Heading out to Minneapolis a not insignificant number of my progressive twitter pals started scoffing at the whole notion of the conference. They painted NN11 with the broad brush of Angry Professional Lefties determined to whine & moan about Obama and discuss potential primary opponents. I got just a smidge of some scolding from some of them for going.
Now, to be fair, I have, like them, largely left the Big Liberal Blog sites (yes, even Daily Kos) due to just what they were describing. For me though, the Daily Kos front page (or editorial writers..ie paid writers many of them) still occupy my RSS feed and I scan the posts every day and read maybe 3-5 per week, Not counting Cheers & Jeers of course which I almost think of separately from DK. That’s Bill who is my dear friend and I will always read his posts. But it’s also comedic political commentary sprinkled with fart jokes so who can resist? 🙂 Anyhow, given that Netroots Nation was born out of Yearly KOS, the Big Orange is certainly still the main influence. I’ve long since tired of the drama and angst that goes on in comment sections and side bar (community) diaries and abandoned them completely. Frankly, the only blog I read these days is The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen. So yes, I understood my friend’s categorizations of the conference.
However, those who talked quite a bit about the uselessness of the conference and chided me for attending have also never been to one. Their judgements were passed based on what they saw reported in the media year after year and..well….while they of all people should know better than to rely on the MEDIA as a true reflection of an event (ahem)..it really was all they had to go on. Again, I understand that.
But I am a veteran of every one of these gatherings and no matter what I leave each one trying to figure out a way to financially make it to the next one.
Well, of course the biggest reason is the people. I highlighted that on my other site. Blog friends who became real life friends who are now as close to me as family. But if it were just friends then I would simply go to attend the parties in the evening and never drop into a session or listen to a speaker. So, it is not JUST that.
The thing is – as someone is decidedly NOT angry at Obama and is 100% supportive of his re-election, it was plenty easy for me to be around like minded people and/or to avoid the Angry Left. Now, I know my earlier post on NN11 was about just the opposite. But I purposely went into that lions den of a session to see just what the worst of the angry left might say. As I already mentioned, they were pretty mellow as far as anti-Obama attacks. Sure, there was some drama with Lt Choi ripping up that flyer handed to him symbolizing his distaste for the Obama ’12 campaign, but..other than within any media covering the conference & what I saw on twitter that afternoon, it was pretty much a non-event within the conference itself.
The next morning was the highly charged Q&A session with WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and that cause much more of an in conference buzz (and Andrew Breitbart arrived that is). Discussion of the Q&A usually started off with praise for Kaili Joy Gray’s bulldog style of using sharp, short follow up questions (the kind we scream at the mainstream media for NEVER using), but then just about everyone conceded that she pushed that style too far and eventually her own body language (some eye rolls & heavy sighs in response to heavily spun non answers) got to be obviously disrespectful. I know at one point I clapped for Pfieffer because Gray was pushing for a yes or no answer that was simply not there to be given and he managed a decent enough response that I felt he needed SOME encouragement. Now, he was, yes, absolutely not ready for this and often not IN a position to make any news on a topic and on his own he certainly could have handled things better, BUT, the interviewer also bears some responsibility for how things go and she did NOTHING to help him out. Contrast that with last year’s Q&A between Joan McCarter & Senator Harry Reid when Reid turned a truly hostile crowd who so desperately wanted to boo him into a pretty big fans. He’s a pro at handling tough questions, and Joan knew when to ease up and smile and nod before moving on to the next topic. Was I in the minority in my overall take of the Q&A this year? Probably.
However, I went on from that to a full day of sessions that had nothing at all to do with Presidential politics and was much more focused on state & local government issues as I followed the parenting and education tract. Honestly it was almost a truly apolitical day. Sure there was quite a bit of demonizing of the current crop of governors attempting to weaken Teacher’s Unions (heck, ALL unions) and slash funding to public schools, but there was much more overall discussion on public school budgets across the country and how the formulas have changed so drastically over the years. We talked testing & achievement and per student spending & school board makeup. One session on bullying was completely void of political party identification and just a lesson on how projects like It Gets Better can spring up organically to help support minority youth. I came away from that day feeling energized and knowing that this year I really want to focus on learning more about groups like Moms Rising & the K-12 News Network and to hear more from Lily Eskelsen who has the passion and energy & communication skills of well, of a damn good teacher!
There was also the parties. Oh, the parties! The Pub Quiz is technically not a party of course, but it was THE highlight of the weekend for me and for everyone in the room that night from what I can tell. Now, I knew full well that there were many in that room who ARE part of the Angry Professional Left but that night it didn’t matter one hoot. All that mattered was that you could rattle off the names of all the living former Senators from Minnesota. Or write a limerick using a Minnesota sports figure as the topic (we chose Brett Favre, just about every other team went with Kirby Puckett…you may be able to figure out why..!) We laughed, we argued, we protested – oh did we PROTEST! You see there was a team from Wisconsin…specifically folks who had BEEN in Madison during the protests there…and they led the chants which will be engraved in my brain forever “Tell me what Democracy looks like…THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” By the end of the Quiz many were sore from laughing and voices were raw from chanting & screaming. The Daily Kos hosted party on Saturday night which is essentially the final Grand Hoorah of the weekend was also a complete blast. I’m pretty sure I was on the dance floor for 2-3 hours straight and at one point I was on stage dancing with Congresswoman Donna Edwards. I got a kick out of that 🙂
Like last year I also participated in the Netroots For the Troops project helping to put together boxes for our soldiers serving abroad. I’ll put up a separate picture post on that later, but naturally that is a total community effort that completely fills you with compassion even if you are adamantly against any of the wars/overseas operations.
I finished up my weekend by staying an extra day to participate in the Day of Service event which this year took place in a Bird & Flower Sanctuary. Um, can you say heaven to me? It was so damn unbelievable green there and we spent an hour exploring the trails, then we had a picnic lunch and then we donned gloves & spent another hour pulling out invasive weeds. It was quiet & peaceful and fulfilling and just the perfect end toNN11.
My overall point is – Netroots Nation is what you make of it. They offer SO MUCH that anyone within the progressive movement can find something & plenty of someone’s within your area of interest & focus. I am sure that the Angry Pro Left also had a great time and that they had plenty of like minded folks there and sessions that could feed into their angst. I know the media, those bastions of relaying as much drama and angst as they can possibly dig up were more than happy to cover that faction resulting again in most of my Doubting Thomas twitter friends to scoff away and claim “I told you so!” A couple of times I intentionally put myself in a place where those types of folks would BE out of curiosity and because I really did want to ask one of them just who they WOULD support (never got the chance other than a quick conversation with John Aravosis sitting on the sofa in the Daily Kos booth one evening by himself and he kind of stumbled a bit and then said he’d probably end up voting Obama begrudgingly) But other than that I was able to completely avoid them and certainly I didn’t let any of my encounters with them dampen my own opinions and enthusiasm. Mostly I came away more determined than ever to make sure, not only that Obama is re-elected, but also that we DO continue to recruit & support more and BETTER Democrats. That starts at the local level and hey now, coincidentally a friend of mine from the local football league board just stepped up to run our community Democratic Club & he immediately called me for help. I’m in!