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June 29, 2006

YearlyKos Taking Hold

Tony Soltero

I am a heretic. I am angry. I am a naive adolescent who doesn't know his place. I am an uppity little brat. I need to step aside and let the adults run things. I wallow in fever swamps.

Now, what did I do to earn such admonitions?

Well, you see, I have these really strange ideas in my head. I believe that our elected officials should serve the broad public interest, not narrow private agendas. I believe in public accountability for presidents, congressmen, governors, and county executives.

I believe that human beings have inherent, inalienable rights with which the government cannot tamper. I believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I believe in protection from what John Stuart Mill termed the "tyranny of the majority." I believe in checks and balances. And I definitely do not believe in kings or unitary executives.

In this day and age, of course, those are radical concepts, just like standing up to King George III was a radical concept in 1776. We the people are expected to meekly accept what the nation's elites deem suitable for us. After all, we're at war, silly!

We the voters are encouraged to show up at the polling place every four years, but once we've performed our civic duty, we're expected to melt back into the night, stay quiet, and let the elected do whatever they want without a questioning peep from us, whether the issue is war, health care, or county growth plans.

Thankfully, there are millions of Americans who recognize that this kind of political elitism is incompatible with our nation's values, not to mention our Constitution, which has been taking such a beating under the current administration. And we've been using the power of the Internet to organize ourselves, share ideas, hold our leaders and our media accountable, and begin building a movement to reclaim American government for its rightful owners - the public.

In an age when it's all but impossible to attain federal (or even state) office without massive financial backing from special interests, this goal has gathered increasing urgency.

Three weeks ago, many concerned Americans met in Las Vegas to discuss values, strategy, communications, and plans of action. The event was labeled YearlyKos, named after the largest and most popular political blog in the nation.

This event, the first of its kind, was an enormous success, drawing over a thousand registered attendees. The event garnered a fair amount of national media coverage and visits from a good number of nationally-known political figures, including former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. Harry Reid (D., NV), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., CA). The conference energized the grassroots (or "netroots") to a degree that was but a pipe dream a few years ago.

Many of these national media figures who descended upon the event seemed sorely disappointed that the conference attendees were so...normal. There were engineers, schoolteachers, steelworkers, homemakers, students, attorneys, and nurses. Some were black, white, male, female, white-collar, blue-collar, religious, secular, straight, gay, old, middle-aged, and young. Bell-bottomed hippies were almost nonexistent.

They came from Maryland, from Montana, from Texas, from Georgia. They were liberal, moderate, and conservative. They had one thing in common - the knowledge that our government, as it stands now, has become hopelessly elitist, corrupt and broken, and is in dire need of serious cleanup.

YearlyKos demonstrated that the netroots and the blogosphere have become new power brokers in the political world. And with this revelation has come a backlash from the established power centers, who do not take kindly to competition.

So the traditional media has been lobbing some impossibly flimsy, un-sourced stories aimed at undermining the credibility of the liberal blogosphere. They've resorted to hanging the labels listed at the start of this column upon concerned, civic-minded Americans. They've taken aim at the putative "leaders" of the blogosphere, oblivious to the idea that this is tantamount to playing whack-a-mole; the netroots movement features a virtually limitless, bountiful talent pool of strong, articulate writers and speakers who put to shame the vapidity that passes for political discourse at Fox or CNN.

One does not get attacked if one does not matter. YearlyKos served as the great coming-out party for the netroots, and a strong signal that it is here to stay. Certain hack writers in nationally-circulated publications, feeling threatened by all this new progressive talent now beginning to find a wide audience, have been reduced to empty, fact-free sniping. The nature of political discourse in this country is about to change to accommodate a much broader spectrum of voices, and some "established" writers will fade into irrelevance. (You can tell which ones - the ones who devote column space to whining about the uppity blogs.)

To quote Bob Dylan, "They say the darkest time is right before the dawn." In an age of gargantuan deficits, mismanaged wars, a declining economy, a comically corrupt government, an increasingly authoritarian chief executive, and an erosion of individual freedom in America, these angry heretics in the netroots might just be the catalysts we need to start pulling us out of this mess.

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