On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Bumped--Chris

The discussion Chris began on diversity in the blogosphere is an important one, and I'm happy to see it being brought up here.

While diversity as a progressive value is assumed, and the overly white and wealthy make up of the progressive blogosphere is a noted problem, there seems to be some confusion around what the right solutions are. People are struggling with this for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being that progressives are still not comfortable confronting, dealing with or talking about issues related to race. I think exploring this issue requires some level of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

No real substantial progressive change in this country has ever occurred without a strong multi-racial coalition. As demographic changes continue to make the population more diverse, particularly in the younger generations, this becomes even more true for the future. It's an important thing to realize. But the fact is that for many white progressives, and particularly those who tend to populate the blogosphere, working in a multi-racial coalition may be a completely unknown quantity. My friend and colleague Daraka Larimore-Hall wrote a piece years ago about this same challenge as it related to the student movement at that time. The entire article is a great read, but I want to highlight that one portion, the steps to building a multi-racial coalition, are relevant to this issue the blogosphere is wrestling with:

Include racial justice issues in your organizational discussions and analysis.

Commit to doing serious work against racism as part of your organizing and to forming meaningful, principled alliances with people of color organizations in your communities.

Make sure that your agenda isn't set before considering the goals and demands of activists of color. Too often, white activists think of the issues that they are working on as "universal" and approach activists of color asking them to join their "big tent". Why aren't white activists holding themselves accountable in the same way and viewing racism as a universal concern?

Take steps to create a more tolerant culture within your own organization. Sometimes, white culture is "invisible", meaning that methods of work, choice of music, food, ways of communicating, etc., are thought of as "progressive" ways of doing things, instead of "white progressive" ways of doing things. One way should not be held up as "authentically progressive", especially when that cultural form is typically or historically white.

Consider the needs of people of different backgrounds than your own. Can people with jobs attend your meetings? What about people with children? What email list or social scene do you have to be a part of, to hear about meetings?

Work to build long term, authentic and trusting relationships with organizations led by people of color in your community. As we stated above, white activists are prone to "shopping" for minorities. Too often, when it comes time to host a conference or chose speakers for a rally, white activist organizations are out looking for brown faces, when they haven't supported the daily work of anti-racist organizations all year long.

Speak up when people of color in your community are being attacked! Don't wait for the Black Student Union on your campus to write all the letters to the editor of your student newspaper. It is time for white people to police their own communities around these issues -- after all, whose responsibility is it to fight racism in the white community?

Listen harder, and better. Too often, white activists try to be the savior -- instead of the ally. One of the legacies of the early Civil Rights Movement's organizing style, which came from people like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses of SNCC, was the deeply rooted belief that there is no one who knows more about the experience of oppression than those who are oppressed themselves. Simply put, go to meetings of people of color organizations, find out what they are up to, and help out. Period.

Working in an inter-racial coalition can be a difficult and humbling experience, but also a sweet one. The most important things we should take with us on this winding road are a willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes and be self critical, and to listen to each other. We have a lot to learn, and we need all the brains and hands we can gather. Within the movement, as in the civil rights movement of the 60's, we need a "division of labor," in which the special responsibilities of various groups are recognized. Andy Goodman was one of the many who acknowledged his own responsibility and sought to accept leadership from African American activists. To broaden and deepen today's movement, we need to learn from that spirit of listening, uniting and acting with courage.

Part of me thinks that the progressive blogosphere needs to better define itself before truly being able to tackle these questions or put these suggestions to work. That discussion is ongoing on blogs like MyDD and Daily Kos as well. What I mean is, where does the blogosphere see itself fitting in to the four main components of successful movement-building, which Northwestern Professor Aldon Morris lays out in his book, "Origins of the Civil Rights Movement." They are: a compelling narrative, indigenous local leadership, mass organizations, and communication channels. If the blogosphere is primarily a communication channel, then it's not the diversity of the bloggers that matters so much as ensuring that the content being communicated reflects the entire movement. But if the blogosphere is part of creating the narrative, then diverse voices are absolutely critical, and getting there should be an immediate No. 1 priority.

