What's a Blog For?

Last weekend, I wrote about how the progressive youth movement - its organizations and its individual members - were disconnected from the progressive blogosphere.  I got some pushback in the comments and elsewhere about that, with criticism generally raising two questions:

  • Why do youth groups need to engage the blogosphere?

  • How could existing youth org blogs change to make most effective use of the medium?

There's no one answer to the first question.  Not all youth orgs need to engage the blogs, and for different youth orgs, it would make sense to engage different types of blogs for different reasons.  As Matt noted in the comments to my post last year, the blogosphere isn't any one thing, and lumping all blogs in together and saying that "youth orgs need to know what's going on" isn't all that helpful.  Reading the Daily Kos every day isn't going to make our youth organizations or their members any more effective than they already are.   There are many types of blogs written for a variety of purposes by a diverse range of people.  Some of these will be helpful for youth orgs, some won't.  

The Young Democrats, for example, have chapters all over the country.  Typically their work (canvassing and GOTVing young voters) is supportive of local candidacies, and often they work on local issues that can be aided by help from the broader progressive community in that area.  It would make sense for local chapters to have their own blog (and in fairness, many of them do) that covered YDA Chapter X's involvement in their local politics.  It would make sense for that blog to be in dialogue with local blogs about local issues.  There are partnerships to be formed there, local media narratives to change/establish, volunteers to be recruited, etc.  And it's a relationship that could go both ways, benefiting the local blogs, local progressives, and young progressives equally.  Such a relationship would also help de-"ghettoize" youth politics, which is frequently siloed away from the activities of the "adults." 

Another organization, The Roosevelt Institution, for instance, probably won't care so much about what YDA is doing or about local candidates.  But they're probably very interested in what policy bloggers are talking about.  Reading Ezra Klein, Max Sawicky, Brad DeLong, etc. would be instructional for a lot of RI's aspiring policy wonks.  In this case, the benefits are educational - reading the blogs and creating a forum for discussion on the organization's own blog serves to educate all members about the intricacies of various policy issues.  It will also probably increase their familiarity with the D.C. policy world.  

I'm not going to run through each type of organization and what might work best, but there are clearly benefits to be gained for youth organizations to selectively engage the blogosphere based on their goals.  The second question - how can existing blogs change to better serve their members and utilize the medium - is the more interesting one to me.

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The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the Blogosphere

On Tuesday I attended the Campus Progress National Student Conference.  One of the panels I attended was "Starting an Online Revolution." It was not a well-attended panel, perhaps because it was the end of the day, or perhaps because Millennials are so immersed in online media that most people felt their time was better spent elsewhere.  One thing that struck me, as I listened to the speakers and their student questioners, was that not a single person - panelist or student - mentioned the blogosphere.  

This wasn't entirely shocking.  According to the latest Blogads survey, 14-30 year olds make up just 16% of the blogosphere, and I've long noticed that most blogs run by youth organizations are disconnected both from each other and from the larger blogosphere.  Campus Progress and Young People For both operate their own internal blog communities, but the content on these blogs frequently runs days (sometimes weeks) behind the regular blogosphere chatter, and rarely responds to what the larger blogosphere is discussing or writes in any way that would indicate the users even read the major progressive blogs.  

In some respects, the lack of interest and effort is understandable.  More young people are politically engaged online through social networks than through blogs.  Students and other young organizers need to go where their peers gather, so much organizing takes place on those sites.  By working on and through social networks, youth organizers are building another branch of the netroots and bringing their fellow Millennials politics.  That is good, and nothing I'm writing here is meant to denigrate that or suggest that it is work that should not be done, or even made second horse to greater blogosphere participation.

On the other hand, the disadvantages are readily apparent.  Youth organizations are not adequately preparing their members for participation in the new political landscape.   There is a political literacy level that is not being met.  Local blogs are increasingly an important piece of progressive infrastructure, and if young organizers aren't reading the major blogs, I'm guessing they're even less likely to know about (let alone how to approach and partner with) local blogs that might be an information resource and outlet for their local activities.  These organizations are also losing the valuable echo chamber/media amplifier and (psychological, intellectual, monetary, volunteer) support network that blogs can provide.  

