Getting Vaster: My Weekend at the New Organizing Institute Blogger's Summit
by fbihop, Mon Mar 17, 2008 at 09:16:46 PM EDT
or, Sowing the Seeds of the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Dozens of progressive bloggers descended upon Washington DC for a Blogger's Summit this weekend. From the reddest of red states to the bluest of blue, from huge state blogs to smaller state blogs, from bloggers on black issues to bloggers on Latino issues, it was truly a diverse group of bloggers. Oh, and at times, it seemed as if half the people at the bloggers hailed from California, Colorado and Michigan.
Bloggers arrived throughout Thursday night and Friday afternoon and made tghgeir way from the different area airports and Union Station to the Hilton Garden Inn. There, Lola Elfman, Judith Freeman, Laura Packard and Nirmal Mankani from the New Organizing Institute and Wendy Norris from the Center for Independent Media greeted weary blogger travelers from around the nation. When someone you've never met from a city you've never been in greets you by your name, it is a bit creepy until you figure out how she did it^.
After a few minutes of awkward blogger mingling (at least in my case), we headed downstairs into the brightly lit bowels of the hotel for some introductions and - more importantly - dinner.
At the dinner in the hotel, I sat next to Dean Barker from Blue Hampshire and Beratunde Thurston from Jack & Jill Politics and Laughing Liberally. Not exactly my normal neighbors while sitting down for a meal back in New Mexico. Especially when the dinner is finished off by some deliciously sweet and fattening cheesecake for dessert.
From there, we headed next door to another small conference room to introduce ourselves more formally and let it be known which topics we would be most interested in adding to the session schedule. We started out by standing up and saying, "I'm __ and I blog at ___ and I'm a blogging addict." OK, maybe not, but even if we had, we were among fellow blogger addicts.
We voted on what topics to add to the session schedule, and I jokingly asked whether it would be via primary or a caucus system. This immediately set off a flurry of progressive poli-blog nerdy jokes from around the room.
After the votes were counted (Florida demanded a revote), we went on to learn more about our fellow bloggers, speed-dating style. Bloggers had two minutes to talk to a fellow blogger across the table before moving on to the next. Yelling over the cacophony of voices, we learned more about each other. All went smoothly, except one blogger who shall not be named^^ somehow messed up the rotation. I have to admit, while I thought it was corny beforehand, afterwards I thought it was a really great idea to get to know at least some of my fellow bloggers.
The fun didn't end there, however. Thanks to the wonderful semi-stalkerish quality of Facebook, Lola was able to find out it was the birthday of Jerid from Buckeye State Blog. After a surprisingly not off-key rendition of Happy Birthday, many of the bloggers, myself included, consumed even more sugar in the form of birthday cake.
All I'll say about our time at the hotel bar is that beers were $6.60 each. And they say gas prices are skyrocketing.
We woke up at an atypically early time for a weekend (8:00 am) for breakfast. After an epic walk to CAP headquarters (walk out the front door of the hotel, turn left at the corner, go up elevator in the first building), we were treated to coffee, orange juice and bagels for breakfast. For us Mountain Time Zone denizens, it was extremely early. For the large Cali contingent, it must have been nearly unbearably early.
After breakfast, the first session was near and dear to all our hearts -- Building a State/Issue Blog. You can read the notes from the session here and here from Beratunde and Kenneth Quinnell from the Florida Progressive Coalition. Also, I'm sure any of those who attended would be more than glad to tell you what they thought of any of the sessions.
Other sessions I attended included Building Coalitions and Moving an Agenda, with Adam Green from MoveOn.org and Matt Stoller from Open Left where we learned about how to use a coalition of lefties to push an issue near and dear to our hearts. Blogs alone cannot do everything, just as activist groups alone can no longer have the optimal effect. Instead, you need a coalition of all sorts of groups to most effectively push an agenda. Again, notes from Quinnell.
I attended the Blogging as a Business session which was very informative and led by Julie Fanselow of Red State Rebels. There are dozens and dozens of effective state bloggers out there with dozens and dozens of great ideas. And there even are a few ways to squeeze a few dollars out of this whole blogging thing -- though very few will make enough to live off their blogging.
- Blog for a campaign.
- Work for a progressive group or non-profit as a blogger.
- Have high enough traffic to bring in ad revenue. (HA!)
- Sell audience access (e-mail lists/readers/etc.) to groups
After that session, I am now set to make millions of dollars.
The next session I attended was Citizen Journalism with the folks from the Center for Independent Media moderating. It was refreshing to hear how citizen journalism works from the perspective of journalists working online. The fact that they are opening an office here in New Mexico is very tantalizing.
I stayed upstairs from the main room to talk about Tech Tools with Jason Rosenbaum and Nirmal Mankani. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of the different blogging platforms (most of us use and love Soapblox). We also learned of some great online resources like Legistorm and CoverItLive.com (I'd heard of the first but not the latter).
After a short break, we all gathered in the main room again for a session about holding the media accountable for everyone's favorite internet media watchdogs, Media Matters. We learned a little more about what they do, how they do it and how we can apply it to our local mediascape. We should look for the thoughts that are "inaccurate, unreliable, or not credible" not just conservative thoughts in the media.
One could argue they are one and the same, but that person would just be cynical.
That night ended with a dinner and party at an Irish bar in Dupont Circle. On the Saturday before St. Patrick's day. It was loads of fun mingling with bloggers and other DCites at the "Kiss Me, I'm a Blogger" party^^^.
With some attendees nursing hangovers from the previous night (I won't name names... but I may have been one of them), some of us sadly had to check out of the hotel before going to CAP for our final sessions.
Joel Silberman gave us a great, great introduction to media training. He let us know if any of us are lucky enough to be on TV how to look, what sort of body language to use, how to talk, where to look, etc. The biggest piece of advice? Be authentic. People will notice.
I continued my media training with Cliff Schecter who gave us a few more techniques about how to talk on the media. Be polite at the start, be knowledgeable and don't let them go on the offensive the entire time. We watched three examples of progressives doing this in the media.
The first was fellow summit-goer Mike Rogers eviscerating Sean Hannity on TV. The other two were, Cliff Schecter showing the GOP is the real party of corruption and Sam Seder embarrassing the War on Christmas warriors.
The rest third day was more filled with policy thoughts that you, dear Kossacks, probably know a lot about, and I won't lecture you about. But one last thing was very, very informative: an appearance by netroots darling Darcy Burner.
She spoke of a major Iraq Plan coming out from ten Democratic Congressional candidates. Here are the Cliff Notes (I'm sure you'll be hearing about this daily for a while now):
- No residual troops
- A "Diplomatic surge" (which I assume is a surge of diplomats)
- Humanitarian work for refugees
- Fixing structural problems in the US like:
- No more torture
- No more signing statements
- No more private combat contractors (mercenaries)
This was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The name of this post comes from something one of the bloggers said (I don't quite remember who, unfortunately) -- the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy is getting vaster with this summit. We made valuable contacts and all learned how to be a little more useful and effective to progressive causes and readers.
Kyle Michaelis from New Nebraska said in twenty years we might look back at this summit, this meeting and training of progressive state-wide and issue bloggers and see it as the start of a huge movement. I hope so.
For more, see the Blogger Summit Wiki at the NOI website.
^^ Brandon from The Super Spade
^^^ I did not see any bloggers being kissed and am considering suing for false advertising.