As I have said before, this is an important conversation, and it cannot be solved in one blog post on one blog. I hope the various communities in the blogosphere will continue to have these robust discussions, and begin taking steps to go deeper.

Tags: Blogosphere, progressive movement, race (all tags)

Comments

26 Comments

Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

This is an excellent and well thought out diary.  It is an important discussion.  We still are so far from racial justice in this nation.  Even, or maybe especially, those of us on the left need to remind ourselves of that.

Thank you for adding to the discussion.

by littafi 2007-05-07 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

I find it absolutely frightening , the unwillingness for some on the Left to shy away from talking about race relations issues. Even worse, they call themselves Progressives. I have never in my life heard of a Progressive movement that only included one race , one gender and one tax bracket.

Ever!

by ObamaEdwards2008 2007-05-07 01:51PM | 0 recs
That didn't make any sense to me

"unwillingness ... to shy away from" ? so they talk about it incessantly where they should back off?

The two sentences after that don't seem to be aimed at anything. As far as I can tell, you're insinuating that some left/progressive group (which one? who?) is deliberately being a whites-only club, which is nonsense.

by bolson 2007-05-08 09:37AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Thank you for the feedback! I've been blogging for awhile but am new to posting here. And I'm happy to continue having this discussion!

by Jenifer Fernandez Ancona 2007-05-07 11:44AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Nicely done, Jenifer.  Reading this with my own home site Firedoglake in mind, here are my perspectives:

Include racial justice issues in your organizational discussions and analysis.

This we do.

Commit to doing serious work against racism as part of your organizing and to forming meaningful, principled alliances with people of color organizations in your communities.

We have the commitment.  Now that I'm doing less writing so I can focus more on site and movement development, I'm able to focus on this a bit more.  We also look for people of color to add to our site as regular guest writers, but have not succeeded in finding the right people with the time to do what we've needed, and now our stable is pretty full.  We had to fill up fast to cover the extra content needs during Jane's (ongoing cancer) treatment coupled with the extra traffic from the Libby Trial.  

We can get better at some of this, but it's also a matter of time to do things other than just generate content, which does take a lot of time and preparation.  Also, we don't just want to "shop" for color:  we want to find the people whose issue approaches compliment our brand approach and style.  An ongoing process, but it has been an ongoing priority and subject of discussion.

Make sure that your agenda isn't set before considering the goals and demands of activists of color. Too often, white activists think of the issues that they are working on as "universal" and approach activists of color asking them to join their "big tent". Why aren't white activists holding themselves accountable in the same way and viewing racism as a universal concern?

Our strategic team is mostly caucasian women and a couple of gay men, one of whom is Latino.  When I was writing more, I tried to pick up prison reform/felony enfranchisement as one of my beats, but I just could not dig into it with my time constraints and need to earn a living outside of politics.  

We can get better at this, and I think we would if we found the right African American person to join the team in a more meaningful way.  I bring one Latino POV, but we'd like to expand our perspectives and thinking on behalf of our audience.  Again, time and the voluntary nature of our work influences how much we have been able to pursue this with any consistency, not to mention, cancer.

Take steps to create a more tolerant culture within your own organization. Sometimes, white culture is "invisible", meaning that methods of work, choice of music, food, ways of communicating, etc., are thought of as "progressive" ways of doing things, instead of "white progressive" ways of doing things. One way should not be held up as "authentically progressive", especially when that cultural form is typically or historically white.

This seems more targeted to a bricks and mortar organization, though I apply it to us in terms of the pop culture and music stuff we chat and talk about, or that we integrate into our work.  Taken collectively, it probably signifies more white and educated than people of color.  I remember when I did some YouTube posts that included Tyler Perry and a few readers were like, "who's that?"  There was some cultural stretch there, but everyone welcomed it.

Consider the needs of people of different backgrounds than your own. Can people with jobs attend your meetings? What about people with children? What email list or social scene do you have to be a part of, to hear about meetings?

We're okay on this one.  The real access barriers here involve digital access and comfort.  We do have conference calls, but a number of us are working and one of us is a full time Mom, though with a spouse for support.

