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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Netroots Nation

Netroots Nation 2009 is fastly approaching. The annual convention of progressive and Netroots activists takes place in Pittsburgh this year from August 13-16. There are few events that I look forward to more each year than this one. There are few times it feels more exciting to be a blogger or a progressive activist than when one is at the meeting formerly known as Yearly Kos.

If you are an activist who uses the Internet to try to change the world, there is no better place for you to be. What could be better than being surrounded by thousands of like-minded people, all of whom are dedicated to the same things you are, all of whom have ideas and strategies on how to make change come alive. Regardless of the official program, the key reason you should be at Netroots Nation is the opportunities you get to interact with an undending stream of people from whom you can learn about how to better do whatever it is you do. It's also a great place to make contacts and connections that will further your own activism and your own career.

If you are a regular reader of Florida Progressive Coalition and follow our efforts, two of our key projects were birthed at Netroots Nation. The widely-popular Florida Progressive Radio, which existed before Yearly Kos 2007, had little direction or focus in its early days. Then one night in Chicago, I sat down with Alison Berke Morano, Susan Smith and Cenk Uygar, among others. Most readers probably know that Cenk is the amazing host of the Young Turks show, which was then on Air America. He gracefully sat with us in the bar and answered a seemingly unending series of questions about hosting a radio show and The Big Show with Alison and Kenny was born that night. Susan soon joined us as a host and hundreds of shows, scores of candidate and activist interviews and thousands of listeners soon followed. Our hard-hitting series of Republican watchblogs was also an outgrowth of information that we learned at Netroots Nation. In fact, I set up our first watchblogs via my laptop while sitting at the BlogsUnited booth in 2007.

The formal program of workshops, lectures, discussions and entertainment is also unrivaled when it comes to other similar events. For just about any topic you can imagine, there will be a session, led by experts in the field. Most of what I know about state-level blogging, I learned at Netroots Nation. The full agenda for this year's event isn't up yet, but there were sessions last year on various Netroots strategies, a multitude of issues, for fans of various blogs and Netroots organizations, author and candidate appearances, and opportunities to actually get involved and do something, whether it be the day of service, or phonebanking for a local candidate. The list of speakers and appearances at the event is too long to even begin to delve into, but suffice it to say that if someone is a significant player in the progressive movement -- politician, blogger, activist, journalist, whatever, chances are they'll be on site.

And that's great for those of us who are political junkies. You have ample opportunity to meet and talk to the people who drive progressive politics in America. My liberal bookshelf at home has books from more than a dozen authors I've personally met and talked to at Netroots Nation. And then there was the time that a congressional candidate from California, Steve Young (not that Steve Young), took me to lunch and we discussed strategy. Or there was the time that I made Al Gore laugh. Really. After his keynote speech, he was going down the line shaking hands and taking pictures. When he got to me, I told him that I was with a group of people from Florida and that we were sorry for the 2000 election. He laughed heartily. Then, quickly, he came back with: "Don't be sorry, I won Florida." Only at Netroots Nation.

There are many other positive things about Netroots Nation that I could talk about, but you probably get the idea. I could talk about the opportunities to explore local communites like Chicago, Austin or, this year, Pittsburgh. I could talk about the opportunities to appear on panels like the regional blogger panel or the self-starter sessions. I could talk about the parties, where you can be sharing a local microbrew with bloggers from New York and New Mexico while talking to a professional stand-up comedian. I could talk about the helpful people you'll meet, like the crew at DFA or the members of BlogsUnited who make the experience all the better. I could talk about the fact that I met more Florida politicians and activists at Netroots Nation than I have at most Florida events. I could talk about any of those or any number of other things, but I think I'll start packing instead.

If there is anyway you can make it to the Keystone State this year for Netroots Nation, you should. If you can't make it, donate money to help others get there with a DFA/Netroots Nation scholarship. I was one of those scholarship winners last year and the experience was invaluable. I couldn't have attended without the help of the generous donors who funded the program. You can have that impact on the people who attend this year. You won't regret it either way.

Read more on Florida politics at the Florida Progressive Coalition blog (http://flaprogressives.org) and the Florida Progressive Coalition Wiki (http://quinnell.us/sspb/wiki/).

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