Sunday, June 10, 2012

Radicalizing Netroots

Netroots Nation.

This is my second year participating in the gigantic Netroots Nation conference, a big event billed as a "progressive" bloggers' conference put on by blogging giant Daily Kos. I was lucky this year, like last year, to get a full scholarship to go, with all expenses except for food paid for through the LGBT Netroots Connect program. 

Last year was an incredible experience in which I finally got to meet a lot of my blogging heroes and connect with other writers in my field of LGBT activism. I thought my head was going to explode; all of the writers I had been reading and admiring all under one roof, talking about the issues I cared about. I was there to learn, but to my surprise, other people there with reams more experience than I as writers were interested in learning what I had to teach them. As progressives, our sharing was intensely valuable and I went home having accomplished a lot of goals; namely, learning how to be a better blogger and networking with others in my field.

My goals this year were different. In the interceding months, my focus of writing and organizing had shifted. With the advent of Occupy, income inequality and issues beleaguering the working class had taken over my life. I now assist with the social media and press aspects of Occupy Seattle, as well as organizing on-the-ground actions. As that work went on, I suddenly found my politics and ideologies shifting even farther to the left. As I was presented with the endemic problems facing the working class, I began to question my faith in political process. I found myself loathing the concept of government. Capitalism, I had come to realize, was perhaps the worst and biggest enemy to Occupy's work globally.

In short, I had become an anarchist. 

This presented a few problems for me, internally, when I applied for this year's scholarship. This conference overwhelmingly is centered on the idea of reform. In every panel and workshop, we talk about how to accomplish our goals legislatively and how to elect the candidates we want. 

How, then, would I fit in? I don't believe in our legislature; I don't recognize the legitimacy of political candidates. Had I become too radical for this group of people that I loved so much?

I tried to come up with goals. One of my first, and this was merely a personal one, was to confront Jesse LaGreca. I know, this may seem petty, but LaGreca rocketed to fame at Occupy Wall Street with a now famous video denouncing Fox News and had become something of an Occupy superstar. As happens so frequently with internet stars LaGreca started to view himself as an authority in OWS, and since published diaries on Daily Kos denouncing "black bloc anarchists", in effect ordering them to leave the movement.

In my mind he had no such authority, and I would tell him so.

Other, more important, goals were simple: find fellow radicals and radicalize my peers. At a time when my LGBT comrades were celebrating recent victories and pushing hard for marriage, would I be able to find fellow revolutionary thinkers? Would I be able to convince people that queer issues were being prioritized ineffectively? 

I arrived the night before the LGBT pre-conference, met up with friends, had a beer or two. Some of them had watched my radicalization over the past year, and knowing looks were exchanged at the bar when I mentioned corporate corruption and its effects on queer communities; a member of GLAAD I hadn't met before looked at me knowingly and said "Oh. I know who you are."

... this was going to be interesting.

The first day's activities took place in the LGBT pre-conference, when everyone who had been working on queer issues got together and brainstormed new challenges we were facing and hopefully came up with solutions.

Bil Browning, Adam Robbins, Me, and Seth E. Kaye. Photo taken by Jamie McGonnigal.

The first half of the day was fairly boring; we all introduced ourselves to each other. Most of us knew one another but it was nice to see new faces. 

After lunch, things got interesting. We had three panels on the issues of marriage equality, immigration, and LGBT health. During the marriage conversation debate was heated both out loud in the room and in the Twitter storm that ensued. Some in the room (like myself) objected to the prioritizing of marriage equality over other, perhaps more important, issues such as health care and ADAP funding. My question regarding the assimilation of queer identity into heteronormative institutions was rebuffed; a panelist responded that just because we had a different sexuality from straight people we weren't really any different. 

I objected to that of course, but that's fine. 

The next panel was regarding immigration, and I was stunned, as in last year, with the bravery of some of the activists who had been trying to get the DREAM Act and similar legislation passed. Simply identifying oneself as undocumented is to risk deportation; some of these amazing folks had actually risked arrest in order to work on their issues. 

One panelist said something that drew immediate applause from my table: "Among LGBT immigrant youth, marriage is a white, middle class issue. We're trying to survive, not get married." The applause drew a rash of glares from around the room, I was quick to note that the majority of those who objected to this statement were indeed white. 

