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July 21, 2014 12:07 PM Netroots Nation at the Breaking Point?

By Ed Kilgore

I didn’t seriously consider attending this year’s Netroots Nation gathering in Detroit, for the simple reason that WaMo is too lean an operation to pay airline and hotel (plus registration) expenses for me or anyone else to get up-close-and-personal with a heavily reported event (last year’s NN, in San Jose, was a relatively short commute from home, so I showed up). Now I realize I might have been able to harvest some hang-out time with the great Charles Pierce, but Charlie’s account of NN hardly made me otherwise regret missing it:

I do not know what to make of the Netroots Nation hootenanny that just passed. I met some nice people, heard some interesting discussions (the great Nina Taylor of Ohio presided over a barnburner about voter suppression), watched Joe be Biden, watched Senator Professor Warren get treated like the pope on parade, and heard Reverend William Barber bring the thunder. But the edge and the urgency simply were not there. It seemed more like a jobs fair for the professional left than anything else. The interesting panels on actual issues were passing rare; there was an appalling lack of attention paid to environmental concerns. There was more apparent interest in Building Your Brand than there was even in our old pal, the Keystone XL pipeline, which is coming down to the wire on its possible approval, and which has served — symbolically and every way else — to energize the environmental movement like nothing has since the first Earth Day. And then, at the end, Markos Moulitsas, who helped build the event in the first place, announced that neither he nor his Daily Kos community would participate next year, because the event is being held in Arizona, and Moulitsas is boycotting the state until the odious Arizona SB 1070 — the “Papers, Please” statute — is off the books entirely. On Sunday, a representative of the Netroots board explained that having the convention in Arizona was “taking the fight” right into the belly of the beast. Me? I feel strongly both ways, but I would like to say that holding a convention in Arizona in the middle of fking July is not my idea of fun. Or of proper hydration, for that matter.

Pierce goes on to contrast the minimal influence that NN has with Democratic pols to that of CPAC, which no GOP presidential wannabee dares to avoid. He and I probably differ a bit on the pros and cons of political parties being wholly owned subsidiaries of ideological movements, but some of this has to do with timing: in 2007, virtually the entire Democratic presidential field showed up at the Yearly Kos (the predecessor to NN) event in Chicago. If such a field exists in 2015, it could theoretically be lured to the next NN—but then there’s this problem with its location.

Like Charlie, I “feel strongly both ways” about boycotting an event in Arizona. My support for boycotts as a tactic tends to vary with their likelihood of success. But it’s not as though Markos sprang his stance on refusing to attend events in Arizona on NN organizers, and he’s not the sort of guy who abandons positions wantonly. It’s hard to imagine a successful Netroots Nation held against the express opposition of the Great Orange Satan, but Pierce’s description of the Detroit gathering as feeling more like a “trade show” than a political event is probably prophetic.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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