In short, the progressive youth movement is almost completely disconnected from the progressive blogosphere.  There is very little (it would be hyperbole to say "none") connective tissue between these two subsections of the netroots.

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Pledge to Fund the Progressive Movement

It's that time of year again.  All of the candidates are trying to get in that one last fundraising push before the end of the quarter so that they claim lots and lots of support.  While I'm not going to discourage anyone from donating to their favorite candidate(I encourage it!) I would ask you to also consider donating to progressive infrastructure.

This is a riff on what Chris Bowers always talked about, The One-Way Flow of Progressive Movement Money. To Summarize, we give all of our hard earned money to our democratic candidates who then give it to consultants who either treat us with disdain or as an ATM.  Meanwhile the flow from the party back to progressives is rare. (Notable exceptions are blogad purchases by most presidential campaigns and Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund)

Moved by the problem and the fact that the people in power would like to keep it that way,  I have made a pledge to myself to do what little i can with my meager dollars to be part of the solution.  This year I have made a pledge to match any money, at least dollar for dollar, I donate to a campaign or party organization(DNC, state party, DSCC, DCCC, etc..) to a progressive organization.

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Pushing Absentee Voting

Cross Posted: Reform Florida's DECs
One of the big lessons I've learned for the Senate District 3 special election (which occurs on Tuesday), is the need for the Democratic Party, particularly local DECs to push absentee voting as early as humanly possible.

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Take Back America Video And Quick Thoughts

To build on Jerome's post below, after spending the last two days at the Take Back America conference in D.C., I wanted to pop in with some quick thoughts. First, a complete video archive of the conference can be found here. Perhaps the highlight of the conference, at least for me, was at the gala awards dinner last night. In a rare public appearance, Digby accepted the Paul Wellstone award in our honor with her typical class and insight (embarrassingly, the underdressed guy in the yellow shirt is me):

Also, here is the blogger ethics activism panel I was on with Matt, Jane Hamsher, Oliver Willis, and Jim Dean:

As for a certain distortion about Hillary Clinton and boos currently being spread around the media, Common Sense, Taylor Marsh, Seeing the Forest and, of course,Digby, have the real story.

I have two quick thoughts on the conference:
  • First, as one more in a growing number of regular gatherings and discussions that bring together a wide variety of organizations and activists within the progressive movement, at Take Back America we continued to witness the rise of a better coordinated, multi-issue, effective left-wing political movement in America. Just five years ago, the connective tissues between our various advocacy organizations, media outlets, activists, consultants, and candidates / elected officials were either frayed seemingly beyond repair or simply non-existent. Now, virtually everyone seems to be talking with each other, if not coordinating and organizing together. The increasingly frequent occurrence of progressive political successes is directly related to this development.

  • The 2008 Democratic field is talking in a far more openly progressive manner than at any other point in at least two decades. For example, watching Obama and Edwards speak back to back, I was struck at how much more progressive their messages were than really anything we saw in 2003. In fact, virtually all of them seem to be openly identifying themselves as progressives now, which is another step in the right direction. This is also connected to the rising effectiveness of the progressive movement, and to a cultural shift in America that also seems decidedly progressive to me. Further, I think the netroots have usefully engaged in a carrot and stick approach with most candidates, first by giving them a lot of support in terms of money, buzz and volunteers and second by still holding their feet to the fire when they do something we don't like.
While there is still a long way to go, I think the country is definitely shifting to the left, and there is potential for much more. This is a good time to be a progressive.

Update: Obama wins the conference straw poll (PDF, second choice numbers in parenthesis).

Obama: 29 (30)
Edwards: 26 (28)
Clinton: 17 (16)
Richardson: 9 (11)
Gore: 8 (2)
Kucinich: 5 (6)
Dodd: 1 (2)
Biden: 1 (2)
Gravel: 1 (1)
Other / None: 3 (2)

With all the bloggers at the event, these results are fairly unsurprising. :)


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