Finally we had the LGBT health panel, of which I was invited to take part in as an HIV-positive individual. Interesting highlights: the number one killer of LGBTs in the US is smoking. HIV/AIDS actually accounts for a small, small portion of the overall healthcare costs of LGBTs. There is a noticeable lack of prevention education for HIV. One question that seemed to raise a lot of questions: is bareback porn to blame for the spread of HIV? I argued that it wasn't; if we had more education about HIV/AIDS and its consequences, people would relegate bareback porn to "fantasy" instead of "a fun thing we should do."

We wrapped up, had a mixer with the Netroots Women's pre-conference and then dispersed for the evening.

The next day started with a treat. I have the privilege with organizing with an amazing woman who writes as Just Jennifer on the Daily Kos and she e-introduced me to her fellow radical colleague, Allison, who writes as UnaSpenser on that same site. I met with her and two others for breakfast; much to my suprise (I didn't find out who he was until I was halfway through my french toast) one of the two was famed OWS livestreamer Tim Pool.

After breakfast Allison and I brainstormed. We had similar goals; we wanted to find out who was radical and what we could do to promote a more radical agenda at an overwhelmingly Democratic conference. We picked a time two days hence, on Saturday, and began Tweeting about a Radicals' Caucus meeting. I was helped with super damn awesome gay blogger Daniel Villarreal (follow him on Twitter, @hispanicpanic79, you won't regret it) and we hoped to have a solid turnout. 
Daniel V. and myself. Photo taken by Joe Jervis

Uh. Maybe. 

Occupy Providence had set up shop outside of Netroots Nation so I went over to introduce myself. They lacked a legal observer and so, having taken the National Lawyers' Guild training in Seattle, I offered my contact information and hustled off to an amazing panel about sexual liberation. Interesting (if not disturbing) observations: If you have three or more condoms on you at a time, this can be used against you in a prostitution investigation in New York City. Many teenage girls don't use condoms not because they don't know how to use them, but because they're afraid they will fall out of their purses and they'll be labeled sluts. If you have been fired for taking a sex-positive stance, you can contact the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

Nothing much happened after that, unless you count the thunderstorm that suddenly broke over the building when I walked into the marriage equality panel that took place that day (evidently someone up there knew it was trouble) and the riot act I read an SEIU rep at a mixer that night. Note: it's not classy to yell at an SEIU rep while drinking the free booze provided by... the SEIU. Oops.


  1. i was glad to meet you, ian. your summary made me smile (and wish I had access to french toast.) i'm now poking around Pittsburgh to see whom is working on food justice. thanks for taking time to educate me about it.

    1. Of course! Food should be clean and available to EVERYONE.

  2. mwah! Hear! Hear! for pushing a more radical agenda at Netroots.

    So fabulous to meet you. I feel honored.

  3. Ian - I recognize that shock of pink hair! I am so glad I stumbled into this blog post because I didn't go to the immigration panel and I appreciate your perspective on it. I'm surprised to learn that marriage was 1) rebuffed by undocumented people in the wake of DOMA's burgeoning (and eventual) repeal, since DOMA-less marriage is a huge victory with immediate repercussions for undocumented LGBT's married to US citizens; 2) that the white people got huffy about this "affront" to their #winning battle.

    It gives me perspective, though, to keep in mind that it's LGBT youth asserting that marriage equality is someone else's pet cause. Who wants to marry when young and queer, particularly if they are surviving in other ways? (Nothing wrong if you want to though).

    Also flattered that you enjoyed the sexual freedom panel. It's a big deal that the progressive establishment included this topic at the conference. Next year, there ought to be a caucus - this year's (space monkey) panel got 1 hour and 15 minutes to do group therapy, basic issues education, asserting ground rules like collective solidarity and personal autonomy, and get moderated by someone that gets squeamish at the mention of sex workers, all at the same time. I don't feel like much got done, but my expectations are probably skewed.

    1. The part that is a sticking point, of course, is that the repeal of DOMA ONLY affects people who want to/find someone to marry. These are just kids who want to get an education, not hitch themselves to someone just so they have the CHANCE to get that education.

      And the sexual freedom panel was hands-down the hit at NN12. You should DEF have a sexual liberation caucus next year.