I was in Providence for this year’s Netroots Nation conference, one of the more than 2500 progressive activists — including a sizable contingent from New Hampshire — who gathered for three days of speeches, training sessions, panel discussions and networking.
The discussions and presentations made it clear that what we’ve experienced in New Hampshire over the last two years is not unique. It’s being played out all over the country in state after state after state: attempts to dismantle the public schools, the war on women, the fight over voting rights, the list is sadly familiar.
Van Jones delivered a powerful and succinct message in his closing keynote:
In 2012, we know. We know absolutely, with not one bit of doubt, what the agenda is. They have a wrecking ball agenda. They’ve taken a wrecking ball. They want to paint it red, white and blue, call it patriotism, and smash down every American institution our parents and our grandparents fought for. That’s what they want to do. That’s who they are. They’re proud of it. They’re not hiding it.
They say they want to smash down out unions. They want to smash down public education. They want to smash down clean air and clean water. They want to smash down everything our parents and our grandparents fought for that made this country a great county. They have it in their sights and they have shown a brutal willingness to use every means available to smash down the things that our communities need to survive.
They’ve told us. Their leader Grover Norquist says it. He says, “I want to shrink America’s government down. I want to starve it of taxes. I want to shrink it down to the size that I can drown America’s government in a bathtub. I want to drown America’s government in a bathtub.” Who thinks like that? Who even talks like that? But they’ve told us, so we know. We know.
We also know that we will be dramatically outspent in the upcoming campaign. The impact of Citizens United came up in virtually every session. Every candidate and every issue campaign is being outspent by huge margins: 5-to-1, 10-to-1 and more. The banks spent $600 million to fight financial reform compared to $2 million from progressive organizations promoting it. We know a tsunami of corporate money is about to come crashing down in support of the right’s agenda.
But we also heard success stories. Erica Payne told the story of The Agenda Project’s video opposing the Ryan budget that featured a Paul Ryan look-alike pushing granny off a cliff. It was made for just $3500 and received 20 million media impressions. The messaging was so successful that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly protested “no one is trying to throw granny off a cliff.”
The progressive online community, including this obscure little blog, has an important role to play in this election cycle in countering the onslaught of corporate money. As we begin to prepare for the upcoming campaign, the editors here are redoubling our commitment to Blue Hampshire.
That commitment includes ensuring that Blue Hampshire is a vital and welcoming destination for the state’s progressive community. As the gubernatorial primary campaign intensifies, we are determined to not let abusive and disruptive comments on this site detract from our common goal. The stakes are too high.
This is not about one candidate or the other, nor their supporters. The editors and editors emeriti are evenly split between the two leading gubernatorial candidates. But we are of one mind in that we will not, we cannot, allow the discussions on the site to deteriorate to name calling and personal attacks. Frankly, we are inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.
To those who think banning violators is too drastic, a piece by one of Blue Hampshire’s founders, Mike Caulfield, (which, unfortunately, is no longer posted on his site) has been my touchstone when the issue has come up in the past.
Your influence as a user, on a healthy site, is a function of to what extent your activity supports those group-defined social goods. In other words, to quote Shirky, the user of social software is the group, not the individual. If you are consistently acting in a way that hurts the interests of the group, the group has to defend itself. If it doesn’t, the group slowly becomes its own enemy.
This, as Shirky points out, is why government always springs up, even among anarchists. You need some form of government to protect the group from destroying itself. And if you see government as merely a pact to protect user rights, and not as something to adjudicate what Chief Justice Souter called competing goods, you’re lost.