Look at this email that just arrived in my inbox!! This is HUGE!
Well, I am spoiled now, aren’t I?
On Friday the 18th in Detroit, the Netroots Nation attendees added their voices to a planned protest against the water shut offs in Detroit. I joined in to what was my first ever march or protest. I didn’t carry a sign because I wanted to take pictures, but I did chant “Fight! Fight! Fight! Water is a Human Right!” Here’s some of my pictures:
The best part is that the protest made a difference. Because so many of us went out there, the march got much more widespread media coverage and the water official who had previously refused to meet with the leaders of the movement promised a meeting the following Monday. And then they put a 15 day hold on water shut offs! Apparently they conceded that the programs available to low income households were not well known so they stopped the process to allow the folks in danger of losing their water to make payment arrangements. Basically they were shutting off water without properly offering up any other options. In the meantime a really cool thing happened on twitter when two folks wondered if they could find a way to connect generous donors with needy households – yes, they could (more protest information & photos at that link)! Click here to help out!
I get that services need to be paid. But, I also believe that water is perhaps more basic than anything to people and one would hope that a balance between need and sustainability can be found. It’s pretty disgraceful when the UN declares a humanitarian crisis in one of the largest cities in the wealthiest country in the world.
Friday dawned with a schedule that promised to be more about socializing than sessions. I’ll write a separate post just on the parties and Pub Quiz 🙂
Session 1 – Parenting Caucus hosted by MomsRising
When I go to Netroots (originally Yearly Kos), I always attend the Parenting Caucus. Run by Elisa Batista who is a founder of the Mother Talkers blog which I joined when it first launched, the parenting group is a small but active group of progressive minded parents. No, it’s not just moms – in fact once year Elisa insisted that her husband participate too (Markos of Daily Kos) along with a bunch of other dads. We’ve had a few “off campus” gatherings but recently it’s been a regular session, and she’s been inviting some great speakers to join in. Now she works for Moms Rising so this was technically their event, but it was still relaxed and fun. Elisa always hands out some great swag such as a sweet MomsRising supermom t-shirt! Oh, plus they fed us what was probably the healthiest food I had the whole weekend! A fabulous array of fresh fruits and vegetables and Naked Juice to drink. I always go in saying I am just going to be there to listen and support Elisa (and eat of course!) and then I always end up joining the conversation no matter what 🙂 We do tend to focus heavily on education of course, but also on issues like women’s access to health care – which allows us to control how many kids (if any!) we have – and also family and sick leave time for working parents. It really does boggle my mind that in a country supposedly as “wealthy” as we are that we have the *least* amount of paid family leave. Whether it’s to be home when a new baby is born or adopted, or to care for an elderly parent, working people struggle trying to balance those needs and remain financially stable in the U.S.
Session 2 – Why Screenwriters Make the Best Organizers: Using Storytelling to Build Empathy
I targeted this session because I thought it would help me with my developing writing skills and I must say I took some awesome notes!
The speaker was Kate Stayman-London – here is snippet from her NN13 bio:
You may know her writing from that one video with the cast of The West Wing, that other video with Cher and Kathy Griffin, or all those emails you get from Change.org (among other organizations). Kate worked for many organizations in the progressive movement (AFL-CIO, CREDO, etc.) before heading to Hollywood to get her MFA in screenwriting from USC.
Kate opened up by making us cry. Lovely! But really, when you watch that 6 minute silent montage at the beginning of Pixar’s UP, you probably start sobbing like a small child too. Why? Because great storytellers know how to build up empathy between characters and an audience. Here is the one sentence Kate told us all to write down to sum up that premise:
“Somebody wants something badly and is having difficulty getting it.”
The idea is to create a character people can relate to who is trying to achieve a goal or solve a problem. There are stakes involved of course. Either the high of reaching the goal or the drama and foreboding of what could happen if they fail. In that opener for UP, the initial sense you are left with is failure. The characters who you want to achieve their dreams are thwarted. First, it is the loss of their dream of having a child, then it is their inability to go on the dream adventure trip (which replaces the dreams of a baby) before Ellie dies. (dear gawd how I both HATE that movie for pulling on my heartstrings so much and also ADMIRE it for what it accomplished)
After she ripped us apart with that video, she went on to show how storytelling like that can translate into activism. When you are trying to motivate people to organize and support a cause, you definitely want to tell real life stories that pull people in like a movie, but the difference is you want to end the video with a sense of hope – your target audience needs to believe that they can change the ending. That their efforts will pay off to make life better for themselves and/or the people in the tale.
