“I’m trying to organise a caucus on what to do if they steal the election again.”

The bedraggled, bearded young man was telling someone at the Starbucks stand in the Austin Convention Centre, as bloggers milled about. “I was going to hold it this morning.”

“What happened?”

“Nobody turned up.”

The guy in front turned round.

“I saw your sign dude. Your sign sucked. You need a better sign.”

“What’s your idea if they steal the election,” I asked?

“A nationwide general strike.”

So that’s alright then – rapid response sorted out at Netroots Nation, the renamed “Yearly Kos” convention, the gathering of the progblogosphere that arose a couple of years ago from the DailyKos blog. NN — the name seems a little archaic, very early zeros — is trying to position itself as a left progressive focus. It ain’t yet, but it’s shaping up to be an interesting event.

The morning was given over to a bewildering variety of caucuses — from the obvious, latino caucus, union caucus, etc through the folksy moms’ caucus to the out there, firedoglake and lurkers gathering. Though it may have gained a slightly geeky image on the outside, the whole netroots thing is actually lowtech (though there is of course a geek caucus) with fliers, and actual printed programmes rather than twitter-friendly digg updates on flexi-hyperpods yadayada.

In fact that, and the tumultuous reception given to the arrival of Howard Dean’s voter registration bus, gives the clue to what it is: the eternal Democratic left, morphed seamlessly into the blogopshere, as all the old organisations collapsed and a new form emerged.

You can see that, for better, mostly for better, and for worse, in the caucus sessions, more free-floating and creative sessions than you would have found hitherto, without the cramping sense of being directed by some inner party hack trying to get it somewhere.

The Open Left energy caucus after lunch was a case in point. About 80 people their post-prandial langour belying the title (this is the city of Slacker after all), the discussion meandered round and round the various obsessions of the most voluble, regarding offshore drilling, wind power, war for oil, until it eventually became snared on how the Cuban-American community would feel about nuclear power.

In that respect, Netroots — with about 1000 attendees, a dozen sessions going simultaneous, sprawling all the way to the music pub strip of Sixth Street — is a mirror of the media form that has generated it – the blogosphere, whose reorganisation of creative energy was essential to a left revival after the utter collapse of any idea of party structures in the 80s and 90s, but it also indicates that a network is also a diffusion model.

All through the vast exhibition hall with its faces new – instant website cooperative platform writing booths — and old — the LaRouchites — you saw again and again the face of the new progressive movement, which is the endless proliferation of groups based around a website. Choicesforamerica, bringingdemocracyhome etc etc. The cheapness of the web means that a group of five or six is viable which means people can work effectively in an affinity group, but it’s also a curse because the driving need to build larger and possibly more efficient groups is not there. In the midst of all this new, might the progressive movement miss a very old idea, that of critical mass?

We’ll find out in the days to come, with a bunch of speakers, including Laurence Lessig and breakfast with Nancy Pelosi. I’m particularly looking forward to sleeping through my alarm clock for that one.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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