Sunday, December 11, 2005

BlogLeft Convention Report

Yesterday was the first Massachusetts Progressive Bloggers convention, and I can honestly say that it was the most fun I've ever had in Worcester. In the morning, I picked up Charley from the Blue Mass. Group, and we set out to meet state Senator Jarrett Barrios before the bulk of the conventioneers arrived. Just as we crossed the river to get on to Storrow, Shai Sachs from DFA Cambridge and Drinking Liberally called to say that he missed his train because the Red Line was running busses over the Longfellow Bridge. After a brief discussion ("Do we have room?" "Sure." "Do we have time?" "Well...") we made the trek into a still-not-quite-dug-out Boston and met him at South Station. We then were able to find the answer to that age-old question: How many Boston area bloggers does it take to get from South Station to the Mass. Pike? (Three: One to drive, one to watch for signs and one to check if the map is up-to-date with the latest Big Dig configuration).

While we didn't quite break the land speed record for Boston-to-Worcester travel, we did make it to the amazing Tatnuck Bookseller in short order. What do we have to do to get one of those around here? We were able to sit down and have a quick chat with Senator Barrios, who is running for Middlesex County DA, and his campaign manager over breakfast. He talked about alternatives to things like mandatory minimum sentences that were not only more effective, but also more economical. He clearly knows his stuff -- not just the big picture but he's not afraid to go into great detail -- and he's trying to position himself not just as the most progressive candidate in the DA's race, but as the only progressive in the race. I don't think that second claim is the case, though -- given what I know about the candidates, I think this race really affords us a great chance to talk about criminal justice issues beyond the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" rhetoric typical of DA races. I hope that these candidates will be willing to have a conversation with each other and the voters about what we can do not only to make our communities safer, but also to reduce recidivism.

The conference began shortly after our talk with Senator Barrios. The bulk of the credit for making this happen goes to Lynne from Left in Lowell and Susan from Beyond 495 who are both delightful. Also in attendance were Chris from Left Center Left, David Eisenthal of The Eistenthal Report, John McDonough of Healh Care for All, Andy of Mass. Revolution Now!, Wes from Walk in Brain, Fredrick Clarkson, Michael Ball of Marry in Massachusetts, the pseudonymous blogger behind Chimes at Midnight (I'll let him blow his own cover) as well as a number of readers and probably some other people that I apologize in advance for forgetting.

Worcester Mayor Tim Murray spoke first, giving us a quick welcome to his City. While he didn't talk about his run for Lieutenant Governor, he did spend a little time talking about campaigning for Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) in his successful bid to unseat former Congressman Peter Blute. He was introduced by DSC Wonder Woman Kate Donaghue who gave Murray her endorsement by saying, "He's one of us."

Blogger Stirling Newberry gave the keynote address, talking mostly about political blogging and how it can bring people who have been alienated together to find like-minded people and build communities. One of the most important things that he encouraged us to do was to give context to numbers and other information put out by the paid media, particularly in ways that are easily digestible. "Get cute," he told us, and find clever and succinct ways to express information.

After lunch, Frederick Clarkson spoke, first telling the story of the three special elections earlier this year and how the only way to find any information about them was through the blogs. Truth be told, my frustration with the dearth of information on those races is what finally turned me from a blog reader to a blog writer. I have to agree that the media really doesn't cover special elections, or any local elections particularly well, and it's a shame. He spoke also about his experiences with the Reich campaign in 2002 and the Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts. Clarkson closed his comments with a warning about how the Religious Right is preparing for a battle around marriage equality should it make the ballot here in 2008 and that it's our job to be prepared to fight these out-of-state interests.

There were three afternoon breakout sessions, and I attended the one hosted by Stirling Newberry on the Shays-Meehan act, which I talked about previously. I'll probably devote a whole post to this in the next week or two, but needless to say, nothing since last month has changed my mind on this issue.

When I got back home, I finally got a chance to read the liveblogging here and here. It was like a whole second convention going on at the same time. Wild!

I have to say that I was impressed with how well the whole thing went, and I'm looking forward to working more with my fellow bloggers. This is a community that didn't exist just a year ago -- heck, even six months ago there were fewer progressive MA political bloggers than there are today, and we mostly didn't talk to one another. Hopefully we'll build on the momentum we created yesterday and work more in concert to try to influence the political discourse in Massachusetts.