Questions On The Professionalization of the Netroots

Looking at the announcements of the new Edwards hires, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, I am struck once again by the ongoing exodus of prominent players in the netroots to professional positions as campaign, congressional, and consultant staff. At this point, I now personally know multiple people working as Internet / netroots staffers for Edwards, Dodd, and Draft Obama. I know at least one person working for Vilsack, Richardson, and Clinton. Additionally, I know people who work for all party committees, for Harry Reid and for Nancy Pelosi, as well as for a number of individual Senators and Representatives outside the leadership, including Louise Slaughter and Russ Feingold (and droves of freshmen). I have known people not working for any of these candidates or members of Congress who worked netroots for Kerry, Dean and Clark in 2003-2004. I know several netroots coordinators for advocacy organizations, including the various unions, ACLU, PFAW, Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. There are also people who are employed by netroots organizations, such as Democracy for America and There are also those who operate as netroots consultants for Internet based consulting firms like Blue State Digital, @dvocacy, Wired for Change, and, until recently, Echo Ditto. And the list goes on and on.

By this point, netroots activists have spread to virtually every corner of the professional Democratic and progressive ecosystem. In most cases, they have been co-opted into existing infrastructure, although frequently that is in order to perform a new task (netroots and / or Internet) that existing staff is unable to perform. There are also some, though fewer, cases where netroots activists have been able to build up their own, new infrastructure, such as ActBlue, the Progressive States Network, and Whether inside or outside, whether filling existing staff positions or creating new ones, it is now entirely possible for someone to have a full-blown career as netroots-focused political professional. This is because, to virtually the same extent as areas of focus such as communications, field, fundraising, and policy, "netroots" and / or "Internet" has become its own department within any large political operation. Commensurate to this development, a new group of political professionals has emerged, one that is drawn largely from independent netroots activists, and from younger, "junior staff" politicos who were originally from a different area of focus in professional politics, but who engaged and participated in the progressive netroots during its formative stages.

This change is perhaps the most interesting development in the world of professional politics since the rise of Wingnut Welfare in the form of the Republican Noise Machine starting in the 1970's. Quite a bit needs to be written about it, and I would like to start with these questions and thoughts:
  1. As a potential agent of change, to what extent are the netroots and the progressive movement helped or hindered by its professionalization? Certainly it always helps to have "people on the inside," but if your main source of employment comes from existing institutional structures, inevitably your ability and willingness to challenge and change established structures is reduced. Perhaps the questions is better rephrased as follows: with "outside" elements joining the "inside," who will change more, the outside or the inside? Also, are the netroots better served by creating their own institutions and campaigns, or by continuing to join existing ones? These last two questions are always important for any successful avant-garde movement to answer once it reaches this level of maturity.

  2. To what extent is a "professional" and "amateur" divide emerging within the netroots and progressive movement? If there is such a divide, will those people who live as full-time movement operatives develop competing interests with the largely part-time, volunteer activist base? Specifically, I am wondering if there might be a danger that a new "netroots elite" will end up holding the same dismissive attitude the "serious pundits" currently hold toward the activist base, or if the activist base community will turn away from the "professionals," in disgust at the sell-outs.

  3. Will the netroots community be able to continue to function as a semi-coherent entity with so many of its members working on behalf of competing candidates and campaigns? While everyone was on the same side in 2005-2006, the potential for dilution and division certainly seems ripe to me in 2007-2008.

  4. How long will it last? Will there come a point where the netroots is so familiar to Democratic infrastructure, that rather than being a separate department of large political operations internet and netroots instead becomes blended into every other department? Will there be new technological developments that make current "netroots" staff obsolete? Will the new political professionals just decide to move on to new careers in different fields before long?

