I’m incredibly frustrated. I’m seeing a lot of good stuff at the Netroots Nation conference, but, unfortunately, technical difficulties have been thwarting me at every turn. I thought that I was being sufficiently cautious when I packed two cameras, but, now that I’m here, neither seems to be working. My old Flip camera is refusing to charge, and my little Canon isn’t allowing me to reformat the disk, which it keeps telling me is corrupted. As a result, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to share much, which is unfortunate, as, just in the last 24 hours alone, I’ve had the occasion to encounter the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Bill McKibbon, Tammy Baldwin, Eric Schneiderman, and Mazie Hirono. I’ve also had the opportunity to sit across a table from the likes of Markos “Daily Kos” Moulitsas, Zach Wahls (that guy who made the progressive face-book-o-sphere explode with joy when he talked so eloquently about his two gay moms), and Howard Dean’s brother Jim, who serves as chairman of Democracy for America, the organization that brought me to Providence.
I’m particularly upset that I can’t share footage with you of this morning’s panel discussion on what actually happened on the ground in Wisconsin a few days ago, which I found to be incredubly interesting… It wasn’t perhaps the most significant thing to transpire during the discussion, but I did want to share one story with you, before I head back into the next round of sessions. At the end of one panel, an older man posed a somewhat antagonistic question to the four individuals on stage. I can’t remember his exact words, but he essentially suggested that the lack of “big names” at this year’s conference, and the absence of corporate media, might signal that the conference wasn’t as relevant as it once was. The panel, I think, did a great job of responding, but that’s what I wanted to share with you. What I wanted to tell you was that, just after this man made the suggestion that the conference was irrelevant, and devoid of anyone relevant on the political scene today, the very next man in the audience to take the microphone was none other than Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from the band Sha Na Na. I found that to be really funny. And I mean no disrespect to Bauman when I say that. I just think that it was a beautiful and surreal moment. Not more than a minute after this man had made the charge that Netroots Nation wasn’t pulling relevant attendees, I was looking up at Bowzer, who was doing his classic pose. (Yes, he introduced himself by holding his curled fist above his head, and opening up his mouth so that it looked as though he intended to eat it.)
The thing is, though, Bauman, who is apparently a dedicated and knowledgeable political activist, asked a good question about whether the mechanism of recall in Wisconsin, and whether it was in part to blame for our inability to sideline Walker and curtail his agenda. His point, if I understood him correctly, was that the people of Wisconsin failed to effectively stop Walker because they didn’t have the proper tools to do so. (The only tool they had available to them was the recall.) As he noted, the situation in Ohio was considerably different, as the voters in that state were able to challenge individual pieces of legislation, and didn’t have to resort to recall.
And, Jon, if you’re reading this, and if you’re up for it, I’d love to ask you about performing before Hendrix at Woodstock… Speaking of Hendrix, how weird would it be if he were alive today, showing up at political conferences, asking questions about obscure legislative maneuvers? I can’t even begin to imagine what that would bee like.
One last thing… As it was pointed out to the man who posed the question about the relevance of this conference, it would be easy for the organizers of Netroots Nation to hold the event in DC, and pull in big names to deliver canned speeches. That, however, isn’t what this conference is about. It’s about sharing grassroots strategies for the construction of horizontal organizations that can effectively push for substantive, long term, progressive change… And, of course, one could also argue that Elizabeth Warren is a pretty big name… I forget the exact quote, but someone on the panel said something that I liked very much. He said that we didn’t need big media, and powerful people to “validate” us. I thought that was a great take-away.