Some time back, I wrote a post titled “All politics is local.” I was looking at the problem the “netroots ” had when it came to their perception of their influence versus their actual influence, and making suggestions to change that. One of the key points was:
Yet if you listen to what is posted on various of the major progressive blog sites, you’d come away with the impression that “the netroots” is a mass progressive movement, a major base of the party. The reality is that if you talk to many party officials in many districts and counties about “the netroots,” or mention the various major blogging sites, you’ll get a blank look.
In other words, when it comes to the actual party apparatus below the national level, the “netroots” is some vague thing they may have heard of – but probably not – and has very little to do with their political reality. In the comments, I replied to one commenter that the netroots needed to realize that “roots” is more important than “net” when it comes to many areas of politics – particularly on the local level. It’s there that the figurative rubber meets the road, and where the ability to make a real impact happens.
But in order to do that, you need to get away from the keyboard and start doing the “grunt work” of a political party. You volunteer. You go to boring meetings. You take nominating petitions and go get signatures. You go door-to-door talking to people about your candidates. You make sure people get to the polls, even if it means going out and driving them there yourself. It’s unglamorous, not always rewarding, sometimes frustrating, and doesn’t get a lot of thanks and plaudits.
It’s much easier to sit at a computer, and write (no doubt) pithy blogs about politics, connecting with people on the other side of the country, and throwing verbal bouquets (or bricks) at each other, all the while telling everyone that you’re “making a difference.” After all, you are a well-known blogger, who makes the Recommended List on (fill in the site)! You are known to whip out your credit card and donate money to progressive candidates around the country! Why, you’re … important! Just ask all the other people in the netroots!
The problem is that when it comes time to look for progressive candidates – particularly ones who can win – or push the party to move in a certain direction, it turns out that the candidates don’t magically appear, or the party doesn’t seem to want to move. The reasons for that are quite simple. There aren’t any progressives with experience at the local level in politics in your area, and the local party has never heard of you – or the netroots. While you were off being a proud member of the 82′nd Chairborne or the 101′st Fighting Keyboarders, pontificating on issues of national importance, no one was working at the local party to find and elect progressive candidates, and you were conspicuously absent from any activities or work at your local party.
Which is why the netroots is often dismayed to find that they’re being ignored. The harsh reality is that outside the confines of the blogosphere, their influence is not even close to what they thought it was. The Internet is a powerful tool, but it also can be a problem. It’s seductive to think that what you are in the bubble you’re in on the Internet equates to the real world. What it turns out is that it is a tool – useful in the right circumstances, as a part of the political process, but only a part. Doing all the grunt work – the personal involvement in your local party – is the way you build real influence.
In basketball, “nothing but net” is a good thing. It means you made a perfect shot to score points. In politics, nothing but ‘net means you’re not in the game.