  5. Finally, what happens when these junior staffers and new political professionals continue to age and move up in the ranks of the progressive and Democratic ecosystems? What cultural differences are there among this new professional class that will result in an overall cultural shift in progressive politics once the participants involved move from being junior staff to senior staff?
So many questions, so few answers right now. I don't even know if the average reader of MyDD will find this development the least bit interesting. It certainly connects to what I wrote last Thursday, about the one-way flow of progressive movement money. This could be yet another way in which the netroots are reifying established infrastructure, rather than changing it. It's not like I am free from this either, since I have been a consultant for varying campaigns and organizations over the past two years.

This is a pretty wide-open post, mainly because I am not sure where to begin this discussion. Hopefully, just by raising these questions, we can find ways to start narrowing the conversation, and developing a better sense of the issues involved. The outside is becoming inside, and vice versa. What does it all mean?

Tags: Blogosphere, Machine, meta, netroots (all tags)




Chris--My name is Melissa, not Michelle.  ;-)

by Shakes 2007-02-01 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Oops
Sorry. Blush.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-01 08:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization of the Ne

We talked about this at BlueNC when Pam Spaulding brought it up in her post about the Edwards bloggers.  How long before most of the blogs have people on staff, and we're finding a whole new generation of "angry" blogs?

by Robert P 2007-02-01 08:43AM | 0 recs
It depends on the individual

I guess it all depends on the individuals filling these existing or new positions in established organizations.  If the individuals hold the line on their progressive values and push for change of the institution they just joined that they've always been blasting, we could have the potential to make great change.  I think we have to also accept and expect the fact that these individuals may be tempered a bit by their new surroundings.

I think the highest profile individual in this situation that I can think of is Howard Dean himself.  While many have lamented that the DC crowd has "silenced" Dean or that he's not speaking out now as he used to (I disagree, but I suppose this is debatable), it is undeniable that he has completely changed how the DNC operates, and by extension also how the DCCC operates (see the new DCCC Chairman's recent statements about this cycle's strategy).

What I'm saying is, it may be a case-by-case basis.  Some individuals may sell out and adopt standard DC establishment thinking (I'm having trouble of thinking of anyone in particular right now, but I'm pretty sure such people exist), while others may hold on to their progressive values and be a real force for change from the inside.

by Fran for Dean 2007-02-01 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization of the Ne

I am a so-called professional netroots staffer.  I am getting paid to advance the interests of an organization.  The organization that I worked for last year is not the one I work for now, thus my writing has changed.  Instead of writing exclusively about Arnold, I get to write about quality of life issues and talk more policy than politics.  

However, part of what I see as my job responsibilities have not changed and that is working to grow the CA blogosphere.  The stronger and more credible we become, the more influential my organization can be.  Thus, I am happy to spend time doing blogging panels for legislative staffers etc.

I absolutely have to self-censor, but that is what comes with earning a living working for an organization.  It is worth it for me.  I would never be able to do this work and earn a living if I was an independent blogger.  There is not a good model for supporting oneself.  That is something I want to see change.  We need to figure out a way to preserve independent voices in the blogosphere who can say the things I cant.  That is why I am so thrilled to see what BlogPAC is up to and why I will put some of my salary back into these projects.

As for how I see an netroots coordinator changing, well first I would like to see organizations do a better job utilizing their netroots staffer.  The best campaigns and organizations have figured this out, but it is a slow process.  The netroots staffer/department needs what I refer to as organizational buy-in.  Every other department must take ownership of a part of the Internet department.  For, it is a part of field, fundraising, press, coalition building etc.  If they view the netroots staffer as being off on their own in the corner playing on the web, they will not get much out of it.  Every time there is an event they need to think through the online component and not as an afterthought.

I think there is a chance for weakness in the blogosphere as our independent voices get hired away to join the political professional class.  However, I believe others will set up and take their place.  There is not a lack of talent available.

I think that these professional staffers will have to work hard to stay connected to their roots, or risk turning into a disconnected political class.  I know I spend much less time hanging out in the blogging kitty pool and thus am losing some degree of connectivity to the roots of the netroots.

by juls 2007-02-01 08:58AM | 0 recs
Netroots/Blogs just a new media....

