By Patrick McDermott, Legislative Aide (PA Senate) and Activist



First things first: my greetings to you, fellow AIDemocracy Bloggers and readers!

Although this is my first time writing for The World InSight, I am not entirely unfamiliar to AIDemocracy. I was an intern for the Peace and Security Program a little over a year ago and look back with fondness on that experience. When I began looking for a way to get back involved in the advocacy/organizing field, because of that positive experience I had with AIDemocracy, I contacted them. As luck would have it, Netroots Nation* was coming up, and with it, my opportunity to get back into the foray of  building awareness and advocacy efforts around issues of global importance. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

After the election of President Obama, there was obviously a sense of euphoria and satisfaction knowing that the countless hours and unyielding resolve that went into electing him to the highest office in the land were not in vain. And although there is still much hope and optimism about what can and should be done, it is now infected with a sense of timidity and cautiousness. Part of the blame is certainly owed to the “townhallers” and their provocateurs (i.e. right-wing media) and financiers who will stop at nothing to ensure the status quo remains in place, for whatever reason. However, the Netroots were quick to point out that part of the blame lay at the President’s feet as well.

Healthcare reform was obviously the hot topic at the conference. Discussion focused on the current proposed legislation, why the opposition seems to be gaining ground in the debate, and how the progressive Netroots can take back the message and the debate surrounding healthcare reform. It seemed that the majority of the attendees agree that fighting for a strong public option is the best way to go, with some notable exceptions such as advocates for a single-payer plan (which I personally favor). However, I think Howard Dean best summarized why the progressive netroots need to back a strong public option and fight like hell to get it–the time for compromise is over because the public option IS the compromise! This statement received resounding applause from attendees, and I can guess why. Obama is giving too much ground. And that sentiment is growing beyond the health care debate. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and the continuation of indefinite detention policies were the other most often cited examples of progressive dissatisfaction with Obama thus far.

I can understand and even agree with this dissatisfaction to a certain extent. The issues that we face as a nation, and as a global populace, are daunting and critically important if we wish to move positively into the future. Issues that AID tries to address on a daily basis – global warming, reproductive health, disease prevention and treatment, resource management, sustainable and ethical economic development, and peacemaking/conflict resolution – often require dramatic policy shifts, which usually come about after a shift in perspective; and that is no easy thing to accomplish.

Fundamental changes in political thinking and public policy do not often happen overnight absent some dramatic or traumatic event. A political reality such as this requires an incrementalist approach if any movement is to be made on these issues of global and domestic importance, which is why I can only agree with progressives’ dissatisfaction to a point. With people’s lives hanging in the balance, such sternness is certainly called for. Yet it needs to be counterbalanced with the recognition that progress is progress.

I believe the Netroots Nation, with some exceptions, are at least cognizant of this difference in change-seeking methodologies. Additionally, the community of bloggers is becoming aware quite quickly of the difference between campaigning for change and legislating for change. However, I would say that these two goals do share a characteristic that will determine the success of creating change, just as it did in determining the success of a campaign, the people, and their desire for something better. It is the public that creates the political will for change to be realized, just as it is the people who campaign and support a particular candidate for office who get someone elected, as was true for Barack Obama. Therefore, if progressives truly want their dissatisfaction to be assuaged, then they need not look beyond their own communities (and computers in this instance) to discover the cure for their current ailment.

In other words, if I had to sum up my experience of Netroots Nation and provide a direction in which to go from here, it would be this: it is up to all of us to create the change we seek…so get typing!

*Netroots Nation used to be the Yearly Kos (founded by the Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas), an annual convention for progressive bloggers to come together and discuss/strategize for a progressive agenda for the coming year. The conference has grown at an impressive rate since its inception and for its fourth year, the organizers decided to hold the conference in Pittsburgh, which coincidentally is also the city where the G20 will be held in less than a month.