on two key questions.

1. With the recent introduction of the EPA Clean Power proposal, the retirement of almost half of the nation’s coal plants, and the increase in clean energy generation, the environmental movement has witnessed great strides in the right direction. However, there is still more to be done. What are our next efforts going to be to build on this momentum? What are the next challenges, major or minor, we expect to face?

2. As the world adopts a more global approach to problem solving, consider how can we promote the concept of “the global environment” (as others have promoted the concept of “the global economy)? Outside of bringing attention to the issue of climate disruption and how it relates to the global problem, what other issues should we use to highlight the global environment “brand”?

Led by: Alison Flowers, Marta Stoepker

48217: What One of the Country's Most Polluted Zip Codes Can Teach Us about Environmental and Digital Justice

Panel; Sat, 07/19/2014 - 11:00am, 140 C

With only 8,200 residents, southeast Michigan’s 48217 zip code is sandwiched between I-75 and giant industrial polluters. Smokestacks billow above schoolyards in River Rouge, MI, where more than 1.6 million pounds of hazardous chemicals are released into the community every year. The zip is part of Wayne County, which has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in the state, combined with the highest state population of those living in poverty. Clean air and water violations abound the physical space, coupled with barriers to affordable cyberspace, threatening many residents’ ability to survive in a digital age. Learn about the interplay between environmental and digital justice in one community, from fighting for equal access to the internet, launching community media labs, and improving air quality.

Led by: Dr. M. K. Dorsey
Panelists: Rhonda Anderson, Jenny Lee, Michelle Martinez

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At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SXSW, same deal. All about the money. The alternative/outsiders who started it are super wealthy now. Why would they change anything now?

At 3:17 PM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I have no first-hand knowledge about where Netroots Nation is in the cycle...

My impression is that kos founded it. But now it's taken on the life of its own, and following the familiar path.

At 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Pierce has much the same to say about NN. He attended and comments here:


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