I think there's more than a bit of hubris regarding the "pure soul" of internet political discussion groups and websites.

One may as well talk about the "soul" of mass mailing. It's a tool that works for political organizing and fund raising. The tool is neutral.

That communications directors for political campaigns hire people to use the new media is not really that surprising.

It's just a new form of the media that is filling in as people learn to use it.  There's as much right wing internet media (blogs and commentaries) as there is left wing media.If you look at 2004 election.

Bush Jr's website was much better than Kerry/Edwards website.

The biggest political info websitges are run by the operators of existing media (TV, newspapers) such as MSNBC, CNN, Post, NYTimes etc.

It's time to move on from the "talking dog" gee whiz view of the web and start looking at what the various "dogs" has to say.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-01 09:13AM | 0 recs
Delete the dupe.

Sorry about the dupe. Didn't see anyway to delete it.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-01 09:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots/Blogs just a new media....

Massmailing is impersonal.  Blogging is personal.  There is a name attached.  It is not a press release that goes under the organizational/candidate's name.  These bloggers and staffers come with a history of interacting with the blogosphere and a body of work.  People and tools are very different.  You can have the best tools in the world, but if you dont have a competent staff using them they are worthless.

by juls 2007-02-01 09:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots/Blogs just a new media..

"Massmailing is impersonal.  Blogging is personal.  There is a name attached."

As it is in mass mailings which are even more personal, address specifically to you, not electronic graffitti on a virtual subway car.

And signed personally by the candidate just to you :).

Each tool is different but the point was that internet discussion groups and commentaries are just another tool. The hand wringing of the bloggers losing their "purity" is more than a bit of hoo hah.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-01 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization of the Ne

I admire juis's honesty and think that this kind of openness bodes well for him and we would all benefit if more bloggers had his courage.  Having said that I think Chris hits on an extremely important topic.

I don't believe that earning a living can be equated with selling out.  That's not fair.  But not just the netroots but the momentum built up over the past few years desperately needs to be sustained.

The inside/outside approach is probably the best way but a lot more thinking needs to go into how to use it to survive.

The last thing either party wants is independent thought.  It isn't just a matter of the young leading the way (we are not young).  It's starting to think about exactly what Chris Bowers is saying here.

It's always been a problem in America.  Look at how weak and ineffective the unions have become. Our history is littered with failed movements.  But on the bright side some of what these movements started survives.

by jd2 2007-02-01 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization of the Ne

uuum thanks but I am not a dude.

by juls 2007-02-01 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization of the Ne

I think political professionals look to the internet for two things: fundraising & exciting the youth vote.

On the first point, bloggers who find themselves on a campaign where they are frequently called upon to plea for contributions 'out there' will be judged based on fundraising prowess. I am skeptical that politic professionals scan the blog sites for progressive policy ideas, but do it, rather, from a marketing point of view. I suppose I'm voting for 'co-opted' as the greater liklihood.

On the second point, I think Edwards hiring the Pandagon blogger is consistent -- I believe she's in her 20s. I think siphoning away from HRC's gender gap advantage will be difficult, but the under-30 segment is probably where I'd start as well. The whole Facebook approach by Obama speaks to the same type of strategy -- shaking out the younger voters, including African-Americans, with less reliance on transactional politics, where there's far more competition.

I don't know what to make of the youth vote. My state is highly Democratic and basically all of the action is in the Dem primary. We also have  serious student activist/engagement groups at the state flagship -- they also have funding for student mobilization from organizations like Pew.

For the 2006 primary, their efforts produced vapor -- a grand total of 41 students voted -- despite a voter registration drive in the thousands. Turnout was much better for the general (in the hundreds), but as someone who worked a campaign in the same district as the state flagship, the primary results were dissapointing. Perhaps the Presidential Democratic primary is sufficiently 'marquee' to bring them out. Incidentally, pre-primary, all of the campaigns were on Facebook, MySpace, on-campus, etc.

by dblhelix 2007-02-01 09:14AM | 0 recs

Back in my big corporate days, my employer used to anticipate difficult situations (lawsuits, audits, new laws being drafted) by identifying the resource that the potential opponent could use to do the most damage and hiring that opponent first.  Sometimes to do useful work, sometimes just to bill a couple million in "document reviews".  But either way, taken out of the game by privilage.

