Saturday, July 25, 2015

The "Whiteness" of Netroots Nation

There is some history about the Netroots Nation conference that I haven't seen commented upon in all the discussion about what happened there last weekend when #BlackLivesMatter showed up. I don't necessarily think it is determinative in terms of what happened, but it's hard to ignore that it played some role.

I personally have only been to one Netroots Nation conference - in 2011 when it came to my home town. But I have friends who have gone almost every year who have been deeply involved in the racial justice movement for most of their lives. There has ALWAYS been an issue with the lack of diversity at the conference. It's true that those responsible for planning this event have worked very hard on changing that. But many times they've been tone-deaf to the recommendations of people of color on how to go about doing that.

All of that blew up about a year ago when Netroots Nation announced that their 2015 conference would be held in Phoenix, Arizona. As you may know, this event initially started as a get-together for participants at Daily Kos (the name was originally "Yearly Kos"). But a few years ago it became an independent entity. When the announcement was made about the location of the 2015 conference, Markos Moulitsas wrote that Daily Kos would not participate.
Netroots Nation announced two days ago that Phoenix, Arizona would host its 2015 conference. I wish the conference the best, but it will unfortunately take place without Daily Kos' attendance or assistance.

I made very clear in the wake of Arizona's passage of SB 1070 that I would not be setting foot in the state, nor spending a dime in it until the law was revoked. The law, however gutted by the courts, remains on the books, as does systemic harassment of Latinos, so my pledge still stands.
Many of my friends didn't attend either.

While Netroots Nation is obviously a distinct entity from the blog Daily Kos, attendance at the event is primarily driven by blog participants. Moulitsas recently commented about what that means:
Daily Kos is whiter (79%), younger (47% under 44), more male (67%), and more educated (just 21% have no college) than the typical Democratic primary voter...

(And as an aside, I'm personally very focused on working to have Daily Kos break out of the Daily Kos demographic in the years ahead so that we better reflect the Democratic coalition. I consider it an existentialist challenge. How can we represent the party if we don't look like the party?)
I'm not sure that I know what he means by saying that this is "an existentialist challenge." But I suspect that by now he knows the pitfalls that Zuky identified.
Armed with “diversity” soundbites and melanin-inclusive photo-ops, they seek electoral, financial, and public relations support from people of color. Yet the consistent outcome of their institution-building agendas is to deprioritize and marginalize our voices, perspectives, experiences, concerns, cultures, and initiatives.
That is the backdrop on which the altercation between the presidential candidates and #BlackLivesMatter took place.


  1. Thanks Nancy - excellent look at the history and underpinnings of the recent events, which no one has pointed out.

  2. It's difficult for me to engage all my Bernie supporting friends on this...I've been trying since long before the Netroots dust-up. To my dismay, they regurgitate all the same old defensive and angry rebuttals we're seeing repeated everywhere.

    1. There have been a couple links to essays written by black liberals about how difficult it is to actually communicate with white liberals. It's starting to look like Bern-appeal has a lot to do with not even having to think about race; just focus on economic inequality (i.e. your own) and you'll see that Bernie's your man. Not that all Hillary supporters are suddenly open-minded about race, but being a Bernie supporter implies that you aren't. Certainly, the events of the past week should have Bernie supporters questioning their comrades-in-arms.

      I'm also going to say that Climate Change is becoming the Abortion of the far Left. By which I mean: you know what makes abortion such a great issue for the Right? Among other things, it's a moral trump card: say what you will about the Republicans, but no matter how bad they get, at least they're not engaged in a Holocaust of innocents. And that's how Climate Change has started to be used on the Left, sort of: it can be used to shout down any other concern. Thus, black people should quit trying to have their interests addressed because it distracts from the much more pressing matter of Climate Change, and woe upon us all if Bernie fails to get into office because of those selfish blacks!

    2. I came up with an analogy that might click with white folks.

      Suppose you are a citizen under a totalitarian regime, but for whatever reason you are of a privileged class, and you benefit from the regime and can do almost anything you want (even criticize the regime) without fear of significant repercussions. And you do nothing. Does your silence challenge the regime, or is it tacit complicity in the regime? I don't see a third category where you can do nothing and yet somehow claim to be challenging the regime. Welcome to the America populated by every liberal who feels kind of bad for blacks, but thinks they should stand in line and wait for white people to have all their issues addressed first.

      I think this works for white folks, because when you mention that totalitarian regime, visions of Nazi Germany dance in one's head and it's possible to conceive of a relative of a high official who, in the early days maybe, could get away with some dissent. And we're used to wondering why too few Germans spoke out when they had the chance. Anyway, I think this works.

  3. Who has a conference in phoenix in july?

    1. Before NN, the only people dumb enough to do that were in Operation Rescue/Save America. They went to Wichita in July, Buffalo, NY in February. I hope NN following such a pattern is not telegraphing something about their judgment we should be wary of.

  4. Heh especially after the black purge dkos conducted a few years back, when the few black folks there dared complain about how white progressives treat Obama.