The rise of the progressive blogosphere in Massachusetts has had a number of impacts. Perhaps the best impact is in building a larger community of people who care. Through the internet, people are able to organize new communities and share resources with other communities. People who prefer to work via email and postings can get involved without having to knock on doors or make phone calls. And that's okay; some people just aren't comfortable with certain ways putting themselves out there. Others, who are willing, are able to capitalize on the diversity of mediums available to get their message out.
A lot of people would probably say the best thing about the blogosphere was our ability to organize and influence the previous election - I have no doubts that without the presence of the netroots (which extends far beyond blogs), Deval Patrick probably wouldn't have been able to catch on and at least win with the dominance he displayed. The blogosphere certainly helped feed the word-of-mouth press Deval needed to get through the primary. We also contributed to what the mainstream media reported on (as evidenced by the fact that people at the Boston Globe tend to read my little site daily). Tens of thousands of people visit sites like Bluemassgroup every week - so of course the netroots have made an impact.
The question is - what do we do now? The influence of the netroots will undoubtedly expand as the years come through a natural movement, but we've already reached a point in which we need to start creating new methods of building ideas, organizing those ideas and getting those ideas out there. We need to fuse and expand on our abilities to create a noise machine and form new ideas, almost like a think tank. How do we go about doing that?
One of the best things about the netroots is that the people who comprise it are regular people, who are rarely part of the establishment. Interestingly, I've noticed that all of these "normal" people also happen to be exceptionally bright in their own fields - they have great ideas that aren't making it to Beacon Hill. I look at people like David at BMG, who's a lawyer and is now on one of Deval's transition committees. I look at people like RevDeb, of the Mass Netroots, who's a Unitarian Universalist minister who has done some great, largely behind the scenes, work on glbt and habeas corpus issues - working with both Senator Kerry and Kennedy's office.
We need to expand on all of these great people who consider themselves a part of the "netroots" and create an organization that can turn our individual expertise into universal progress. In doing that, I've come up with a few ideas. Here are my suggestions, all drawing from the best that the progressive netroots has to offer:
1. On fostering ideas:
On BMG, I recommended creating permanent, volunteer councils largely comprised of non-establishment experts to both serve as a sound board for Deval Patrick (so he can test ideas out with them) and as a way to create new ideas Deval could use. They could be similar to the transition teams, but be a radically new way of doing things after the transition is made. There could be any number of committees ranging from issues to geography, set up through an executive order. They wouldn't suffer from any of the obfuscation or scares of creating any ideas that may be considered "far out there," because these people aren't going to suffer from the wear and tear of the political machine. Councils on Education and Higher Education should include people at all levels, from students to teachers and professors; Councils on Health Care should include doctors, nurses and patients. Things that the establishment may never be able to think of just could come out of these committees.
One of my biggest complaints about any bureaucracy is that eventually people lose their fresh ideas and get too busy working on the day-to-day problems that they lose the ability to be an innovator. Creating councils of non-lobbyists, who are experts in their own way - from students who have gone through a flawed system and have ideas of making it better to local business leaders who know how to create jobs in Springfield - will bring an influx of new ideas to kick start new innovation. New people should be brought in every few years to make sure the councils don't become complacent themselves. These councils will be a way of taking the "tank" out of think tank - they're ideas from everyday people for everyday people.
2. Exporting our ideas to Massachusetts:
A. Let's create a podcast! I've been in talks with Mike at Massmarrier, Lynne at Left in Lowell and Susan at Beyond 495 about creating a Leftyblogs Podcast. I don't know if it'll be monthly, weekly or what, but I think the interest is there that we're going to commit to it. However, I don't want it to be just us. I want the podcast to include people from all regions of the state, representing all sorts of issues. There's a number of fantastic glbt and geographic blogs that I'd love to have join us. Heck, I'd like to see more than just bloggers be a part of the podcast - the netroots is a large operation.
Furthermore, the innovation shouldn't stop there. One day, I envision much more than podcasts for Massachusetts - I see videos, online satire and all sorts of mediums that the progressive netroots must look into. If anyone is interested in the podcast or has ideas of their own, let me know. Send me an email (which is available on my profile).
