Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.7)

Final session of Netroots (for me with my flight home this afternoon, everyone else looks to be getting down with the official part-ay tonight by DailyKos), and its about a core issue, immigration reform. It’s great that we have a session about this topic, which is so important to the South Asian community, but I’m a little bummed to see that, while it has a pretty good turnout, its not bursting at the seams. This is the only session I could find that dealt explicitly with immigration reform (there have definitely been others that touched upon it) and I had really hoped that more of the Nation would come out about this.

Anyways, the panel has representatives from Breakthrough, America’s Voice, FIRM and SEIU. Thus far, its been mostly context-setting and talking about what each organization is doing in the area. Nicola from fIRM shared that what got their organization into online organizing was actually storytelling. After the New Bedford raids, they needed a way to get the stories out to people since the media wasn’t paying any attention. Now they’re working to build social networking tools that are more responsive and are able to “go offline.” Joaquin from SEIU showed advocacy efforts SEIU has undertaken to highlight the plight of DREAM Act students facing deportation.

Since this is my final post from Netroots, I’ll bring together some of my observations and thoughts from the weekend. Being here at Netroots and seeing the groundswell of support and resources that exist in the progressive movement is definitely an amazing thing. It can feel, sometimes, that we’re the little guy and we’re outgunned and out-resourced by “the other side” which obviously shifts debate to debate and issue to issue. Its not that Netroots has shown me that we’re drowning in easy, accessible resources. Instead, it showed me how progressives have and continue to fight against entrenched elites using whatever’s available and changing the rules of the game. Its that spirit of “never say die” that I will take back with me. A lot of the people here aren’t necessarily involved and active in the same issues, there is definitely interest and will to work together to make things happen in each others’ areas. Ultimately, we have to use whatever tools are out there to make things like immigration or healthcare reform, strengthening civil rights, fighting racial profiling happen. People all over America are suffering right now and it’s up to us to bring these issues up and bring about progress.

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.6)

Hey y’all, after a great session with Valerie Jarrett (you can check out all the action at Netroots here), I’m at “Articulating a Theory of Change.” In this session (with New Organizing Institute and Progressive Change Campaign Committee), we’ve been talking about how articulating a theory of change plays a role in online organizing. Most people’s exposure to online organizing is getting emails that say, “do this now.” Well, how does articulating a theory of change that is compelling and accessible help make that ask more effective? Something I am always fascinated by, especially in the context of the work that SAALT does, is to find unifying theories-of-change that go beyond “do this to let so-and-so know that people care about whatever issue” to really show how doing these actions come together to create a better society and world. Because the ask changes, but the theory of change, in a macro sense, should stay the same. We come together around certain values and online organizing is all about bringing people together to take actions towards a world that is closer to those values.

Economic townhall with Corzine next, then the immigration reform session, more to come!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.3)

Third session of the day and it’s Who’s Being Left Out of Online Organizing. This panel was all about who’s not part of all these shiny, awesome online spaces we’ve been talking about all day at Netroots. The panel’s actually still going on, but I thought I’d put out some quick observations:

-What does it mean to be left out? Left out of what? If its “the discourse” or “democracy”, then the online organizing is simply a tactic. If its only about online political spaces, maybe we’re missing the point.

-We need to meet people where they are. It’s not just a matter of whether certain populations prefer MySpace or Facebook, its whether SMS or text messages are what people actually use. We’ve seen innovative ways that certain progressive campaigns have sought to integrate things like cell phones which is used in really interesting, subtly different ways by communities of color and women.

-Someone shared an anecdote that during the past election, a certain candidate’s campaign successfully used online organizing tools only when they were targeted towards offline actions (donating money, calling someone, etc). Can we have a conversation about online advocacy that isn’t missing the essential whole of what participation and organizing means.

-Cost and access came up over and over during the panel, whether its along racial, gender, geographic or age lines. Ultimately, if we want to break open the doors of the internet to those missing from the circles of power and agency, maybe philanthropic advocacy needs to be on our radar so that work gets funded.

Pres. Bill Clinton keynoting tonight!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.2)

Second session of the day: Blogging the Economic Battles. It was a great session with panelists from OurFuture.org. The panelists broadly dealt with three issues: the current healthcare debate, the bogeyman of deficits and negative trigger words. There were a couple of really interesting observations that I took from the panel.

1. one of the msot negative aspects of the current polarized nature of the debate is that it shifts perceptions such that the centrist or just-left-of-center positions get cast as the far-left when the rhetoric of the far-right is so “wingnut”-y as some panelists and audience members noted.

2. as progressives, we have to reframe the debate from its currently defensive position. In reference to the bogeyman of budget deficits, one of the panelists, Digby, noted that when asked how deficits personally affect them, most people have no answer. Now ask them how healthcare affects them, they have a ready answer. We need to remind people that government does great things for them. Don’t believe it? Get off the interstate! We need to stop just fighting this notion that things like deficits are poison, we need to start from a place where people have to acknowledge that the government does certain things really well and we shouldn’t have to act like that isn’t a patent truth. Getting government out of one’s Medicaid would be hard, wouldn’t it?

3. Not reframing the debate and getting out of our defensive position keeps us back as a country from truly speaking and fighting for every person, especially those who are most disempowered by the current system’s inequities. We can’t figure out how to address Rust Belt workers in Pennsylvania when we’re trapped in a black-and-white paradigm where “trade” is good no matter what and “protectionism” is bad no matter what it actually refers to.

4. The ability to balance the debate is in our hands. The stories of how, say, the healthcare system is failing people is in our backyards. If we want to counter over-heated rhetoric that loses sight of the actual stakes, show them the real stories you know. I found a great example of exactly this in a story from the Christian Science Monitor from a professor in the town where I went to college (from the rival school, no less). Now its a mainstream media outlet, but technological advances have made it possible for us to get our voices out there in ways I couldn’t have imagined years ago, no one’s going to do it but us!

Anyways, just some thoughts, but I took away a real mandate to take up our own roles to counter the negativity we find in the discourse. Stay tuned for more sessions!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.1)

So I am at the Netroots Nation conference in gorgeous Pittsburgh (where its an incredibly pleasant 81 degrees which is a nice change from the swamp that DC has been for the last few days) . The conference brings together progressive activists and advocates, many of whom are particularly technologically-oriented. I thought since the conference is all about blogging and SAALT has a blog, what a natural fit!

After a short flight and a very long bus ride into the city, I barely made the Asian Pacific American Caucus session. There were about 10 people in the session and we spent most of the time identifying how we could work in issues like healthcare and Census 2010 in the Asian Pacific American community. I heard a lot of great ideas, from bringing Asian American causes to mainstream online spaces to critically analyzing how to use technology to reach audiences like school kids to get to non-technologically connected older Asians.

While it was great to be able to share the space with fellow Asian American activists and bloggers, I sometimes wonder whether these separate conversations sometimes hold us back from casting these actually mainstream, important issues as broadly as they could be. Anyways, I’ll keep posting as much as possible from beautiful Pittsburgh!