Netroots Legislative Agenda - Part 2

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    Bob Fertik
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Matt Stoller has graciously revised his initial assertion that "we have no legislative agenda except for net neutrality."

He starts with two reasons why he chose net neutrality as Netroots Issue #1:

  1. "Without NN, we couldn't do what we do"
  2. "There is a genuine popular movement to expand and clarify the internet's legal and technological status, [f]rom DJs to video game players to sportsbloggers to small businesses"

Unfortunately both points reflect the myopia of a technologist. As a progressive, Stoller should have a much more informed and serious worldview.

Bloggers who work mainly with text and photos (and that's most political blogs) could blog without net neutrality; it would mainly affect video bloggers since they consume far more bandwidth, and that's what the monopoly gatekeepers want to tax.

But Bloggers couldn't do what we do without the First Amendment, which Bush has systematically assaulted by killing journalists abroad, bombing foreign press offices, funding false government propaganda, scrubbing damaging government reports, forcing protesters into "First Amendment Zones," ejecting them from public events, and arresting them.

We also couldn't blog without the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) which keeps Bush from seizing our computers and leaving us with unplugged keyboards, although he is reading and databasing all our private email in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

We also couldn't blog without Habeas Corpus, which used to keep Bush from declaring us "enemy combatants" and locking us away without charges (which they are doing this very day with impunity to 14,000 foreigners) or torturing us (hundreds?) or murdering us (dozens?). But thanks to the Military Commission Act passed last month, Bush can now declare any of us (including American citizens) to be "enemy combatants" and do whatever he wants with us.

These Constitutional rights are not abstract. Anyone with a passing knowledge of totalitarian governments knows what happens to dissenters. Anyone who has paid attention to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the "war on terror" knows the Bush regime is waging a "dirty war" around the globe. Anyone with a sense of history knows that evil policies introduced abroad have a terrifying way of coming home to roost.

That's why the initial results of our "change" poll put restoration of Habeas Corpus at the very top of the list, wiretapping at #6, and torture at #8.

As for "popular movements," hello? The largest and broadest movement in the U.S. is the anti-war movement. (The immigration movement is a surprising #2 due to GOP extremism.) Before the war began, the anti-war movement poured into the streets by the millions. After we were unable to stop Bush's insane war, the movement shifted to less-visible lobbying, including petition campaigns and meetings with Members of Congress led by Progressive Democrats of America and Cindy Sheehan's Gold Star Families for Peace. But tens of thousands have continued to demonstrate in protests led by United for Peace & Justice and World Can't Wait.

That's why ending the occupation of Iraq was the decisive issue in 2006 - despite Rahm Emanuel's utmost efforts to avoid it - and is #4 in our poll.

All of the top issues in our poll are issues of life and death and our most fundamental human rights. The Founding Fathers gave us those rights in the Constitution to protect us from tyranny. But George Bush and the Republican Congress shredded the Constitution, leaving us completely at his mercy. That's why #3 on the list is the precise remedy the Founding Fathers gave us for tyranny: Impeachment.

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After making his case for Net Neutrality, Stoller segues into a bizarre political science analysis.

So I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about power and why we're going to be disappointed by this Congress. As much as we might want to see a good number of great and good policies passed, electing a Democratic Congress means only that the Democrats control the legislative agenda. It does not mean that great and good policies will be enacted. While Speaker Pelosi is going to be enormously influential, power in our political system flows from the people. Specifically, it flows from organized groups of people willing to force politicians to do the right thing through systematic pressure on various institutions.

Hello Matt?

We - the Netroots - are the people! According to some guy named Chris Bowers, as many as 15 million people read progressive blogs. And while we may not be "organized" in a top-down sense, we are even more powerful because we self-organize. Blogs like MyDD, DailyKos, FireDogLake, CrooksAndLiars, AmericaBlog, and Democrats raised nearly $2 million in hard money for candidates. Moveon has raised many millions in "soft money" for independent expenditures campaigns and sophisticated phone banks, which have leveraged millions more in in-kind volunteer labor.