B. Join the Mass Netroots Project: Or an organization like it. Blogging isn't for everyone - and its power has limits. Blogging is a platform and isn't any more powerful than the people who provide the base of that platform - the people who read blogs and tell their friends about what they've learned. Like any foundation, a strong and organized base is the key. Luckily, the netroots are working on organization through such efforts as Moveon.org.
However, there's been little effort to organize around the state level - until now, that is. Groups like the Massachusetts Netroots Project are quickly becoming a key way to create change through localized organizing combined with netroots activity. I've talked about the Mass Netroots Project on my blog before, but they really do great things. The Netroots Project was started by blogs like www.firedoglake.com to bring the message, ideas and momentum of the lefty blogosphere into state house offices. Right now, there's a core group driving the Mass Netroots project to becoming one of the most powerful early efforts so far. They've already made powerful, behind-the-scenes efforts simply by organizing in small groups of people and knocking on Senator Kerry's door - helping the Senator contribute a lot of late money during the General Election season, which could have helped pick up a seat.
People power is replacing lobbyist power, by usurping big money with big effort. Yet, the Mass Netroots Project has a long way to go and a lot of potential. Currently, most of the members are working with Senator Kennedy and Kerry - and issues like habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights are their key issues. If there were more members, the Mass Netroots could be knocking on the doors of our entire state delegation. They could be making appointments with State Representatives and State Senators, solidifying the movement and making sure our elected officials know where their loyalties lay - with the people, not lobbyists. Through organization, they can become a force that will rival any powerful lobby in Boston and export our ideas through powerful, behind the scene methods.
C. Reach out to the mainstream media: For too long have they existed in their own little cocoon. Because of the mainstream media, "moderate positions" are often confused with the far right. Because of the mainstream, candidates for office like Phil Dunkelbarger and John Bonifaz barely ever saw the light of day. Until the mainstream media gets that hard news isn't optional, we need to keep our eyes on them.
However, that doesn't mean we should just go on a bash-the-Boston-Globe spree (though it's a favorite past-time of mine). Part of getting institutions to change is through working with them, not against them. We need to send them friendly reminders when they print horrendous stories; we need to find ways to get progressive blogger stories mainstream attention - just like the Right-Wing-Noise Machine has been so successful at doing. Part of this process will be to shift the media from thinking of bloggers as diarists at best and threats at worst and make them see that we can be an asset and that we're now a part of the media (even if it's a slightly different in many ways). Just because we aren't paid, doesn't mean we can be ignored (unless you consider the $35 dollars I've made on ads so far being "paid"). Just because Howie Carr and Sean Hannity are paid, it doesn't mean everything they say is news simply because they said it.
Blogs like BMG and Left in Lowell have got a little mainstream attention. However, for the large part, few others have. What does that mean for the progressive, netroots movement? Some great candidates, who don't have millions to spend, will have no chance. Important news events and issues - like Killer Coke and fraudulent signature collecting - are largely ignored. In essence, it means the people are screwed and terrible stories are covered in the place of good ones.
What it all means:
By creating new committees, with regular meetings, comprised of people who are directly involved in the process at all different levels - a new diversity of ideas will be created that could breath life into the system. These people can both help start ideas and foster them, until they're ready for either the public or Deval Patrick's team. They won't be paid; they won't be lobbyists; they'll just be doing this because they care. A lot of these types of organizations already exist; we, as progressives, should make sure Deval Patrick and the public hears their ideas.
However, no one will ever hear those ideas if the netroots doesn't amplify the message. Sometimes, the message is best heard through a few, committed volunteers - people like members of the Massachusetts Netroots Project. Citizen lobbyists can go tell our politicians what normal people think, instead of just HMOs, Unions and Big Business.
Yet, that's not enough. Sometimes a message is best heard through amping up the volume. That's where new forms of progressive media will come in - be it either the podcast project I'm trying to start or something completely new and better, such as a Mass Blogger Internet TV which could be a powerful competitor to the TV stations which tend to be biased. Furthermore, we need to work with the Mainstream Media and make sure issues that progressives care about are covered with proper diligence. Progressives make up a huge part of Massachusetts and we deserve coverage of issues that progressives care about in the daily newspapers. The combination of fostering new ideas and getting them out there into both the public and in the offices on Beacon Hill is a surefire way to make sure the outlook for America and Massachusetts is Progress.