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Netroots Look to Grow Up

CHICAGO-- So where, exactly, do the netroots find themselves today?

It's almost Monday, and we're sitting here at the mostly empty lobby of the Hyatt McCormick, where members of the progressive blogosphere spent their weekend. On Saturday afternoon, after the presidential forum that featured seven of the eight Democratic candidates, this place was elated. On cloud nine. Who would have thought that the bloggers would be courted - not just acknowledged, but courted - by presidential contenders?

Indeed the netroots (short for a combination of "Internet" and "grassroots") is a major force in presidential politics. The elite bloggers who were once mere outsiders (Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD and Matt Stoller, formerly of MyDD and now at Open Left, etc.) are now insiders in their own right, players in national party dynamics. When Sen. Barack Obama announced his stunning second quarter fundraising figures, his campaign gave the exclusive to Armstrong, who founded MyDD. The rank-and-file, its age ranging from 20s to 50s, constitutes what some party officials say is its own special interest group, like big labor.

And bloggers such as Micah Sifry, who co-founded TechPresident, argue that the netroots has pushed the Democratic party to the left. "Yes, the bloggers looks to the left of where Washington is. But it's close to where the public is," Sifry told us. "For a few years now, the netroots has been against the war in Iraq. That's the view of the public these days. The candidates, the Democrats in particular, have followed suit. The best politicians are all opportunists. They realize that they have to listen to where the public is, and the progressive blogosphere is a very useful barometer of political opinion."

But the progressive blogosphere, as The Post today explores, isn't as diverse as the public at large. Gina Cooper, the confab's organizer-in-chief and a beloved figure here, is certainly aware of it, and the former high school teacher turned netroots activist is working on outreach. "This is the left, and the left is not known to exclude anyone," she told us. At the weekend confab here, there was only a small handful of minority conventioneers, and everyone was at a loss in explaining why that is.

We caught up with Joe Garcia, head of the New Democrat Network's Hispanic Strategy Center and one of the few minorities who served as a panelist on the four-day conference here, on Saturday afternoon.

"There are several things going on. There's a digital divide, a lag, between whites and Hispanics and blacks when it comes to getting online, and this lag is as much socioeconomic as racial. There's also the need for outreach," Garcia told us. "But the fact is, these bloggers light a fire and you've got to show up. Some people can see the fire. Some people don't have the technology to see it yet."

-- Jose Antonio Vargas

By Post Editor  |  August 6, 2007; 8:52 AM ET
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