The vibe at YearlyKos, the first-ever face-to-face convening of about 1000-1500 members and fans of the country#039s most popular political website, is very much like a summer-camp re-union among people who have never met each other before. But the event also embodies a tectonic shift in the way power works in America, in that Markos Moulitsas#039s website, which attracts close to a million readers a day, has spawned a popular movement strong enough to attract the attendance of the top leadership of the Democratic party (Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean) along with several of its 2008 contenders (Mark Warner and Wesley Clark), and with that has come the creme-de-la-creme of the nation#039s political press.
Yesterday, at the MyDD caucus, I spotted Maureen Dowd, Adam Nagourney and Adam Cohen of the New York Times, Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Tom Curry of MSNBC. It was smart for them to be in the room, as the people leading the discussion–Jerome Armstrong, Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers–are at the very heart of this new phenomenon called the netroots. Someone said that there is one journalist here for every eight attendees, and I don#039t doubt that.
The last time an independent political movement managed to pull in that kind of political and journalistic firepower was at the ill-fated height of Ross Perot’s United We Stand America, which, for those with long memories, held a national convention in Dallas in the summer of 1995 and compelled the attendance of the leadership of both political parties as well as just about every major presidential contender.
United We Stand America, which had two million dues-paying members at its height, was of course primarily a creation of Perot’s bulging bankroll. The netroots, which has its beating heart here this weekend, is a very different beast.
Last night, Markos gave a keynote opening speech that was full of partisan fire. But for me, it was his remarks on the underlying power shift under way that really mattered more than his jabs at Joe Lieberman or Democratic poltiical consultants. Here are a few choice excerpts:
Look at this conference! It’s the epitome of people-power. It was organized by volunteers, without impetus from a traditional “leader”. We now have the ability to support leaders wherever they may be. Leaders that would never have a chance in the traditional world of establishment politics or media. Like Gina Cooper, who was a one-woman force of nature in making this conference happen.
Who was Gina Cooper? A former teacher from Tennessee? And how did that make her qualified to plan something of this magnitude?
Of course it didn’t. No more so than I was “qualified” to write about politics.
No more so than an organic farmer named Jon Tester from nowhere Montana is “qualified” to be a United States Senator.
But people-power is a wonderful thing. Everyone can be a leader. Everyone can be a strong voice. Everyone can make a difference. There has been far too much talent, far too much passion, far too much intelligence in this country marginalized by the establishment currently stinking up Washington D.C.
And now, that talent has an outlet. It can no longer be marginalized….
We no longer have to listen and read just what the old media gatekeepers forced upon us. We can now choose amongst ourselves what information to consume.
How many of you remember Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents dinner?
How many of you actually saw it live?
While some may call you “losers”, I call you “visionaries”. You were there! You were there to see Colbert say, live,
“The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!”
The White House press corps didn’t think that was funny. The same people who a year ago couldn’t stop laughing at Bush’s jokes about missing weapons of mass destructions scrubbed all references to Colbert in their writeups of that evening’s events.
In the past, Colbert’s viciously ironic remarks would#039ve been scrubbed from the record. But this is the age of people-powered media.
The event was immediately posted all over the web. On the following Sunday and Monday, there were 3 million downloads from YouTube. 300,000 downloads from Crooks and Liars. The C-SPAN site was down Sunday morning as I tried to access the video. And when it was posted on iTunes, it quickly became the #1 album on the site. [Emphases added.]
Markos’s closing is relevant to everyone who works in the political-technology arena, even if you disagree with his politics. He said, “Technology allows each and every one of us to be a leader, and allows us to support our new leaders wherever they may emerge.”
Amen, brother. It will be interesting to see whether the national press gets this story right.