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The Roots Come Alive.

After the general post-election gloominess began to wear off near the end of last year (of course, it hasn’t completely subsided — at times, I think you can still see the cynicism emanating off me like little cartoon lines), I made it a resolution of sorts to start getting more involved in Dem organizing for this upcoming political cycle. So when some friends of mine (and founders of Concerts for Change) alerted me to their forum this evening on “Net Roots and the DNC,” which included A-list lefty bloggers Atrios and Afro-Netizen, former Dean director Zephyr Teachout, Personal Democracy Forum editor Micah Sifry, and NY Dem Party higher-ups Judith Hope and Mark Green, I very quickly decided to go check it out.

All in all, it made for a partial yet intriguing glimpse into the State of the Party 2005, and one I found at turns dispiriting and encouraging (and far more often the latter.) The panel itself was decently engaging, with most of the discussion centered around the imminent battle for DNC chair. (While there were a number of Simon Rosenberg buttons among the attendees, the panel seemed to split between Dean enthusiasts and DNC agnostics, who felt the upcoming election wasn’t of much import regardless of who wins.) There was also some discussion of the role left-leaning bloggers might play in helping to keep the media more attuned to right-wing spin jobs, but, alas, no one figured out how to square that circle just yet.

Former mayoral candidate and Nader Raider Mark Green, charismatic enough in that politico way, closed out the forum part of the evening with some clever but clearly canned remarks for the Young People into that Newfangled Technology stuff. (For example, he advised the crowd to “choose your mentors well,” which, c’mon now, is the same hoary advice Strom Thurmond gave 1000 of us at Boys’ State when I was 17 years old.) He also regaled us with a short US history lesson, which I’ll give him a B+ on — he was spot-on with George Washington plying his constituents-to-be with rum and George McGovern and direct mail, less so with the Lincoln the “real Log Cabin Republican” quip.)

As I said, I found some elements of the evening somewhat discouraging (and not just because I soon realized that my limited socializing skills at these sorts of things had further atrophied since entering academia.) For one, at times I felt the discussion seemed on the verge of degenerating into the worst kind of New Left-era identity politics, whereby the gender and ethnicity of the new DNC chair was somehow more important than his or her vision for the party. [This was driven home by a (white) fellow in the back hijacking the conversation at one point (does this sort of thing happen at GOP events? I always wonder) and loudly enumerating the few minorities in the room (By which he meant black people — Latinos and South Asians went under the radar), all to suggest that the event was somehow a charade and a farce for its lack of proportional representation.]

This is not to say that issues of gender and ethnicity aren’t central to our party’s core principles, or that the all-white-male slate for DNC chair isn’t a disappointment — to suggest otherwise would be imbecilic…even, dare I say it, Summers-esque. But, to my mind, it’s a question of focus. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, straight, gay, or bisexual…we Dems just got our asses handed to us by the predominantly white male GOP. At a certain point — hopefully soon — we’re going to have to learn to deemphasize these differences among us and reemphasize our commonality as left-leaning citizens of the republic, rising up together against the corporate-sponsored avarice, imperial ambitions, and narrow-minded bigotry of today’s Republican Party. In other words and IMHO, rhetorically we need to start thinking 1933, and at times I heard way too much 1972 tonight.

(Also, and I know this is a goofy history-geek semantic distinction that I’ll just have to get over, but people kept throwing around ‘progressive’ when they meant ‘liberal.’ Not the same, y’all.)

All that being said, however, my general impression of the evening was quite favorable, mostly because of the energy, exuberance, and organizational acumen on display from the attendees. We may have lost the recent battle in 2004, but much of the online community-building infrastructure seems intact…and, indeed, seems to be here for the duration. I was reminded of the recent scholarship on the rise of the New Right (by Lisa McGirr, Rick Perlstein, and Matthew Dallek, among others), which ably demonstrates how conservatives, soundly defeated in 1964, managed to capture the California governorship only two years later, once Reagan had replaced Goldwater at the top of the movement. For now, the wheels are definitely churning at the grass-roots level…if we can just get the party machinery in order, find a standard-bearer willing to abandon the protective camouflage, and, most importantly, work on a way to articulate our democratic values against the corporate ministrations of the GOP, we might actually get somewhere.

If nothing else, it speaks volumes that conservative direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie is worried about what he sees from the online left — he’s a guy who knows a thing or two about political organizing, and how quickly the worm can turn. Matt Drudge and GWB, we’re coming for you.

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