Work to build long term, authentic and trusting relationships with organizations led by people of color in your community. As we stated above, white activists are prone to "shopping" for minorities. Too often, when it comes time to host a conference or chose speakers for a rally, white activist organizations are out looking for brown faces, when they haven't supported the daily work of anti-racist organizations all year long.

This is the kind of thing we've been doing more receptively than proactively, again due to time limitations and lack of funding resources to support our organization.  We have not held conferences or events, so I apply this as a matter of looking for providers of content.  

As we've looked for content providers, we've emphasized good, sharp, concise, witty writing that fits our brand style, with a similar strategic movement and message building point of view, holding those in power accountable.  

We have learned it's easier to find people who know how to write in blog style among actual bloggers, and we do include diversity in our invitation considerations.  Maybe it's the nature of our core audience, but most of those new content providers have been women and we've done well sustaining that, though we have not been able to identify any more people of color.  

The first hoops for a new content provider to get through is the quality of their writing and clarity of thought consistent with our mission, and we do like to elevate voices from within our own community.  If any people of color would like to "audition" for when we have needs, I would recommend becoming a regular FDL commenter.  That's how I became a part of the site, though not with any intent:  it just happened that way.  You don't have to leave your own blog to do this:  we like to bring in people who have their own blogs, like Phoenix Woman or Eli.

Speak up when people of color in your community are being attacked! Don't wait for the Black Student Union on your campus to write all the letters to the editor of your student newspaper. It is time for white people to police their own communities around these issues -- after all, whose responsibility is it to fight racism in the white community?

We do this.  We don't hesitate to pick fights with racists and we have always kept bigoted comments out of our comment section.  We have a very well moderated comment community.

Listen harder, and better. Too often, white activists try to be the savior -- instead of the ally. One of the legacies of the early Civil Rights Movement's organizing style, which came from people like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses of SNCC, was the deeply rooted belief that there is no one who knows more about the experience of oppression than those who are oppressed themselves. Simply put, go to meetings of people of color organizations, find out what they are up to, and help out. Period.

I think we do this well, but now that I can focus more on organizational development, I ca do more. The netroots equivalent of going to meetings is often conference calls, and I do those and would like to be invited to more that include ways to promote diversity.  Since I have a full time business that pays the bills, I have a harder time making time to go to face-to-face meetings in places.

Working in an inter-racial coalition can be a difficult and humbling experience, but also a sweet one. The most important things we should take with us on this winding road are a willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes and be self critical, and to listen to each other. We have a lot to learn, and we need all the brains and hands we can gather. Within the movement, as in the civil rights movement of the 60's, we need a "division of labor," in which the special responsibilities of various groups are recognized. Andy Goodman was one of the many who acknowledged his own responsibility and sought to accept leadership from African American activists. To broaden and deepen today's movement, we need to learn from that spirit of listening, uniting and acting with courage.

We're always listening and learning to our community members who bring up these issues and even to our past critics, even if we have not always agreed with them.  We make adjustments and communicate offline with other activists on how to do all these things better, and by communicate, I don't mean only one way.

On a strategic level, I think the core branding of FDL will probably reflect a pretty close approximation of what it is today.  That said, we can add to our perspectives, and we intend to create more ways for people to connect with each other through a social networking infrastructure, empowering more grass roots (our "Roots Project").

I also think we can do more to help other people create their own vibrant online communities by sharing with them lessons we've learned along the way in how it can be done.  Jane built a site where the main voices were strong women's voices at a time when there were none among the "big" lefty blogs, and she did it in part using practices Matt Stoller outined in his post yesterday on building online power.  But there's more we can add to the conversation about how to be successful, and I think we may do that. . . as long as people don't interpret it as us talking down to anyone or saying, "do it our way."  Still, it's a case study and one success model, and as such, sharing it could have some value for others to adapt to their own circumstances.