I strongly suspect that this plays into what the better-funded campaigns are doing.  Chances that long-time DC insiders will take "netroots" new hires seriously?  Low IMOH.


by sphealey 2007-02-01 09:23AM | 0 recs
Disclosure and no-cross pollination

are key..

disclosure is the main thing.  Campaigns end  and people go back

by TarHeel 2007-02-01 09:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Professionalization of the Netroots
It's very interesting, in answer to that question.
The fear is that the independence of the message will be diluted.  Especially as the establishment candidates attempt to use their new employees to dissemble--pretend they are one thing when they have a different agenda.  
On the other had, the hope is that the "establishment" is now listening, and changing as a result.
Both factors appear to be present.
by syolles 2007-02-01 09:27AM | 0 recs

This is where a blog owner like Armanda (Pandagon) is at an advantage, IMO.

As pointed out in an earlier post by Jerome, her blog is more ideological. I've read the blog from time to time, and I'm not sure I'd even go that far -- my general impression is that she posts about whatever interests her, and you can take it or leave it. It's more like Armanda & friends, not Armanda, movement chief or ideological mistress.

OTOH, a blog like this one fundraises for candidates , pacs -- money and advocacy are core -- so this is where the conflict of interest really kicks in. So there's greater pressure on this type of blog to 'retire from blogging' while paid by a campaign.

Unfair, isn't it?

by dblhelix 2007-02-01 09:41AM | 0 recs
Abosolute power and change

As bloggers become "mainstream" and go on staff, they will have access they never had before. The access will corrupt as naturally as any. One's opinions and views changed when allowed into the sausage factory. It's to be expected.

"Top Tier" bloggers will be on speed dial of those in Congress and given access ordinary bloggers don't get. This will lead to listening to those on capital hill rather than those in the field more by some as once access is given one does not want to lose it. Relationships and alliances will develop. It's to be expected.

And not all bad. The Blogosphere is leaving it's youth and entering young adulthood. Our baby is growing up. There will be growing pains, bloggers leaving the roost, and new classes of blogger formed. There is both good and bad in this.

It gives the overall blogosphere more credibility. It makes it harder for the citizen activist to get heard or believed over the top tier. It allows the blogs to push Democrats and messaging more, but also allows greater control of that message by fewer and fewer.

It's kinda sad and exciting all at once. I remember when no one knew what a "web log" was and the media did puff pieces explaining all about us crazy kids in our pajamas. It was wide open any any idiot with a computer and internet connect could get heard. Now the bandwidth is shrinking to established channels and the wild west is coming to a close.

Again, not necessarily bad. Just remembering the nostalgia of yesteryear in the Blogosphere way back three or four years ago. ;-)

by michael in chicago 2007-02-01 09:31AM | 0 recs
Fran's right- Bloggers are no different than
other people who love or are addicted to politics.
Some people get involved in various ways because they 1) Want to change the world or 2) They think it would be a cool career. It is possible to do both, but one can tell a lot from what is a person's true driving force. It's pretty clear that some care about just winning or being part of the club. And some care about winning things for others.
 Howard Dean is the perfect example of someone who is still trying to work with the Democratic Party and system.  So is Edwards.  They seem the most alike to me in "sense of purpose" and discipline.  They will not compromise their values and both have learned through losing tough races.
both of these men are dedicated to "team work" and "the wisdom of crowds". In short, they believe in democracy.  And in the end, as Francis Moore Lappe says, "the divide in this country is between the democrats and the anti-democrats" .  Between people who believe in inclusion and those who believe in exclusion.
"In 1792, The National Gazette said that every citizen "ought to be a politician to some degree."
200 years later, we finally have a vehicle that allows this. The internet.  It is democracy.  
We need to defend it with all our might.
As to blogging versus being on a team.  Well, it's like everybody that works in an office or a store or a factory.  You can not be a rugged individual.  You must work on the team.  So it's a question of how well you understand your colleagues differences and similarities and how to use that.
However, if you are asked to compromise your values time and time again, you are working for the wrong company and should get out.  If you just want a job, then you stay put.  
These are interesting times.  It is good to have talent discovered on line and moving into action positions and it is good that there are still hundreds of citizen journalists and activists like the founders had in mind who give of their time away from work to volunteer for progressive causes either by grassroots activism or by researching for policy makers. Activists sacrifice their free time and are to be admired and praised. There has been to little sacrifice asked of us in a long time.  
by Feral Cat 2007-02-01 09:32AM | 0 recs
My fear

