Digby Speaks: The Netroots Revolution

Digby Speaks: The Netroots Revolution

The pseudonymous Southern California blogger accepts the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award on behalf of progressive bloggers everywhere–and invites the nation to join the party.


Editor’s Note: The pseudonymous blogger known as Digby has been passionately writing about politics on Hullabaloo since 2002. On June 19, when she accepted the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award on behalf of the progressive blogosphere at the Take Back America Conference in Washington, DC, Digby remained an enigma, choosing not to reveal her name as she delivered these remarks about the evolution of the netroots into a political force. Watch the video here.

Those of you who know my blog, know that it is nearly impossible draw me from my secure bunker in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. But when I was approached by my friend Rick Perlstein about accepting this award on behalf of the progressive blogosphere, I knew that it was an honor I could not refuse, not for myself, although I’m grateful, but for my fellow bloggers.

We are proud to be a part of the great progressive liberal tradition of Paul Wellstone and are grateful for your kind acknowledgment. Thank you. As there has been a lot said recently about the netroots and our influence on the Democratic party, this is especially rewarding.

And let’s just say we seem to have ruffled some feathers.

We’ve been called everything from witless to “some guy named Vinnie in a bathrobe and an efficiency apartment” to “blogofascists.” Some critics dismiss us as useless elites–the Metropolitan Opera crowd–or a “noisy Upper West Side cocktail party for the college-graduate class.” Still others take us to task for our “vitriolic, unhinged tone.”

The other day Tim Russert agreed “absolutely” with his gracious host, concerned centrist Sean Hannity, that the Democratic party was being unduly influenced by bloggers who were dragging the party kicking and screaming to the left.

Then there is the criticism that we are fascists or Stalinists demanding that everyone march in lockstep to the edicts of our leadership–generally assumed to be Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos–who apparently directs us with secret signals deeply embedded in the code of the Daily Kos web site while we carry on an elaborate ruse of spirited political debate and disagreement in public.

We are, in short, something of an enigma.

I like to call this phenomenon–irrational fear of hippies which has, in my view, become–irrational fear of political passion. Of all the criticisms I just mentioned, that is one we are all willing to accept.

We are passionate about politics, and in this era of Republican corruption, excess and failure, that passion sometimes manifests itself as anger. But how can you not be angry? So many institutions have failed us in the last decade that being vitriolic seems the only sane response.

And as for the idea that we are modern Stalinists: Does that makes any sense at all? We can’t even agree on what to call ourselves.

The netroots consist of a very lively and disparate group of citizens who are political observers, activists, readers and entrepreneurs communicating and organizing via the Internet.

We have opera-loving liberals from Georgia… Nascar-loving progressives from Chicago… and Grateful Dead-loving Democrats from… Florida. We are from everywhere, and our common tribal signifiers aren’t social status or professional authority or region.

Our tribe finds each other in remote places and big cities alike on the Internet–through our politics. Period. In the blogosphere, nobody cares if you are a 70-year-old Chinese immigrant or a 22-year-old Harvard student or a stay-at-home dad.

If you have something to say you can say it–and if it touches a chord, people will return time and again to read what you’ve written and discuss the issues of the day with others who are reading the same things.

Al Gore, a man who knows something about the Internet, wrote in his book, The Assault on Reason:

“The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for reestablishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish… It is the most interactive medium in history… with the greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge.”

So… the netroots is… a revolution. A revolutionary participatory democracy. And, in this way, the left is more effective than the right. Whether by temperament or philosophy, we are simply better suited to the free-form, constantly changing nature of these new political communities.

Each of us finds their niche. I’m a blogger pundit, a role for which I am eminently qualified, since, exactly like pundits on television and in newspapers, I have opinions, I write them down, and a lot of people read them.

(Yes, that’s all there is to it. Sorry Mr. Broder.).

Bloggers Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers are organizers of this nascent movement. They traffic in ideas that affect our ability to keep doing what we do, from net-neutrality to finding a much-needed funding base for bloggers and activists.

With vastly different approaches, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo and Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake, are creating a new form of journalism. Talking Points is modeled on the more traditional form and Firedoglake is mixing reporting, opinion and direct political advocacy.

Daily Kos is a virtual community that operates like a small town, offering full-stop political shopping for its progressive inhabitants.

Crooks and Liars catalogs the juiciest morsels of political TV. Move-On moves millions to action. Media Matters monitors and calls out the right wing noise machine.

And there are literally thousands of other blogs out there doing all that and more–writing back and forth with their readers, linking and arguing and organizing. This is a 24/7 worldwide political discussion and strategy session.

All of us who blog in the progressive blogosphere, have a common goal. It’s the same goal of virtually everyone in this room tonight. We want to begin a new era of progressive politics and take back America.

We may argue about tactics and strategy or the extent to which we are partisans vs ideologues–and believe me, we do. But there is no disagreement among us that the modern conservative movement Of Newt and Grover and Karl and Rush has proven to be a dangerous cultural and political cancer on the body politic.

You will not find anyone amongst us who believes that the Bush administration’s executive power grab and flagrant partisan use of the federal government is anything less than an assault on the constitution. We stand together against the dissolution of habeas corpus and the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. We all agree that Islamic terrorism is a threat, but one which we cannot meet with military power alone.

And yes, a vast majority of us were against this mindless invasion of Iraq from the beginning or at least saw the writing on the wall long before Peggy Noonan discovered that George W. Bush wasn’t the second coming of Winston Churchill. Sadly, we agree that the mainstream media is part of the problem. Democracy suffers when not being held accountable by a vigorous press.

During the last decade there have been three catalyzing events that drove people like me to the Internet to research, investigate and write about assaults on democracy itself.

•In 1998 the political media lost all perspective and aggressively helped the Republicans pursue a partisan witchhunt against a democratically elected president — against the will of the people.

•The coverage of the presidential election of 2000 was legendary for its bias and sophomoric personality journalism. The press actually joined the Republicans in telling the majority, who had voted for Al Gore. to “get over it.” I never got over it.

•And the almost gleeful support for the invasion of Iraq, a journalistic failure of epic proportions.

If you hadn’t been sufficiently aroused from your complacency by then, you never would be. The blogosphere was the natural place for many of us to turn when the institutions we counted upon seemed to be daring us to believe them or believe our own eyes.

And that coming-together set the table for the seminal candidacy of Howard Dean and all that has come since.

As it turned out we didn’t just raise money for progressive Democrats, although many of my fellow bloggers raised a whole big pile of it from our readers all over the country. We began to push back the prevailing manufactured narratives produced in bulk by various Republican PR shops and distributed to their taking heads in radio and television.

We talked back to the media, and yes, to our own party, Some of whom understood that while we were opinionated thorns in their side, we were also opinion makers read by influentials in the everyday world of water coolers and dinner tables.

We were a part of the base that could move other parts of the base and a counter to the prevailing political stories and narratives of the day–and they knew we could potentially help create a new modern political movement.

And so, here we are, the famously vituperative, angry bloggers, standing before you today politely accepting this award as proud, full-fledged inheritors of the great American liberal and progressive political traditions.

On behalf of all of my fellow bloggers and netroots activists, and especially on behalf of our dear friend Steve Gilliard, a fighting liberal of both the old and the new schools, I thank you again for inviting us to your party.

Our party rages on 24/7 all over the blogosphere and we’d love it if all of you would stop by frequently.

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