Thanks for sharing this content, Jenifer.  I hope people don't mind my lengthy response, and I welcome feedback.  I wanted to use your post as a springboard for reflection on the site and community for which, and to which, I am most responsible.

by Pachacutec 2007-05-08 05:38AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Thanks Pachacutec. I've been following the conversation on the topic of diversity in the blogs with some interest. Your commentary has been useful in moving the conversation forward. I'm glad that Chris has led a courageous discussion and been honest about his opinions, even if I may not agree with some of his premises. I think that both FireDogLake and MyDD have worked hard to open the conversation to minority participants including Steve Gilliard on FDL, Spencer Overton of BlackProf, Jack Turner and myself from Jack and Jill Politics.

Inclusion is a progressive value and it's critical to walk the walk and lead by example. Otherwise, are you just talking the talk of diversity? Inclusion is still a conscious act in America which is why many minorities see affirmative action as important to maintain.

Another thought: over the past six months, there's been a real blossoming of black progressive political bloggers. Maybe a few were recruited but most I think have launched on their own to participate. Some have been welcomed with open arms and others have shocked progressive whites with opinions popular in the black community that whites don't always hear so openly.

Ultimately I wonder if black bloggers will face the class vs. caste question ourselves. African-American bloggers, I can surmise, tend to be well-educated with above average incomes. Yet many would have them represent all African-Americans on certain issues. Is that fair to the underclass who sometimes may have different priorities and problems than those who have "made it"? We may have a lot in common culturally and even socially but economically, for example?

My final thought: I think Jenifer's construct is a good checklist not only for blogs but for progressive organizations as well.

by Jill Tubman 2007-05-08 06:20AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

I actually think the checklist, as written, may have been developed originally for more traditionally housed non-profits and political organization, but I may be wrong.  I tried to adapt what I was reading to this new organizing and media environment.

I would appreciate any introductions into these networks you mention, any help in learning who people are, where their sites are, because I'm sure I have not been able to keep up.

You mention something about representation I wanted to follow up on.  One of the things that gets lost in many conversations like these is the diversity within traditionally underrepresented communities.  We use this heuristic, that we mistake for reality at our peril, that seems to speak of these large comunities as homegenous blocks.

I can apply this to my own experience.  I'm Latino, or half Latino:  my mother's parents came from Peru and PR, respectively.  My father's side is European.  I was closer to my mother's side, and still cook my grandparents' recipes.  But my Spanish is uneven; I was raised here.  I've benefited from some of the best mainstream education money (Stafford loans!) can buy.

That makes me rather different as a Latino from the first generation Mexican American, or from many other Latinos, less light complected than I, who directly experience what my brown skinned grandfather did from the majority culture.  So, to what extent do I "represent?"  In the end, and as a psychologist, I try to remain true to an understanding of every individual's subjectivity, while keeping in mind the oftentimes common experiences and perspective among members of different identity groups.

I've also had conversation offline with a couple of people of color, to whom I've asked the question:  by giving you or one of your constituents a platform through a site like Firedoglake. . . would I be hurting their credibility within their constituent communities as much as helping?  Would they have to battle an image as a sellout to a "majority" site and would that create the need for them to picks fights with us that need not occur?  This is a real question, and I have had responses telling me this is a potential dynamic to watch out for.

This is why I've been floating this offer around to do what I can to share what I think I know about how to build effective online communities with others, for them to adapt to their own circumstances, because the end goal is not for a site like FDL to represent all people (it can't), but for more powerful voices and communities to emerge, hopefully, able to work together and complement each other.

by Pachacutec 2007-05-08 06:35AM | 0 recs
Get involved on the ground

in issue activism in your community.  

Environmental justice, unions, police crimes and repression (brutality issues), living wage campaigns.  There are so many issues where activists need help.  The way to get past white skin privilege is to get with folks who are not like you and struggle with them.  Do it together. Learn from them.  Be open to other ways of thinking.

That's one way.

by littafi 2007-05-07 01:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Get involved on the ground

How would white progressives in areas without a significant quantity of minorities involve themselves?

The village I grew up in was well over 99% white and the town in which I went to school wasn't much more diverse, whilst there's an urban myth (at least I hope it's a myth) that at my university there are more people with the surname White than people who are black.

Obviously America is somewhat more diverse, but this is an issue given the prominence of the netroots in places like Montana.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-08 03:29AM | 0 recs
Montana is unusual.