Well, not a fear so much as an acknowledgement of reality. What bloggers give up when joining an organization is a certain amount of independence. At Pandagon or SS or whereever, these bloggers are able to root for Edwards as vociferously as they want but are still able to say, for example, his comments on Iran were incredibly irresponsible. Instead of being responsible to their own beliefs, these bloggers will have the equivalent of editors looking over their shoulders all the time. That's the price for a regular paycheck and benefits.

I'm not saying this is bad. I want all liberals to have big money fun jobs. I'm just trying point out the difference between being "self employed" and joining "The Firm."

by writerofag 2007-02-01 09:33AM | 0 recs
Chris's question prompts various likely narratives

... some inspired by events and movements past.

For example, the individual political actors who made up the Chicago 7 included one guy (Tom Hayden) who crossed over into a career in electoral politics. Co-conspirator Bobby Seale remained an activist. David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin... not sure about them. One went corporate, I believe.

Some of the people you describe will go from netroots blogging to an electoral campaign, to another campaign, then off to the Kennedy School, then choose to run for some office him/herself.

One of these people will become a symbol of Not Forgetting Your Roots. Another will become a daily Wonkette target... sold his/her soul for hors d'oeuvres and access, etc.

Someday, someone like Digby will be the only unwashed renegade left from the Old Days.

"By the Summer of Love what we had was over," one '60s icon was just quoted as saying. "Every 18-year-old in America was out in San Francisco, and nothing was left but fashion."

by ShagBark 2007-02-01 09:36AM | 0 recs
On Professionals

Just want to clarify that those of us involved with DraftObama are all unpaid volunteers, who have devoted (a lot) of free time to the movement.

I appreciate that the movement is seen as professional, and hope that we've managed to portray ourselves as a professional organization, even though we're volunteer-based.

by acaben 2007-02-01 09:39AM | 0 recs
The better served question.... kind of a waste of time cause you are all doing it. So we'll find out. After all, has any of the big names refused? Maybe Kos but that's because he's building his OWN empire.

It's not really a matter of SHOULD anymore.

by MNPundit 2007-02-01 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Professionalization of the Netroots

Just this morning the term "hybridroots" was bouncing around in my cranium.  There once was the grassroots, then came atro-turf, then the netroots, and now maybe "hybridroots".  It's almost dialectical and it is virtually irresistable.

I come from the ranks of aging boomer life long activists, which is another way of saying that I was there for the 60's. It's not just politics where this happens; the concept of cultural cooptation. I remember FM radio when FM radio was a relatively radical rather than coorporate force. I remember when blue jeans were faded and ripped because people bought them new and dark indigo, but then wore them constantly until they became faded and ripped.

Personally, I've gotten deeper into blogging as a consequence of my involvement in Draft Clark movement in 2004, and I never stopped.  But then again, Wes Clark is still a potential candidate for President.  So I have written about him periodically for over three years now, without ever receiving a dime from anyone for it.  Could I write more frequently about Wes Clark, who I sincerly support for Presdient, if someone paid me to do it?  Yep, of course I could.  As it is I have to find time to make a living elsewhere.

