Progressives on the Move Within Democratic Party

BOSTON — Amidst the rah-rah speeches and the made-for-primetime-television format that have come to define the Democratic National Convention, new and exciting sounds were seeping from inside and outside the Fleet Center this week. For the first time, ever, 35 web ‘bloggers’ were granted access to the DNC and provided with a wireless Internet zone up in the nosebleed seats on the seventh floor.

By Tuesday any glitches in the wireless networking system had been all-but fixed, and bloggers like Dave Weinberger of and Dave Sifty of were sitting, ‘laptops ablaze,’ churning out the kind of online journals that, while unapologetically opinionated, are hailed by thousands as quick and effective tools that encourage interest in American politics. More and more, blogs are springing up as a prime medium for grassroots campaigns.

‘The idea is that you have to give up some control to let grassroots campaigns catch fire, which is what the Howard Dean camp discovered,’ says Weinberger, who is also the Senior Internet Advisor to the Dean campaign. Ironically, says Weinberger, the message that Rod O’Connor, CEO of the DNC, conveyed to the bloggers when he addressed them at a breakfast before the gala began on Monday was what a wonderful extravaganza this ‘live television show’ is because it is totally controlled.

Dean, the upstart Vermont governor who scared the dickens out of the Democratic Party’s old guard early on in the dogfight for the nomination called it ‘about time’ that the bloggers were given some love. He went on to suggest that the success of his campaign had more than a little to do with the party’s decision to hand out press passes to roughly 35 bloggers.

Eric Schnure, the official blogger for the Democratic National Convention website, added that if the Republicans follow suit and invite as many as 20 bloggers to their convention in New York in a month from now, it will be only because their rivals did so. Clearly, a new movement is building here, and the starry-eyed bloggers were very surprised to find themselves in the presence of Dean, O’Connor, and soon-to-be Illinois senator Barack Obama at their kickoff breakfast on Monday.

While strategically positioning their checkers in the center of the board, Democratic politicians are clearly taking the time to reach out to these new grassroots media, and that’s important if the once disgruntled progressive wing of the party is to help get John Kerry elected in November and then remain empowered enough to pull him back to the left in 2005.

Jim Hightower, the well-known progressive columnist and author from Texas says that the battle ahead is two-fold. ‘First we need to get Bush out of office, then we can fight for our progressive values again. But we can’t lay back and make the mistake we did in 1992 after Clinton beat the elder Bush and then ran away from us, untouched.’ This time around, with another Bush on the dartboard, Hightower sees profound differences in the Democratic Party. The Dean and Kucinich campaigns, the backlash generated by the current Bush administration’s Draconian foreign policy, but especially the role of the Internet have democratized the process and helped grassroots campaigns bypass those ‘good ole’ boy blockages,’ he says.

On a national tour for his new book Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush, Hightower can’t help but notice that people are organizing grassroots campaigns like he’s never seen before. Still buoyed by the fantastic turnout during global antiwar protests on February 15, 2003 as well as the legacies of Seattle, Cancun, and Miami, progressive activists are proving themselves a force to be reckoned with at major political and economic events everywhere.

‘Our ultimate goal may not be John Kerry in the White House, but to take back our country. We’ve got to work with the tools we have right now,’ Hightower said. ‘We as progressives need to do the heavy lifting of democracy and apply the pressure, either with websites, blogs, or even street action, if necessary.’

In Boston this week the activists were out in gale force, breaking free from the oppressive, barbed-wire bonds of the Free Speech Zone and taking their act to the Boston Common for the Real, Real Democratic Bazaar on Tuesday. The Black Tea Society activist group set up shop in a well-organized headquarters near Copley Plaza. Critical Mass cyclists biked all over Boston, distracting and confusing police officers. Street actors staged a rendition of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in the ominous Free Speech Zone on Monday. And Code Pink moved around the Fleet Center with pro-peace banners too quickly to be contained by the authorities, although organization founder Medea Benjamin was dragged off the convention floor in handcuffs Tuesday night as she unfurled an ‘End the Occupation of Iraq’ banner.

Though not stated openly, one got the impression that the demonstrations were a prelude to a much bigger event — one that must be protested with even more fervor — the ‘hats-off-to-George W. Bush and his neo-cons’ party coming very soon to Manhattan.

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