I live in an integrated neighborhood in a suburb on a large city.  There is an "inner city" area  about 5 miles from me.

Most Americans live near people of color.  Sometimes, they just don't "see" them. My metropolitan area is about 20% African American (suburbs and City).

by littafi 2007-05-08 12:25PM | 0 recs
excellent post, spot on

In particular, this:

No real substantial progressive change in this country has ever occurred without a strong multi-racial coalition. As demographic changes continue to make the population more diverse, particularly in the younger generations, this becomes even more true for the future. It's an important thing to realize. But the fact is that for many white progressives, and particularly those who tend to populate the blogosphere, working in a multi-racial coalition may be a completely unknown quantity.

Daraka Larimore-Hall's insights resonate with my experiences.  Thanks for that link.  This, in particular, seemed apropos:

white activists are prone to "shopping" for minorities. Too often, when it comes time to host a conference or chose speakers for a rally, white activist organizations are out looking for brown faces, when they haven't supported the daily work of anti-racist organizations all year long.

In my experience of discussions of race and diversity the first, and preeminent, obsession of many progressives is that they not be seen as "racist."

Racism, however, is a part of our heritage, our history and our culture. It is as American as apple pie. One of the first steps to having a productive discussion of race is to realize how integral racism and its legacy is in all of our lives. It's a part of all of us; that's the start point. We move out from there.

PS: I also like your emphasis on coalition-building. Yes!

by kid oakland 2007-05-07 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: excellent post, spot on

Might as well say Racism is as British as Fish n' Chips. It's a universal human attribute.

by MNPundit 2007-05-07 10:22PM | 0 recs
Precisely!

If the blogosphere is primarily a communication channel, then it's not the diversity of the bloggers that matters so much as ensuring that the content being communicated reflects the entire movement. But if the blogosphere is part of creating the narrative, then diverse voices are absolutely critical, and getting there should be an immediate No. 1 priority.
And the blogosphere is absolutely part of creating the narrative.  It is so, because its means of being a communication channel is by dialogue, rather than by simple transmission and re-transmission. Sure, some messages simply get broadcast, with little alteration.  But these are the exceptions and usually action items.  So even to the extent that it is a communication channel, shaping the narrative comes first.

We don't need to have perfect parity.  But we definitely do need to have more diversity promoted up top.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-05-07 03:08PM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Fascinating.

I am particularly interested in the passage you quote from Larimore-Hall on the question of universality as it pertains to issues like racism. Clearly, we need to reject the notion that racism is just a problem for minorities, sexism just a problem for women, etc. on "it takes two to tango" grounds.

I worry, however, about uncritically substituting a "universalist" concern about race for a "particularist" one, along the model "progressives are concerned about racism." Larimore-Hall touches on this, also, as I read her. The scare quotes around words like "universal" and "authentic" are the pointer, there.

It is important to avoid fixing culturally what "we" are and what "we" do. Those issues -- from employment and childcare down to food and music, are all coded regulations for who "we" are and what "we" do and when "we" do it. Taking such a foreclosed position about the present makeup of the progressive community and what it is becoming is a way to relegate the progressive community to historical backwardness.

Stay open. Stay fluid.

by nvalvo 2007-05-07 03:47PM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

If the blogosphere is primarily a communication channel, then it's not the diversity of the bloggers that matters so much as ensuring that the content being communicated reflects the entire movement. But if the blogosphere is part of creating the narrative, then diverse voices are absolutely critical, and getting there should be an immediate No. 1 priority.

Great diary.  I have a question.  Who should have it as a number one priority?  Chris outlined his practical problems with increasing diversity.  I have similar issues, though I've done behind the scenes work I don't talk about on MyDD.  I read and link to minority leaders, and we talk about race all the time on MyDD.  No other blog covered Maryland's fourth in the depth I approached, or called out the CBC on net neutrality, or sent someone to New Orleans to cover the special election.