Our more "organized" allies in the labor movement poured money and manpower into the 2006 campaign as they have done before; what put Democrats over the top was the far greater amount of money and manpower mobilized by the Netroots.

Since we are the people, and we are organized, can't we "force politicians to do the right thing through systematic pressure on various institutions?"

In a word: ABSOLUTELY!!

All we have to do is figure out how to go about it.

Here at Democrats.com, our #1 issue is Impeachment - and has been since Bush stole the 2000 election.

Now that we have a Democratic Congress for the first time in the Bush years, we are "organiz[ing] groups of people willing to force politicians to do the right thing [impeachment] through systematic pressure on various institutions," starting with the House of Representatives.

Our new effort is called ImpeachForChange, and we launched it on Saturday in Philadelphia with outstanding speeches by former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman of Watergate fame (text/audio here) and Cindy Sheehan, along with a distinguished panel of pro-impeachment bloggers (audio/video in production). We will exert pressure by creating Impeachment Committees in all 435 Congressional Districts, collecting a million signatures (see the thermometer in the upper right), holding Town Hall meetings, and lobbying our representatives.

That's an example of how the Netroots can be mobilized on an issue. The same organizing strategy can be used for all of the issues on the Netroots Legislative Agenda - until we run out of activists to do the legwork.

I would love to see voting reform as one of the first items tackled. This is true for tax reform, global warming, health care, etc. But making this happen is not a matter of electing a group of people and then presenting them with laundry lists of policies to enact. I mean first of all who gets to write the list?

The Netroots get to write the list - isn't that the whole point of people-powered politics???

We're doing it at Democrats.com, simply by creating a poll with every issue we could think of, and asking everyone to pick their top 20 issues.

Now imagine if 15 million Netroots members chose their top issues. Through the "wisdom of crowds" we would end up with an outstanding list. (Of course sampling theory suggests that the list we would end up with would look a lot like our initial list.) That's why in my earlier post I challenged all progressive blogs to create their own "change" poll like ours or send people to vote here.

After the Netroots wrote its list, we wouldn't ask everyone to devote their energies to every issue on the list all the time. Rather, we'd simply follow the Congressional calendar. So when Congress schedules action on Habeas Corpus (as Senator Leahy just said he would do), we would spend that week lobbying 435 Members of Congress on Habeas Corpus. Ditto for Iraq, tax reform, global warming, health care, etc.

It's not very hard to do. Here at Democrats.com we've build sophisticated tools to let activists self-organize by Congressional District (click "local" in the navigation menu after you login). All we have to do is pick the issues, flood Congress with emails and calls, organize district meetings with our Representatives, and whip the votes online - just as we did for the Alito filibuster.

The netroots is not a top-down institution managed by say, Atrios, who dispenses robot ponies only to those who please him. It is as much an organizational platform, one of many in our society, that you can use to push for policies by building coalitions. When I wrote that the only netroots-specific agenda that we have is net neutrality, I didn't mean that we don't want a higher minimum wage or labor protections or to stop global warming. What I meant was that pushing for any of these requires building a coalition, and that's a LOT of work. It's work we haven't done. That's not to say others haven't, or that we won't help with policy outcomes we agree with. It's just that in terms of what we've done to put policy on the table, net neutrality is there.

The Netroots are a coalition. We belong to every important progressive organization, from the ACLU to NOW to PFAW to the Sierra Club. We belong to every union and every professional society, from the ABA to the AMA. Each of these groups will automatically be involved in the legislative battles in their "domain." What these groups need more than anything else is what we are - 15 million passionate activists who can self-organize by Congressional District (or state) to lobby each Member individually.

The bottom line is simple: just as we provided the margin of difference in the 2006 campaign with our money and manpower, we can provide the margin of difference in passing progressive legislation too.

We have the power - now let's use it!!!