And that makes total sense doesn’t it? Given that the way you grab the attention of people right now is through images and, particularly, video, you can see how this screenwriter’s strategy would work. Six minutes is all it could take to move you deeply enough to say “I’ve got to DO something about this!”
Huh – look at that – 3 weeks removed from that session and just glancing at my notes brought all those thoughts/feelings/ideas back to me. Well done Kate!
More to come….including a picture of me with…a hip hop artist? Yep. Seriously.
The first thing that happened when I got to the convention center was a delightful encounter with a young man named Henry Burner.
Here is his site: http://henryburner.com/
Here is the result of that encounter: http://treesflowersbirds.com/2013/06/30/video-interview-from-san-jose/
I arrived in San Jose early enough to kidnap my friend for an off campus lunch outing to In n Out so that he could have his first taste of a Double Double. That, of course, is one of the highlights of my weekend since any one on one talking time I can get with Stormy is rare, but so much more satisfying than our usual 140 character twitter conversations or texts and emails. (OK, we don’t text in 140 or email like that, but you know what I mean!)
Anyway…that all meant that my first sessions were not until the afternoon, and I was able to attend two. As usual, I picked my targeted panels a few days earlier basically based on a combination of either topic, panelists or both.
The first one was right up my alley in terms of topic + panelists, and I chose it since I knew the one it conflicted with was being recorded for later (Mansplaining panel which I will watch right after I hit post on this!)
“Getting Paid to Blog” was the title and with Chris Savage, Digby & Katherine Haenschen on the panel, I couldn’t miss it.
First off – links to their blogs:
Chris Savage – http://www.eclectablog.com/
Digby – http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/
Katherine – http://www.burntorangereport.com/ – this one is particularly prescient right now given the recent activity in the Texas state senate and the monumental filibuster by Wendy Davis.
As someone who has been learning about online marketing for the last two years, it was really interesting to hear them pretty much outline the same strategies to make money online as any non-political business would need to enact. They didn’t necessarily focus on SEO, but they did talk about the importance of excellent content, content worth reading and sharing, and using guest blogging as primary tactics. All of that has to be used to create an audience (website visits) large enough over a sustained period of time, to attract the attention of the blog ad networks. With a politically focused site, they discussed the opportunities for using pop up paid petitions, sponsored content widgets, holding fundraising events, and approaching campaigns early for advertising opportunities.
*As a side note, while my blogs have never meant to be sources of income, I did like the idea of using sponsored or affiliate link widgets on the side as long as they are product or companies that I can personally support. That was a particularly well timed note for me to take – see session #2!*
“Getting Real on Climate” – with my long time twitter friend RL Miller (Climatehawk) & Darcy Burner (mom to Henry). Those two were my reason for attending 🙂
Links to the sites relevant to this panel:
Darcy’s up and coming business: http://terraheating.com/
A company I wish was in CA – but that will be on my blog soon: https://ethicalelectric.com/
It’s easy to assume when you go to a climate change session that you will hear all sorts of depressing statistics on how we human beings are killing the planet. Well, we are, but thankfully, these panelists knew that we didn’t need to be convinced. We were, as it is, the choir, and we didn’t need preaching! What we wanted, and what they provided, were answers.
First of all, there are the two companies listed above. Different approaches to how energy is provided that will move the country away from fossil fuels and will only invest in other companies that support the same. The continuing explosion in solar electricity has shown that consumers are completely willing to switch to alternative methods of utility deliverance – PARTICULARLY if it saves them money! As always, hit them in their wallets, right? As someone whose next big home project is to figure out the best way to switch to solar, I get it. An electric car (hey, a Tesla perhaps?!!) would make me giddy. Of course, I need to gather up some money up front in order to save that money over the long haul, but I would happily do it. Since I am getting closer to that being a reality for me, I am going to be exploring every option I can. This session opened my eyes to more possibilites. Including the fact that Ethical Electric has an affiliate sale offer for people willing to list them on their websites. Yes, a widget will be coming to my blog very soon (See? Tie in to panel #1!)