So I suppose it's worth asking who should prioritize increasing the diversity of the blogosphere.  I don't see the NAACP doing anything on this front, or Tom Joyner, or the CBC or CHC.  And I do pay attention to the other piece here, which is white people trying to act like saviors.  I'm not going to pretend like I can do that.  I can and do regularly open access to my network of contacts to people who lead, of all colors.  Ultimately though leadership in the blogosphere has to come from minority communities.  

Maybe I'll turn this into a full post.  

by Matt Stoller 2007-05-07 05:01PM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

It's a good question.

I understand the practical challenges. Finding good talent is a challenge the movement has across the board. And I appreciate the efforts you on MyDD have made.

But I do think it's up to the leadership of the large progressive political blogs, the ones that are read by hundreds of thousands of people each week, to make it a priority. There may be organizations that aren't on your radar, that can help identify talent. The Opportunity Agenda is doing some work in this area, and the Drum Major Institute.

That's not to say that advocacy organizations in communities of color don't have any responsibility. But I think ultimately the people running the blogs have some power in deciding whose voice is elevated, so I feel like that's where it should be initiated. But I would welcome pushback from those who disagree.

by Jenifer Fernandez Ancona 2007-05-07 09:33PM | 0 recs
Well...

I'll tell you you're way off, in a few ways :) Here's how.

I wonder whether prioritizing this is less about how progressive bloggers interact with racial issues online (like MD-04, like linking to minority leaders), and more about trying to innovate ways to make blogging more attractive and/or useful for a more diverse crowd.

There are multitudes of bloggers of all colors online... political opinion and analysis, cultural, feminist, anti-racist, commentary, news, and on and on, with topics overlapping a lot on some blogs, of course.

Black, Latin@, Asian, Arab, Indian (from India), Native American and more. These are just the US based ones, of course there are many more that are international (and not all in English). These are mostly decentralized blogs, single person or group, with vast cross linking and participation (from other bloggers of various colors/ethnicities, as well as "people of pallor" as one person termed himself ;).

Most (not all) are also well educated - college graduates or in college right now, a number of just the small circle I know are either professors or going for their phds (and one just got hers), lawyers, computer tech, homemakers, entrepreneurs, political organizers/operatives, people in entertainment and media.. Some are very well off, some are poor as church mice, others are just toodling along like everyone else.

The above is only to make the point that the blogosphere IS diverse... people of color (and women) are just not coming here, or dkos or other sites in the white political blogosphere.

I, personally, don't much care whether MyDD or kos or any of the other areas of the white progressive blogosphere are diverse. I used to, as it didn't make any sense at all to me for long term political effectiveness (and also, for just knowing what in the world you are talking about when speaking of things where race could be or is a factor... the very wrong interpretations of the Louisiana special election comes to mind) for there to be such a lack of diverse voices on these sites.  

I think the insularity is not beneficial, overall, BUT... people can do whatever they wish with their sites, their movements, and so on.

My main (and consistent) gripe has been with the language sometimes used, often implying that the white progressive blogosphere is The Progressive Movement (which terminology is excluding in itself - what does that make the rest of us? Chopped ballots?), or the "leaders of the blogosphere" stuff, when one means the leaders of the white political party activist blogosphere, and the like.

Anyway, I've wandered far from my main point - blogging itself is very diverse. Just segregated.

by Nanette K 2007-05-07 08:13PM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

Fantastic post. I couldn't agree more with literally every word.

by CT student 2007-05-07 08:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Well...

I think it should be a concern. I still don't see how there can be long term political effectiveness when there is such insularity.

I am not sure what I think now, overall, nor am I sure it matters what I think - various people have been agitating on this for ages, to little effect, so have moved off and started their own blogs (as was the advice most given) or gone to other existing ones. Others were never part of the dkos, mydd, fdl, atrios, etc circle in the first place.

How to tackle the issue? Outreach would be good, talking to various political bloggers of color in their own spaces, linking to written pieces if the topic fits, maybe soliciting an opinion on a particular issue, and so on. I think kid o had a number of suggestions, as did others, that would be good and effective.

by Nanette K 2007-05-07 08:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Well...