So I could possibly conceive of being paid to do blogging for Wes Clark 2008, because my loyalty to him predates any questions of money.  But for the sake of discussion, if that were to happen, and it ran it's course to an organic end, either because Clark got eliminated or elected, what then?  Would it be the same if I become a blogging hired gun?  

That in my mind begins to straddle the line between netroots populism and professional campaign services available.  It is a line sure that I know has been walked before by prior generations of grassroots activists, who got involved in politics because they believed strongly in an individual who they volunteered for, but then stayed involved in professional politics because they saw it as a meaningful and rewarding career choice.  

But where do the ethical choices that the netroots passionately love to debate come in to the picture?  If we were talking about professional product marketing services, would a staffer perhaps say, I'll work for Cole one week and Pepsi the next, and any other Cola the week after, but I will never work for Coors?  

In advertizing the product is never as personal as blooging.  It's an ad that gets turned out, hopefully a great one, but no one's fingerprints are prominantly displayed on it.  But if I pour out my soul online for Wes Clark one month, if the next month he gets eliminated, could I pour out my soul the month after for Bill Richardson?

The questions raised in this Diary are difficult ones for me to get a clear handle on.  Bloggers as hired hands, available to whoever has an appropriate checkbook available, troubles me in a way, much more so if one is asked to promote an individual rather than the agenda of an organization one believes in, but that is a different tangent.

Then again lots of things trouble me in our capitalist way of life, so I do not mean to offend or condem the choices others make.  It is just rich food for thought. Thanks to Chris for raising this topic.  My own thoughts on it remain unsettled.

by Tom Rinaldo 2007-02-01 10:05AM | 0 recs
It's like life, really.

Some bloggers are like working journalists, others like editors-in-chief who own their own magazine. Some of the more established blogs have put considerable time and effort into building up an audience and net-presence that  they probably don't want to lose. There is a certain ego (in the good sense) in running your own publishing empire, that mitigates against selling-out.

There are also good writers who perhaps should be building up careers as well-distributed commentators in tradtional newspapers, magazines, or even book contracts. I wouldn't call that selling out.


On the other hand, those who do jump to being employed by a campaign have certain obligations that make it impossible to really be independent. I'm pretty confident that the campagin organizations are going to be very tight on messaging, and that they'll keep the on-staff blogger on a fairly short leash.

Let's say the sell-out vs transformation is as bad as 90/10 (more sell-out than transformative). I'll be happy to get the 10% transformation, despite suffering the 90% sell-out. The 90% will hopefully assist in electing good candidates, and hopefully take a good campaign and make it more effective.

The technology of blogging itself has a positive nature even in the hands of a top-down campaing. The internet does enable access (up and down) to the grass roots. Distributed funding from many individuals is better than relying on big donors. Anything that balances smaller voices against the big players is better for the Democrats than the Republicans.

Politics and Party

I'm hoping that the distributed nature of the Internet and blogging will help make the political process more inclusive.

Perhaps we can even hope for the transformation of the Democratic Party apparatus itself. More small activists everywhere instead of having so much controlled by the well-connected establishment players.

While the establishment feels threatened if the people gain a voice, the Party does need re-invigoration.

by MetaData 2007-02-01 10:52AM | 0 recs
Until recently

Why do you not consider EchoDitto a netroots consultancy?

by perks 2007-02-01 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Questions On The Professionalization

1a: "As a potential agent of change, to what extent are the netroots and the progressive movement helped or hindered by its professionalization?

I think it is neutral. There are pros to the sorts of skills, knowledge, and experience that comes with professionalization but the strength of the netroots remains in the roots part. It remains with the chaos of the masses.  

1b: Perhaps the questions is better rephrased as follows: with "outside" elements joining the "inside," who will change more, the outside or the inside?

Hopefully both. Certainly those sucked into the system will change. That part is a given. But I think the strength and qualities of many of those people along with their roots in the roots will also change the system into which they are assimilated.

