So I said a little thank you in one of my weekly messages to all of the people who voted for me to receive a Democracy For America Scholarship to this year's Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas, but I haven't yet had a chance to go into more detail. I hadn't even really thought about going to a Netroots Nation conference until Jackie Judd and Clark from Show Me Progress suggested that I apply for the scholarship, but I am now an official member of the Converted. Next year's conference will be in Minneapolis, and I'm really hoping we can get a car pool of St. Louis activists up there to experience the awesomeness!
What makes Netroots Nation so great? I think it's a combination of wonderful progressive people in attendance, useful workshops, and amazing speakers. I couldn't possibly list all of the great people in attendance, but I'll share a little about some of the workshops and speakers I saw.
Thursday: On Thursday, I started out the day going to a workshop on Tea Parties and Right Wing Populism. The workshop did a great job of contextualizing the tea party movement and showing how it was part of a long history of right-wing activism that comes and goes in waves. After that, I attended a workshop on Transportation Policy for a New Economy with one of my personal blogging heros, Duncan Black of the blog Atrios. U.S. Secratary of Transportation Ray LaHood was also on the panel, so it was really exciting to get to hear optimistic thoughts on how to make our transportation system less of an environmental disaster, especially after St. Louis's massive victory for public transportation back in April. I had lunch with my fellow DFA scholarship winners and I got to meet several great people there. In the afternoon, I attended a workshop with Ari Melber of Media Matters as well as other excellent panelists discussing how to fight back against right-wing smear jobs like those we've seen from folks like Andrew Breitbart. Finally, I got to hear several exciting speakers during the evening session, including Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, MSNBC's Ed Schultz, and another blogging hero of mine, Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos.
Friday:You wanna hear about great speakers? Van Jones is absolutely amazing. He's brilliant, funny, and inspirational, and seemed to be able to shift effortlessly between the different styles. He was also a timely addition, considering that right-wing smears were on all of our minds after the Breitbart zombies' ridiculous attempts at labeling Shirley Sherrod as "racist," and that Van Jones himself was the victim of a successful right-wing smear attack a couple years ago. After that, I attended Muckraking 101: which taught some basic skills of digging up info on political campaigns, businesses, and non-profits. Moveon.org sponsored the lunch that day, which featured several great speakers about Civil Rights in the Modern Era, including Tim Wise who recently spoke in St. Louis. After that, I attended an excellent panel called Can Unconscious Bias Derail the Progressive Agenda? It may not sound that exciting, but it was very useful. The panel was all about something called implicit racism, which consists of unconscious racial biases people have even if they explicitly believe in egalitarianism. The right wing uses implicit racism in many of their campaigns, from the infamous Willie Horton Ad, to a more recent ad suggesting that Harold Ford wanted to steal all the white women in Tennessee, to the recent tea party/Fox News fetish with the insignificant New Black Panther Party. Implicit racism has been demonstrated time and time again in peer-reviewed academic journals, and it really is crucial to understanding how many modern discussions of race play out. I hope to have time to write about it in more detail in the future. I also had an opportunity to catch up with Sean from FiredUp Missouri on Friday, who is a fantastic guy in addition to being an absolutely essential voice in state politics.
Saturday: Saturday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was at the conference to take questions from the audience. I like Pelosi quite a bit, and think that the House has done a great job passing important legislation even as ego-maniacs and corporate-puppets in the Senate do their best to prevent meaningful reforms from happening. I had some work to do Saturday afternoon, so didn't make all of the events, but I heard something really cool happened when Senate Leader Harry Reid (not a favorite of progressives, but nevertheless someone we are glad to see leading tea party favorite Sharon Angle) was speaking. Lt. Dan Choi, a leading activist pushing for the ending of Don't Ask Don't Tell, gave Reid his West Point ring and discharge papers and asked him to hold on to them until Reid was successful in ending DADT. Reid was going to give the ring back, but the audience prodded him to accept it. Now, there's some controversy as to whether the event went as it was supposed to, but nevertheless it was a significant moment. The closing program had a number of excellent speakers, but two in particular stood out. The first was Linda Chavez-Thompson, the candidate running for Lt. Governor in Texas. She is a former labor organizer and was just a really fired-up, witty speaker. My favorite line from her, when she was speaking about Texas' $19 billion budget shortfall: she asked, "how many zeros are there in $19 billion?" Her answer: "10 when you count [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry." The other fantastic speaker was Senator Al Franken. I already posted his important comments on Net Neutrality , but really his whole speech was excellent and exactly what a group of progressive bloggers needed to hear. It was a fantastic way to end the official program of the conference, and I have to admit I didn't even attempt to attend the House of Blues after-party because I had to be up at 3 AM the next morning.
So anyway, it was really a fantastic event, and I think St. Louis would benefit greatly by bringing a large crowd to Minneapolis next year. We've got a lot of blogging talent here in St. Louis, and I think if that talent was more coordinated we could truly accomplish something huge.
Thanks!: So, at long last, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all of the people who helped me to be the third-place vote getter in the DFA scholarship competition (and hence automatically get the scholarship). Thanks to Clark and Jackie for encouraging me to apply. Thanks to all of the 389 people who voted for me. Thanks to folks like Brian Matthews and Luella Berg who posted the vote on their wall on facebook and encouraged people to vote. And thanks for people like Justin Chick who retweeted my ask for votes on Twitter.
It would have felt good to have been personally selected by DFA (and some friends assured me that I would be even if I wasn't a top vote-getter), but I think it felt extra nice knowing that I got the scholarship based on support from the excellent community of people we have in St. Louis. I hope we can continue to grow that community in the future and realize the full potential of our extremely talented locals.