Who Are We?

by digby

For a variety of reasons, time mostly, I did not have a chance until today to really catch up on the news and see what was going on in the world, much less how the media had interpreted the Yearly Kos convention, so sorry for the dearth of posts.

First, the gathering was very enjoyable. For such a vituperative, angry mob of leftist revolutionaries, you all sure are a bunch of cuddly huggers. (It was lovely and I enjoyed meeting every one of you.)

I have to say that I was a little bit non-plussed by this article in the Washington Post today saying that it was nothing but a bunch of middle aged white men. It reminded me of a scene from the HBO show "Six Feet Under" where Kathy Bates takes her recently widowed pal into a department store for some recreational shop-lifting, chiding her for not fully taking advantage of the fact that middle aged women are completely invisible. Perhaps being a member of that contingent myself, I noticed that there were a great many of them present at this convention (and I think I hugged every one of them.) They were present in large numbers at every event I attended, listening attentively and asking probing questions. Next year maybe we can all wear bells or something so the press will know we're there.

So, there's that. I also mingled and drank with a passel of gay men and women of all ages. I was on a panel with James Rucker of Color of Change and sat with several African American bloggers during one of the workshops. I had a long conversation about immigration with a latino blogger. So, except for the rather surprisingly large number of DC journo-wonko-politico professionals, it wasn't a Dockers-clad monolith by any means.

Still, this was a predominately white and middle aged crowd, even among the attendees. But that's because it cost a bundle to go to this thing and middle aged white people are the most likely to have both the freedom and the cash to spend on hotels and expensive meals without an expense account. If you are young and have a normal job, they frown on letting you run off to "do your thing" during the work week, even if you can afford it. If you have young kids it's a big deal to get away for a short time and you might just think something other than an arid convention hall would be a better place to spend your money and time with your family. (Convention day care might be a thought --- maybe some trips to the zoo while mom and dad watch the political animals?) And of course, people of color are perpetually on the fringe of the mainstream political conversation and also likely to be feeling the financial pressure, so they were underrepresented and we need to think about how to change that.

But I think we might also need to open our eyes and really see what's around us and where we can go with it. Ezra went to a lot of panels and hung out with the wonks (as I would expect him to do) and he found that the convention was completely different than the one I experienced --- the netroots are a bunch of wonks! Ed Kilgore found a bunch of moderate Democrats. I found a bunch of enlightened readers and fellow bloggers who like to drink beer. Is it possible that we're all right? I think maybe so...

The netroots as a whole don't normally organize ourselves around the normal social signifiers or political alliances. We can't. Online identity is a strange and amorphous thing anyway, and the desire to participate in politics doing it cannot be easily analyzed by the usual human shorthand. We just don't know enough about why and how people really use this thing to make sweeping judgments about what we really "mean," certainly not based upon a conference that only a very small segment of the netroots attended, (many of whom are paid political professionals of one kind or another.)

That conference, fun as it might be, is a tiny, tiny corner of the netroots universe and I don't think should be used as a proxy for anything in the larger movement. The only way I can see that the netroots really organize at this point, is around a common world view. It's not policy or personality or even party. It's about how we see our role as citizens and how we think our society and government should work. Wonk work is necessary to sort all that out into coherent programs and political agendas, of course. Real life organizing is required to turn this energy into votes. Communicating ideas and critiquing the political scene is necessary to educate and learn. But none of those things defines what's going on here in any precise way. The best I can do is say that it is (for most people outside the professional political sphere anyway) an empowering, social and political movement that has the potential to rearrange the way we normally build coalitions. (Not exactly a bumper sticker, is it?)

I don't honestly know how diverse this group is in the usual terms. I'm sure it is lacking, due to the fact that this technology has been largely the province of the middle aged white people until fairly recently. But I also believe that this netroots world view holds that divergent cultural and ethnic identities strengthen our country and our politics. I fully expect that the future of the netroots will include the full spectrum of progressive America.

And we'll all be {{}}ing like crazy.

Update: Jane has some thoughts on this too, unsurprisingly.

Update II: I'm feeling quite under the weather today and so this post is not my best. Jerri in the comments found some of the things I wrote to be racist and I want to apologize. I would like to believe that my work over the years would give me some credibility on these issues, but ultimately you are only as good as your last post.

I only meant to use the fact that I sat with African American bloggers to illustrate that, contrary to the WaPo article, there were African Americans at the conference. I see now that it appeared that it was being "very white" of me to say that I shared my exalted space. On a better day, I would have caught that.

I also said that we need to work on diversity, meaning all of us together, not that "we" the white people, should give it a thought or two after cocktails at the club some day. I should have spent more time developing that part of the post, but I lost the thread. It ended up sounding like an afterthought, which again, was not my intention.

Like I said, it's a bad post. I'm not feeling well, so please take everything in it with a grain of salt. I didn't mean to insult anyone.