Netroots Nation Meets to Chart a Path to Improved Liberal Infrastructure

BY Quinn Bowman  July 23, 2010 at 4:40 PM EDT

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Photo by Steve Stearns

Leaders of the Democratic establishment are headed to Las Vegas this weekend to woo the online liberal activist wing of the party in hopes of energizing some of their most loyal supporters (and even some vocal critics) to help avoid devastating losses in the midterm elections that take place in roughly 100 days.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are scheduled to address Netroots Nation, the annual gathering for liberal political activists that runs through Sunday.

The convention started as a way for grassroots online activists who wanted to challenge the Democratic Party apparatus to meet in person. In 2006, it was called Yearly Kos, after leading liberal website Daily Kos. Netroots Nation now attracts some of the biggest names in the party establishment.

You can see this year’s Netroots agenda here.

The rise of the influence of the liberal blogosphere — including a chronicling of the first Yearly Kos bash — is chronicled in Matt Bai’s “The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.”

Raven Brooks is the executive director of Netroots Nation. He started as a volunteer for Yearly Kos in 2006. Brooks said that a big part of the event this year will revolve around how the left can energize for the 2010 midterms while also pushing President Obama and his allies in Congress to push for progressive policies.

Brooks said that the Netroots crowd has some people who are frustrated with the performance of the Obama administration, but that all the different online power bases — like MoveOn.org or the New Organizing Institute — all want to work toward the same goals.

“It’s a big community — there’s definitely frustration — there’s a group that’s frustrated, and a group that still wants to trust (Obama) to do the right thing,” Brooks told the NewsHour.

Some recent polling shows Republican voters are more excited to vote in the midterms than Democratic voters, which could mean lower turnout for Democratic candidates.

Beyond the next election, Brooks said a big challenge is getting organizations within the Netroots movement to really tap into organizing via new media and to get political donors to trust movement leaders and take some time to invest in long-term infrastructure.

“Our donors have a different attitude and culture and often don’t invest in infrastructure. They want rates of return,” Brooks said.

Brooks said that conservative donors use more of a philanthropy model and gave their think tanks and media institutions time to grow.

“Donors need to be willing to look at leaders in the movement and trust that they have a vision and not constantly saying, ‘I need to see results next quarter’ because that’s not how organizing works,” he added.

But in just five years, what started as a group of bloggers now has roots in the government. Brooks said that getting big-name guests to speak at Netroots has become easier as early movement members now work in the halls of power.