Netroots Nation: Bloggers speak for mainstream now

I’ve just returned from this weekend’s inspiring Netroots Nation conference in Austin, TX, where 3,000 of the nation’s most progressive political bloggers met not only to network with each other but to sit down with some of the country’s most exciting established and emerging progressive leaders.

You may have heard by now that Nobel Prize Laureate Al Gore was a surprise Saturday morning guest at Netroots Nation.

But unless you read blogs, you probably didn’t know that Netroots Nations also drew such high-powered guests as former national security officer Richard Clarke; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, author and radio personality Jim Hightower and Democratic Leadership Council chairman Harold Ford Jr.

They and other speakers came to talk freely about issues like the Iraq War and the coming elections, but also to acknowledge the growing power of progressive blogs to influence the issue environment.

And for every big-name speaker like Pelosi or Gore, there were dozens of bloggers, activists, legislators and others at Netroots Nation who described how they used progressive blogs to defeat entrenched politicians, mobilize support for progressive candidates, publicize egregious healthcare nightmares, spark ethics investigations and otherwise inspire readers to political and social action.

I took away a sense of great hope about the efficacy of the netroots to not just inform, but to act as an organizing tool and government watchdog. The potential – and need – for the expansion of those roles is especially huge now, in light of the decline of the influence and focus of the traditional print and broadcast media.

I say traditional media, not mainstream media, because I agree with political blogger extraordinaire Markos “Kos” Moulitsas- Zuniga, who founded The Daily Kos blog and organized Netroots Nation, the third annual gathering of its kind.

In a lunchtime speech Friday in which he addressed the growing influence of the netroots movement, Kos told us bloggers that it’s time to stop calling newspapers, magazines, television and radio the “mainstream media” and refer to them as “traditional media” instead.

That’s because, said Kos, it is the bloggers, who fight for the rights of ordinary people to maintain rights like freedom of speech and clean elections and affordable healthcare, who represent America’s mainstream now.

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