Netroots Nation: The Sadness of Crowds

MINNEAPOLIS – You could have written this in any of the years since Barack Obama was sworn in, but: Progressives are not especially proud of what the president’s done so far. One of the best-attended panels of day one (by people and by press) was an extended rant-a-thon titled “What to Do When the President is Just Not That Into You.” In it, FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, AmericaBlog blogger John Aravosis, and gay marriage/DADT repeal activist Dan Choi. And that event came right after a panel with Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and NEA VP Lily Eskelson. “Kos” described just how much the defeat of the DREAM Act, with Democratic “no” votes, had pissed him off.

“I worked hard to elect Sen. Jon Tester,” said Moulitsas. This was true; his blog had been an early source of support for Tester over a Democrat that recruiters preferred. “After he voted against DREAM I sent an e-mail to his staff. It basically said, ‘fuck you.’ Actually, that was exactly what it said.”

Eskelson cautioned progressives to be a little patient with what they had. “The bottom line is, you’re going to be be given two choices,” she said. “If it’s lesser of two evils, so be it.”

The second panel was short on fireworks until the end, and it included some grudging admissions that progressives did need to re-elect the president if they wanted to do… well, anything. “We’re in the best position,” said Hamsher, “when the person in the White House has to care what we think.” But making Obama care meant, basically, constant intensity. It took a stunt to bring attention to Bradley Manning’s prison conditions. “It was the price of Code Pink going to that fundraiser and getting that piece of video, going after the president.”

It takes a lot to get Obama moving. “When it comes time to do something,” said immigration activist Felipe Matos, “he doesn’t have the guts to do it.”

How else to apply pressure? Money. “Successful political action means being able to leverage the power that you have,” said Hamsher. “LGBT donors and choice [abortion rights] donors are the biggest donor class to the Democratic Party.”

But why donate to Democrats? Choi, who was once arrested after chaining himself to the White House, presented the DNC as a malicious force. “This a political party that says get in line, and wait your time,” he said. “That leads to progressives fighting amongst each other for a place in line. The DNC has been more divisive than any other political force in the history of gay politics.”

Choi got a chance to strike back, sort of. Near the end of his talk, a young man introduced himself as an Organizing for America activist, and presented Choi with a card from that DNC-affiliated group, listing Obama’s accomplishments for gays. And then he tried to explain himself.

“I can’t say that I’m for marriage equality, as a bisexual,” he said.”

“You say you’re not for marriage equality?” asked Choi.

“I can’t, as, uh…”

Rippppp went the card.

“Do you not understand? I believe I’m an equal citizen.”