Will Bloggers’ Netroots Movement Replace Grassroots Politics?

Approximately 1,500 online activists — bloggers, for the most part, that are collectively called the “netroots” — are meeting in Chicago for the 2007 YearlyKos Convention, an event named after the super popular, left-leaning DailyKos political blog.

The convention is the second of its kind ever held, and already it’s so important that the nation’s top Democrats, including the party’s presidential front-runners, attend. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is zooming into town for the event’s Presidential Leadership Forum, as is Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).

The conference has also attracted the ire of Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who has focused in on Daily Kos, calling it a vicious far-left Web site. He’s also compared it to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. “The Web site sells hate, as does the KKK and the Nazis,” he said in July.

What Is Netroots, Anyway?

The term “netroots” is derived from the Internet and grassroots, and it’s a non-partisan online community that uses blogs as the primary tools for sharing its views. Now netroots activists have a conference big enough to attract the key Democratic political players. For a decentralized sort of group, how does that work?

“You have to start with the basic notion that technology changes the way we all communicate. Technology makes it easier for like-minded people to find each other, communicate and create a community,” Kari Chisholm, president of Mandate Media, told TechNewsWorld as he attended the YearlyKos Convention.

“Whether you’re a bunch of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, Barbie doll collectors, or political activists, technology lets you coordinate, communicate, organize and have a community,” he said.

The Source of Netroots Influence

The loose group of netroots bloggers and political influencers first and foremost focuses on political activism and has the power to direct political attention.

“To me the big picture here is these are folks who are able to bring national attention to local races, and while they certainly have an effect on presidential policy, their bigger effect is on local races,” Chisholm said.

“They can deliver a lot of national attention on a race that would otherwise be overlooked. For example, I just ran into Darcy Burner, who ran for Congress in 2006 in for Washington’s 8th congressional district … and the Netroots raised around US$300,000 for her campaign, which was more raised than came from any other traditional political party,” he explained.

Burner lost the race to a Republican Dave Reichert, but she’s running again in 2008.

Sphere of Influence

“There’s a vast army of people out there who are reading blogs and taking action but aren’t necessarily ‘talking’ — there are folks who communicate and those who just read, but they are just as much part of the netroots as the writers,” Chisholm said.

In terms of political candidates like Clinton, the netroots are most definitely top-of-mind as they work out their campaign strategies — but with a twist on old-school campaigning.

“It’s not so much about spinning [as] it is participating in a community,” Chisholm noted.

“There’s a community of people who really care, and want to help, but they want to do it on their own terms, to be listened to, to take action in a leadership role. Campaigners have sort of a mindset of controlling everything, having a staff and knowing what’s best,” he explained. “With the netroots community, it’s that the wisdom of the crowd is smarter than any one person, and as long as you can capture the wisdom of the crowd, and the activity of the crowd, you can achieve greater things than if you were just relying on three or four of the smartest people in the room.”

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