Also, if the climate is important to you, then please do follow @ClimateHawkVote on twitter and sign up with your email for updates on ways you can help elect politicians who are true climate hawks.
So that was Day 1 – I’ll be back later with more panel write ups and tales of parties and TWiB!
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!
I went into this panel with equal parts disgust and eager anticipation. My friend’s had dubbed this the “Poutrage Caucus” since it featured mightily vocal, supposedly left leaning Obama critics Jane Hamsher, John Aravosis & Lt Dan Choi. Rounding out the panel were Felipe Matos someone who I had learned was also quite angry at Obama during a morning session and Joan McCarter, front page editor for Daily Kos and the only reasonable voice on the panel. She was acting as the moderator and I am convinced that her sane, logical presence influenced the rest of the panel to tone things down. The title was “What to do if Obama is just not that into you.”
I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of each panelist and why they are angry. If you are reading this, you probably already have some outside knowledge of them. My focus is going to be on Lt Dan Choi. He befuddles me so! Up until a few months ago I cheered his every move. He came out as gay on air, and in uniform on Rachel Maddow’s show and of course discharge proceedings began that week. DADT was still the law of the land and was being actively enforced. He, along with a few recently discharged military personnel became the face of the movement to repeal the discriminatory law. Candidate and President Obama had promised to see through repeal of it. Again, you probably all know the story of how that unfolded. It was slow, painful, and messy and required the support of more than a few Republicans in the Senate to get it done and an aggressive lame duck session after mid-term elections, BUT, it was signed. The military was given 6 months to put the proper process in place to stop discharges. Technically though, discharges can still happen. It takes more effort. More senior officers have to approve it and they have slowed it down tremendously. When a soldier was discharged recently under the law it was under-reported, but still a FACT, that said soldier outed himself and REQUESTED discharge under DADT. Think Corporal Klinger wearing a dress on M*A*S*H J Like I said though – under-reported and never emphasized. Lt Choi chose to send out a tweet to an article about the dismissal with the spin “OBAMA still discharging soldiers!!” This is a new tactic of his that is souring me to his activism. He has made it personal. It’s “OBAMA is prosecuting me for illegal demonstration!” (When he chained himself to the White House fence last summer). Or “Hillary Clinton is refusing to help!” (When he chose to go to Moscow to illegally march in a gay pride parade knowing full well he and his Russian activist friends would be arrested.) It’s one thing to demonstrate and even get arrested to draw attention to a cause, but it is quite another to somewhat hysterically call out political officials who don’t stop everything they are doing to help out.
Then there are my personal encounters with Dan. I met him last year in Las Vegas at NN10. It was a quiet moment on the first morning and we both were walking down to get our credentials for the weekend. He was in shorts and a t-shirt (from a gay bar in Vegas no less!) and was on the phone. I had stopped to wait for someone and charge my own phone. I didn’t even realize who I sat next to on the hallway sofa until I heard him speaking. When he got off the phone he looked at me wide eyed and said “Well, that’s interesting. The Army sent my formal discharge papers this week. To my parents. I’m officially a civilian now.” He seemed truly shell shocked & really irritated that the letter was sent to his parent’s house. We chatted for a second, I introduced myself showing him my badge with my name on it and he said “Hey, I know you from twitter, right?” Knock me over with a feather!! Anyhow, given the news he had just received and the kind of inappropriate attire he was wearing, we agreed to meet up another time that weekend so he could take a photo with me. He was warm and gracious. Of course, later that weekend we had the famously symbolic event when he rose to salute Senator Harry Reid during a question and answer session and then turned over his West Point ring to the Senator stating that he didn’t need it anymore since the Army didn’t consider him fit to serve. Reid agreed to hold the ring and to hold to his own personal promise to Lt Choi to see through the repeal of DADT. Which he did. Part of the publicity after it was signed was Lt Choi returning to DC to receive the ring back. I went to NN11 with the intention of getting that photo with Dan and specifically to have it with his ring back on his finger. I did get that picture and a couple more as well which reinforced my one on one, I like him personally opinion.