1c: Also, are the netroots better served by creating their own institutions and campaigns, or by continuing to join existing ones?

Definitely better served by creating our own infrastructure and power center. But this is not mutually exclusive to having folks join and re-shapre existing institutions. Both have their benefits but I would like to see the net/grassroots build their/out own infrastructure.

2a: To what extent is a "professional" and "amateur" divide emerging within the netroots and progressive movement?

Not much yet I don't think but I think you are right on target in recognizing that it is in the early stages of happening. Check back in early 2009 and let's see where we stand.

2b: Specifically, I am wondering if there might be a danger that a new "netroots elite" will end up holding the same dismissive attitude the "serious pundits" currently hold toward the activist base, or if the activist base community will turn away from the "professionals," in disgust at the sell-outs.

Individual cases of both will occur. Screw'm both.

2c: Will the netroots community be able to continue to function as a semi-coherent entity with so many of its members working on behalf of competing candidates and campaigns?

As semi-coherent as we ever are. Division and discord will occur but I seem to recall a little of that in 2004 as well.

3a: How long will it last?

For as long as the internet remains a primary vehicle through which activists can directly effect the political discussion in this country.

3b:Will there come a point where the netroots is so familiar to Democratic infrastructure, that rather than being a separate department of large political operations internet and netroots instead becomes blended into every other department?

Yes. And this is as it should be. Natural evolution.

3c: Will there be new technological developments that make current "netroots" staff obsolete?

Yes. Again, evolution. But don't ask me to predict what it/they will be... or when.

3d: Will the new political professionals just decide to move on to new careers in different fields before long?

Yes. Different fields within the existing political landscape and outside of it too. YMMV applies. Netroots "professionals" will learn new skills and the individual skills they bring to the table will be recognized and put to work in other areas. This is as it should be.

4a: Finally, what happens when these junior staffers and new political professionals continue to age and move up in the ranks of the progressive and Democratic ecosystems?

Plenty of new talent waiting in the wings. People move up, opportunities are created for new folks coming in behind them.

4b: What cultural differences are there among this new professional class that will result in an overall cultural shift in progressive politics once the participants involved move from being junior staff to senior staff?

First off... The good ones will make themselves "senior staff" the day they walk in the door.

Probably the most important thing this new group of professionals can do is remember that it is all about people-powered-politics. That is how they got there. That is what they bring to the table beyond themselves and that is what they are pioneering in their new ranks. This is the change that needs to occur. Opening the insular beltway world to the screaming heathens crashing the gates.

They are the first wave. They need to not only make sure the door stays open but to open it wider once they go through it.



by Andrew C White 2007-02-01 12:10PM | 0 recs
And Problems That May Crop Up....

This is probably me just being paranoid.

I'm a Clarkie, and what I've noticed about the comments in posts about Clark, is that 95% of the posters are just us Clarkies enjoying reading about Clark. Perhaps 4% of the posters are other open-minded people.  And 1% are trolls who are becoming increasingly sneaky.  

You can tell a troll by their ability to blockquote apparently damaging stuff about your candidate.  People who refer to such smears more vaguely are usually regular people looking for information, but those who have taken the time to collect a series of quotes that make your candidate look damaging, have always already learned why these quotes have been discredited.  

On these Clark posts, the trolls generally manage to take up 25% of the posting space.  The last one insisted that she (or he) had not yet picked a candidate, other times they've said they were for Edwards, though even that would, of course, be open to question.  They never work to promote their candidate, only smear your own with published work that has been discredited --- not with areas that might be open to honest disagreement.

So here's my concern.  How easy would it be for a candidate of either party to hire someone to wander around blogs and smear candidates in their own party or in the other one, changing who they say they actually support with every post, changing their name, and making as much trouble as possible?  Could this become a problem in the next election?  It seems to me the easiest of dirty tricks.  And is there a way we could work against this?  Say, like ebay feedback, so that people would be less likely to trust someone with only a few posts under their belt, or with unusually high negative feedback?

by catherineD 2007-02-01 01:38PM | 0 recs
Professionalization of the Troll

Should have used the above title to tie my thoughts into the subject at hand.

by catherineD 2007-02-01 01:42PM | 0 recs
I wish more could stay indepedent but...

