July 2012

Netroots Nation: Our Roots for a Better America Go Deep

Erin Sanborn


The seventh annual Netroots Nation conference was held last month in Providence, RI. If you do not know what Netroots Nation is, you are not alone. As a term, Netroots (from Internet + grassroots) refers to populist campaigns and movements ignited, promoted and conducted over the Internet. Most people in America who desire a better world, a better future for all, and who enjoy their computer and smart phone, can relate to this term. It is used every day by a community of people who work to find the facts, tell the truth and weave the common threads that connect us all. This very diverse group does not necessarily agree on the same public policy, but they do agree on the basics—for example, that every person deserves a good job with fair wages and equal opportunity: “liberty and justice for all.”

Netroots Nation (www.netrootsnation.org) is the annual conference of these political bloggers, activist organizations, politicians and individuals, including many influential progressive leaders, elected representatives and citizen journalists. The focus is to raise their collective voice, proactively influence their government, advocate for progressive change and influence public debate.

Each year, thousands of bloggers, newsmakers, social justice advocates, labor and organizational leaders, grassroots organizers and online activists come together to make new connections, hone their organizing skills, share best practices and build stronger relationships with others working on the issues they care most about. And each year, some of the brightest minds in progressive politics come to Netroots Nation to speak with—and hear from—our community.

  • NetrootsNation.org


The lineup at this year’s conference included Rebuild the Dream co-founder Van Jones, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Congressman David Cicilline (RI), Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, Carol Shea-Porter, AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumka, the Agenda Project’s Erica Payne, Ai-jen Poo – National Domestic Workers Alliance director, Rhode Island State Representatives Teresa Tanzi and Chuck Rocha, founder of Democracy for America, Howard Dean and, via video, President Barack Obama. There were many more speakers and panelists. Video highlights are available at http://www.netrootsnation.org/nn12-highlights-archive/.

I found the closing keynote by Van Jones to be incredibly inspiring. I would also suggest you see Austerity No More: An Economy for the 99%, and Criminal Justice in America. Together these three presentations will give you the flavor of those working hard to bring progressive voices into the conversation in America.

I write “progressive” because it is the best word to describe those who want to solve the problems we face as a collective group of citizens, and one usually thinks of those who participate in Netroots Nation as politically progressive. Attending for the first time, I found people to all be incredibly smart, thoughtful, well educated (they research what they are interested in, find the facts, and discuss every topic with clarity and care; some have advanced degrees), caring and passionate. To me, this is progressive.

Name any issue or cause we face as Americans and you can find a group of people working to solve those issues utilizing the Internet, connected to Netroots Nation. There are groups concerned with people of color, immigration, the impact of super PACs, fairness in elections, education, unions, fracking, the economy and marriage equality. You will find the best minds and practitioners in social media. You can find an individual blogger with 500,000 followers. Bottom line: everyone involved is truly educating the grassroots and is passionate about what makes our country great. People are demonstrating that change can happen instantly.

Our youth, ages 15-25, have a smart phone in their pocket and access to the Internet. Social media is now and the future. Don’t be fooled thinking that our youth can be fooled. I met young people who are writing books, doing in-depth research, inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to action, running organizations, affecting local and federal policy and inspiring hundreds of thousands of people. These people can track their impact on public policy. So let’s get on board. Use that mobile device!

While in RI, I participated in Netroots for the Troops, an organization that sends care packages to our troops around the world. A couple hundred people stood in line to pack a box. Many present had heartwarming and tear-filled stories about our men and women in uniform.

Here in NM, sister websites to check out are: Democracy for NM http://www.democracyfornewmexico.com/, Progressive New Mexico Radio http://www.progressivenewmexico.com/, ProgressNow NM http://www.progressnownm.org/, New Mexico Progressive http://newmexicoprogressive.blogspot.com/ and Conservation Voters New Mexico http://cvnm.org/. Nationally, also check out TalkingPoints Memo, The Raw Story and Truthout.


Finally the best part of attending the Netroots Nation conference with its 3,300 registered participants and hundreds more who just showed up is that it is a reflection of the America I believe in. It is an America that is a mix of ages, colors, political points of view, experiences and knowledge, honoring each other, challenging each other and finding solutions to the collective problems we face. Yes, the roots of America’s ability to care about our country, to care about each other and to actively demonstrate how hard it is to truly work together, is what Netroot Nation is all about. Explore for yourself. These roots go deep.


Erin Sanborn provides Executive Coaching and consulting services through Collaborative Green, based in Taos, NM. 575.770.2991, erin@collaborativegreen.com. Drew Tulchin is with Social Enterprise Associates, based in Santa Fe, NM. (www.socialenterprise.net)

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