It's about power.  Actblue will take anyone's money.  Congress will take anyone's phone calls.  Those are color-blind tools.

by Matt Stoller 2007-05-08 12:57PM | 0 recs
Means of Communication vs. Choice of Issues

I'm happy to see Jenifer's diary here.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and still have more questions than answers.

A little background first.  I'm for Santa Cruz County, which is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco.  The county, which has a pretty progressive reputation, is split into several very different sections:

  • Scotts Valley, which is very white and fairly Republican

  • The City of Santa Cruz, which is dominated by UCSC, and is very white but liberal/radical.

  • the center of the county, which is either unincorporated and fairly poor with many Mexicans and other Latinos, or incorporated, white and Republian.

  • South County, which is dominated by the City of Watsonville, which is very working class, Latino, and liberal.

One of the things that has really surprised me in the 13+ years I've lived here is how little attention the progressive whites pay to progressive Latinos in South County.  The agendas don't tend to be very compatible, for example.  North County cares a lot about anti-war activism, and some about environmental/cultural issues.  South County cares a lot about union rights, living wage, and of course, immigration issues and rights.  Coming as I do from North County, I've come to appreciate that the South County people and leaders have a much better understanding of North County than visa versa.  Environmentalists, in particular, don't "get" the whole issue of environmental racism, and North County attitudes about about development show little or no sensitivity to the problems of the poorer people in South County. You're also more likely to hear North County people get worried about cell towers and floridation than get them concerned about safety issues with the use of pesiticides, or about the dental health of children in South County.

So I'd very much like to see South County people have a stronger voice in the county, and I'd like to see progressives and Democrats in Santa Cruz County better reflect the needs and opinions of South County folk.

Since I'm very much a netroots geek -- I'm a software engineer that's done a lot of political and community stuff -- I've looked into using these tools to help with this.  But I'm not convinced that the this is the problem.

First, I'm not finding that the use of netroots tools and technologies has really taken off in South County.  Some of this is income related: fewer people seem to be using computers this way.  There are definitely people around here working on that, particularly our local ISP Cruzio, which does a lot of outreach in Spanish, and hires people for their ability to help non-English speakers get up to speed with web sites and wireless, but I still don't think it's an effective way to reach or mobilize Latino people and Latino opinion in South County.

Second, I think that as an activist, it's become more important for me to understand how the Latino community "works" -- where people find out about political issues that affect them, how they make up their minds about issues and candidates, and what their "media habits" currently are.  I talk a lot in particular to union people, who besides being mostly Latino themselves, know a lot about how to reach people.  What I've learned suggests that it's a lot different from North County's chic, quasi-hippy sort of folk.  People seem to listen to radio more.  The Spanish language TV listings turn out to be a good way to reach people.  And community groups and churches seem to be better means of getting people's attention than web sites.

There very well may be a community of web-savvy Latino activists around here.  But I'm not finding them very easily.  And I'm even looking for them.

I'm not sure how representative my experience is.  And if any of you reading this are amused South County people who don't understand how I've missed you and your efforts so far, by all means, chirp up and tell me what you're up to.

by Rob Thorne 2007-05-07 11:54PM | 0 recs
re: Multi-Racial Coalitions, and MyDD's role

I hope that as broadband access expands, the non-white niches in the blogosphere will grow and diversify, and hopefully there will be "white" blogs whose readers care enough about "black" to inter-link with "black" blogs but remain true to their audience; and hopefully there will be black bloggers who write about not-specifically-black issues enough to garner a substantial non-black audience (just as Aravosis has, I'm sure, garnered a substantial non-gay audience while still covering a range of gay issues).

All of this stuff is happening already, it just needs to happen more -- we need to read more blogs that black readers are reading, and we need to do all we can to expand broadband access to non-whites and the poor. Also, we need to support black blogs. We know that their message is important, and we know it is under-represented, so we need to amplify it in whatever ways we can.

by msnook 2007-05-08 02:47AM | 0 recs
Re: On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions

By extension, I wonder whether the success of blogs among wealthy, well-educated whites coincides with a lack of community organization for the same people that hasn't reached the same tipping point in minority communities.  Maybe I'm wrong, and I certainly don't have any scholarly evidence to back this up, but I consistently see as one of the virtues of blogs the power to unite people across wide geography.