On an individual basis, I have no problem with any blogger taking up a professional basis. They will probably give more bang for th buck compared to the typical high priced consultant. Bloggers got to make money too.

On a collective basis, it gets kind of disheartening because we need as many independent bloggers as possible to give races some kind of objectivity. At least when a blogger volunteers for no charge, we know he is doing it out of real conviction than just a paid gig.

But in any case, as long as there is disclosure(Like Sirota did during his Lamont gig), we really cannot complain. Once we see that disclosure, we know they are unlikely to criticie their guy. That's what seems to have happened with the Dauo Report. THey rarely seem to excerpt any of the negative blogger articles on Hillary from the left. But Peter was at least good about disclosing his gig.

by Pravin 2007-02-01 03:01PM | 0 recs
History Offers Some Answers

The netroots movement is likely to follow the same path as the efforts in the 1960s. At first, most of the '60s organizations were voluntary (often egalitarian collectives), then some organizations hired people at poverty wages, then a few paid people professional wages and began to hire professionals. Eventually, this led to the organizations you now see a lot of in Washington -- top down organizations with highly paid executives, constantly begging for money from "members" who have little/no control over the organization.

My understanding is the labor movement followed a similar path in the 1930s-50s. And political parties tend to go the same way.

This progression is natural -- volunteers burn out and people get tired of the flakiness of volunteer organizations. So then one competent person takes over, figures out how to get funding, and pays him/herself well (sometimes through corruption or fraud). Because the movement is poor overall, there isn't much money to go around, so the people at the bottom are paid poorly (exploited) and tend to be young people of middle-class background who can live on ramen noodles for a few years. The people at the top who are successful start hobnobbing with the rich (partly to get funding from them) and they begin to adopt their values -- and get co-opted. Then the grassroots get disgusted with them and cut off funding.

To change this dynamic, we need some way of building strong progressive organizations that can pay people a decent wage, but also keep the leaders accountable so they don't become corrupt or co-opted. We have tended to rely on progressives to be "progressive" and act like it. But there are lots of temptations to get co-opted.

The best tools that have been created for keeping organizations accountable are openness (transparency / sunshine) and checks and balances. The easy communication capability of the netroots makes openness much easier and could make checks and balances easier.

Specific suggestions:

* Everyone on blogs should start using their real names instead of handles so we are more responsible (oops, so then why don't I do that?).

* Bloggers should post their finances on the web so everyone can see how much they are really making (not just what they say they are).

* Bloggers should be audited by professional auditors and their audit reports posted so the roots can see that their leaders are not raking in the dough and they can see who is funding them.

* Blogs should investigate progressive organizations and each other and challenge them on their funding sources, spending priorities, etc. Bloggers should meet each other and their readers face to face so that we can check each other out, make sure we actually are who we say we are, and support and shame each other into good behavior.

* Organizations should be structured so they are accontable to outside people or organizations (Boards of Directors, members, funders, auditing agencies, investigative reporters, etc.) so there is always many people making sure that we all behave well.

* We need to make our society more egalitarian (including free universal healthcare and sufficient Social Security for a decent retirement) so that the temptations and benefits for selling out are less and the consequences of being honest and altruistic are not so horrible.

* Money should be dispersed widely instead of concentrated in a few hands.

Note, though, that all these suggestions do little/nothing to actually raise money. In fact, they create a costly overhead structure (costly in effort and money) and contribute little to challenging the Right. And these measuress also open up our organizations for attack, infiltration, swiftboating, and monkeywrenching by the Right. And when our power is dispersed too broadly, then we have trouble concentrating it against the Right.

What to do?

by RandomNonviolence 2007-02-02 01:33AM | 0 recs


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