BUT….(there’s always a but eh?) Something odd happened at the end of the panel. Their speeches had all been pretty tame considering how shrill they have all been in hurling insults & anger at Obama in recent months. They even largely gave in to the fact that yes, you should vote, and yes, you probably need to re-elect him. Their main point seemed to be though, that Obama needs to work to regain their full financial and activist support. They wont donate, they wont knock on doors or get out the vote in 2012. OK…. So the floor is opened to questions and the first thing that happens is a young kid (maybe 20?) jumps up and approaches the stage. You knew something was up right there since everyone just asks their questions from their seats typically. He runs up stating that he is “from OFA” (Obama for America, the 2012 reelection campaign). At this point most of don’t believe that for a second. Then he says he has flyers to give to Choi & Aravosis and as he gets up there and they take the literature he mumbles something about believing that “you don’t NEED marriage rights because civil unions are OK and…..” Choi then stood up and said “What did you say? You don’t believe in MY equality?!” quite loudly of course and then he dramatically ripped up the flyers. The kid then turned around and walked back towards his seat grinning the whole time and then fist bumped with his seat mate when he returned.
It was SO WEIRD! He was clearly a plant of some kind, but WHY? Just to make Dan react? Well, that worked, but again…the point? Make Dan look bad, or good? Make him look volatile or passionate? I just don’t know. When I spoke with Dan after I did ask. He seemed sincere in saying it was weird to him too and a few who were up closer to the panel said they all looked pretty shocked at the whole thing. If he was in on it, then sure, it was yet another publicity stunt that I know he does pull. If he wasn’t, then what was the kid’s point?
Thanks to Stormy, I finally get it now. Dan staged this so that he could make the loud, visual point that the OFA – as stand in for Obama – does NOT support full marriage equality and therefore does NOT get his support. The kid was doing something Dan asked him to do. Yet another NN planned stunt, but this one not nearly as effective as last year’s ring exchange. SIGH.
When I stopped Dan to talk to him and get my picture, I told him that he needed to understand why many of us are not as personally angry as him and might cringe a bit at what he does. I equated it with long distance racing – some are sprinters like him and some of us pace ourselves. Often, it is the slow and steady tactic that wins. However, we need sprinters like him to pull us along and keep us moving – just be careful not to burn out. It’s teamwork and he should be mindful of alienating the distance runners from his sprint team. He responded positively and agreed with me at that moment, but then I heard he went on The Last Word and got pretty damn personal with Obama again. Sigh…….conflicted. I remain..conflicted. Personally he scored some points with me. Publicly he burned bridges.
I’ve clearly developed a habit of attending every online group gathering without fail despite sometimes stressful timing in relation to work and financial ups and downs. I have been to every August mom gathering and, so far, to all five Netroots Nations. Of course, the difference with Netroots Nation is that it is not JUST a social gathering 🙂 There are actual speakers and panels filled with ridiculously smart people all with the common goal of furthering the Progressive political movement.
In other words – between all the parties & laughter we do actually try to accomplish something!
From my perspective this year the panels were the most consistently awesome. Every other year there was at least one panel that either the topic ended up not being what I thought, or the speakers not quite as dynamic and compelling as I needed to keep me awake. But this year they were all fabulous. The topics I attended included:
Why Primaries Matter
From Copenhagen to Cancun – Climate Change policies worldwide
Progressive women in politics
After Citizens United
Speakers at the keynote sessions included Van Jones (awesome), Majora Carter (also awesome), Lizz Winstead (hysterical), Gov. Brian Schweitzer (inspirational), Ed Schultz (ick – too shouty), and my favorite, Al Franken who mixes humor and policy together so well. He also got to announce that next year NN11 will be in his home state of Minnesota. There were also two fantastic Q & A sessions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid. With Harry Reid, there was the emotional moment of the weekend when Lt Dan Choi (recently discharged due to DADT) gave his West Point ring as a reminder to Senator Reid of the promise made to repeal DADT. At one point Lt Choi stood up and silently saluted the senator and if there was a a dry eye in the house at the moment, then that person was made of stone!
The highlight of my weekend though was helping the Netroots for the Troops group pack and ship the care packages out this year. 300 boxes were packed on Saturday and promptly at 4:30 the USPS truck arrived to haul them off. In the boxes were: two pairs of gloves, razors, decks of cards, baby wipes, goggles & sand scarves, toiletries, assorted candies & trail mix snacks, dvds, coffee and other stuff I am probably forgetting! I missed a couple of great sessions to do this, but it was oh so worth it!