Lucas threw this out. Interesting point--white males have been drifting Republican in droves for a long time, and I've often wondered if the diversity-conscious Democratic party of the 1980s deconstructed them so much that they became alienated and left--despite an affinity for a number of progressive issues and values.
The blogsphere has created spaces where white males can be at ease as liberals and progressives and contribute to a greater progressive victory. I know this gets back around to some of the earlier criticisms of Chris's diversity posts are you talking about white male only clubs?), but I thought this might be an important point.

by johnalive 2007-05-08 04:02AM | 0 recs
I think this is one of the more important points

Which probably won't be talked about much :)

I mentioned somewhere a year or two ago that it appeared to me that the major progressive political blogs were actively targeting a "richer, whiter, righter, male(er)" audience, as evidenced by the fairly consistent dismissal of "special interest groups" and "dirty hippies" and "women's studies groups" and "race baiters" and other things.

Much of this (the specific language) applies more to dkos than to here, I think, but the general attitude is pervasive across the circle of sites.

Whether it is done subtly, blatantly or even unintentionally, the effects are the same... people with "issues" move on and what one is left with is the "comfortable"... usually (but not only) white, upper income and male.

This makes sense when you consider that part of the strategy for gaining political influence (and building a business as well as a progressive movement of sorts) is not only raising money for politicians but also breaking the stereotype for political activists (thus the emphasis, I believe, on education, age and income of the majority of readers of these sites).

I think that this strategy (intentional or no) is very short sighted... especially if things such as the blogads surveys showcase this disparity this year, loud and clear. Hypocrisy is not politically effective.

Media Matters had some sort of alert a day or so ago about the lack of diversity on cable news channels, after a slight improvement during the Imus mess. All well and good but when you look at the intentional spaces progressives build for themselves, it is no different. TPM (cafe, etc), TAP, MyDD, Daily Kos, FDL, The Nation, Huff Post, - etc... all or primarily white. Huff Post has been trying to change this, I think, after being called on it, but jeebus... why, in this day and age, should people have to be called on such a thing?

I grew up in the shadow of the Civil Rights movement (which is probably why I still have a smidgen of the "bridge builder" I've spent most of my life being left in me, and why I am bothering on this site) but man... the complete lack of awareness of the mutual benefits (not just a help up or a hand out or a magnanimous gesture) of having diverse voices on the existing topics - no special rights required! - is just appalling.

by Nanette K 2007-05-08 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: I think this is one of the more important poin

Just FYI, The reason the age and income stats are often brought up is to educate people so that advertisers stop treat blogs - all blogs, not just the big ones - like lepers.  I'm talking about issue groups aligned with the left and about corporations who pay a lot more in other places to get the same kind of eyeballs on their ads.

If we can get more advertising money in, more people can be supported in what they do and stick with it.  That benefits everyone.  Expect to see more focus on this in the coming months.

by Pachacutec 2007-05-08 11:06AM | 0 recs
Re: excellent post, spot on

The thing is, there are as many answers to that question as there are bloggers.

But we are seeing some more clear differentiation among activist sites, like MyDD and FDL, and other blogs, along a continuum, which are more about blogging per se, by which I mean, publishing content or opinion.

This difference was pretty obvious when progressives of all stripes were dseimpowerd over the last six years tracking the emergence of the netroots, but now that we can begin to play a simultaneous, hopefuly well guided inside/outside game with some allies in congress, the differnce becomes a little more pronounced.

I think all that differentiation and diversity is fine, by the way.  There's a continnum.  For example, Atrios is more media oriented, as he describes on his site today, but he also raises money for candidates, and he has moved incrementally more toward the activist side with time.  Ditto Crooks and Liars, a flagship in our Blue America coalition.  Then you have places like TAPPED, which by law and organization cannot endorse candidates or raise funds, but which provide news response.  And there's a bajillion people just doing commentary, and some of them only want to to commentary, which is fine.

by Pachacutec 2007-05-08 06:48AM | 0 recs

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